Pirates' model for future -- Indians
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It seems, with the hiring of Neal Huntington as their general manager, the Pirates have taken a first step toward trying to become the Cleveland Indians of the National League.
"Cleveland is a franchise that has effectively and efficiently allocated payroll dollars," said Pirates president Frank Coonelly, who hired Huntington. "They've done it smartly, they've done it wisely and they've done it with a consistent vision that we're looking to implement here in Pittsburgh."
Mark Shapiro, however, doesn't buy that the Pirates are trying to become an exact replica of his Indians.
"I don't think any organization tries to become a carbon copy of another organization," said Shapiro, Cleveland's general manager. "I think what they do is take the best practices that apply to their situation and develop their own model."
Huntington, 38, no doubt will take what he believes are the best things about the Cleveland organization and try to implement them with the Pirates.
"The key to our success will be the continued infusion of talent from the minor-league system," said Huntington, a former assistant general manager under Shapiro. "To try to retain everybody is very difficult to do. There may come a time when we have very difficult decisions to make.
"Sometimes, those decisions will not be the popular ones. But they will be logical, they will be rational, they will be well thought-out and they will be the decisions we feel are necessary to keep the Pittsburgh Pirates moving in the right direction."
You can expect the Coonelly/Huntington team to move with all deliberate dispatch in trying to improve the Pirates -- on and off the field.
"We have a lot of work to do," Huntington said. "We've got some big challenges, and I cannot wait to get going.
"This entire process is going to be incremental gains. We need to approach this systematically and incrementally, and the reality is, it's not all going to happen in the first month. It's going to take time and a lot of effort."
Shapiro, who officially became the Indians' general manager after the 2001 season, thinks Huntington will be able to surmount the challenges inherent in being the Pirates' GM.
"I certainly can sympathize," Shapiro said. "I understand the challenge of the Pirates. Neal was a primary voice in [a lot of] our decisions. And I think he's absolutely ready for this -- without a doubt."
Huntington was an assistant minor-league director for Cleveland, then was the minor-league director for three years. He then became assistant general manager before being made a special assistant to Shapiro.
In the latter role, he did a lot of major-league scouting.
"He kicked butt," Shapiro said. "He had just as loud a voice in what we did -- but from a different vantage point. In evaluating players, he rounded out his resume. And I ended up using him even more.
"Plus, as a farm director, you make thousands of decisions. It's the best laboratory for a general manager in training. He has a complete resume. From a nuts-and-bolts standpoint, he's very qualified.
"It's not going to be an easy path. The key is making consistent decisions."
The Pirates haven't done well on that final point as have the Indians.
"When you look at the Pirates from the outside, sometimes you wonder," Huntington said. "But I'm not going to judge prior regimes. What I am going to talk about is how excited I am to implement systems to try to recruit and develop and retain outstanding personnel.
"The opportunity is outstanding. I think the resources are available. We need to make good personnel decisions."
With Huntington's help, Shapiro made so many good decisions that Sunday the Indians clinched the American League Central Division championship.
Huntington wasn't at the game, but ...
"I did drive by the stadium," he said. "I heard the fans roar. I watched the celebration on television. And I cannot wait to participate in a similar celebration here in Pittsburgh."
First Published September 27, 2007 12:00 am