Pirates' Huntington, Hurdle will keep jobs
NEW YORK -- The Pirates will retain general manager Neal Huntington and his immediate assistants, allowing the team's top baseball decision-makers to continue with their plan to restore the franchise.
Assistant general managers Kyle Stark and Greg Smith, in addition to manager Clint Hurdle, will stay with the organization despite consecutive second-half collapses.
"We will not be making personnel changes at the very top of our baseball operations department," team president Frank Coonelly said Wednesday in a statement. "Neal, Kyle, Greg and Clint are dedicated and intelligent baseball men in whom I have great confidence."
The announcement of Huntington's retention tabled rumors he would be fired and ensured that the current regime, tasked in late 2007 with rebuilding a barren minor league system and turning around the major league club, will stay in charge for the time being. The minor league system has improved under Huntington, as has the major league product in the past two seasons, but the team played poorly in the second half last season and this season and some free-agent acquisitions have not produced.
"I'm going to show up every day and give this organization everything that I have as a member of it," Huntington said. "My hope is that it will ease some discomfort for our people that are out in the field that do such a great job for us."
The Pirates were 63-47 Aug. 8 but have fallen off since then and are 6-18 in September after losing, 6-0, Wednesday night to the New York Mets. They face a struggle to finish above .500. The front office, especially Stark, recently received criticism for unorthodox minor league conditioning and training methods.
The Pirates are 334-468 under Huntington's watch. The team slumped badly late last season, after being 53-47 and tied for first July 25 in the National League Central Division.
"For the second consecutive year, we put ourselves in an excellent position to meet our objective of winning our division but did not play nearly well enough during the last two months of the season to accomplish it," Coonelly said.
Coonelly and Huntington each spoke of an evaluation process and possible changes to prevent future drop-offs. Two of the free agents the Pirates signed before this season, outfielder Nate McLouth and pitcher Erik Bedard, are no longer with the organization. A third, catcher Rod Barajas, entered Wednesday with a .201 average and .282 on-base percentage and has struggled to throw out baserunners, though players and coaches speak highly of his game-calling and leadership. Shortstop Clint Barmes' offense has picked up after an abysmal first half.
"The reality is that as an industry, we hit at less than 50 percent in terms of investment with the elite free agents," Huntington said. "When you're not dealing with the elite free agents, the return on investment rate is understandably lower.
"Is it process? Is it systems? Is it personnel? And the answer is ultimately that we're evaluating and taking a good look at all three, and probably will make some adjustments in all three."
At the trade deadline, when the Pirates were 15 games above .500, Huntington traded for Travis Snider and Gaby Sanchez, young players who had displayed potential in the majors before struggling and were under contractual control for future seasons. He also acquired Wandy Rodriguez, a solid left-handed starter, and reliever Chad Qualls, but the Pirates are 17-36 since .
"With respect to why we've gone on our second-half slide, there's a multitude of reasons," Huntington said. "One of them, obviously, is it happened at the time of the trade deadline. Did I impact the chemistry with the moves I made? Did I make the right moves? All of those are things that we're looking through."
Coonelly hired Huntington, who was a special assistant to the general manager at Cleveland, shortly after becoming team president in September '07. Stark and Smith were hired in November '07. Huntington and the Pirates agreed on a three-year contract extension with a club option for '15 near the end of the '11 season.
Huntington hired Hurdle to succeed John Russell after the '10 season. Hurdle led the Pirates to a 72-90 record last season, the team's highest win total since '04. The Pirates already have surpassed that total this year.
"Confidence in and support of Neal, Kyle, Greg and Clint should not be misunderstood with acceptance of another poor finish at the major league level," Coonelly said.
"We must understand why the quality of our execution and play deteriorated so markedly in August."
First Published September 27, 2012 12:00 am