Sunday, August 2, 2009

My Thoughts on the Neil Huntington Rebuild

Many have asked about my overall opinion of Neil Huntington's rebuild of the Pittsburgh Pirates or for my letter grade of it, so here we go. This may be long so bear with me. First of all we are going to look at this as a 2 year rebuild, not just at the current trades of this season.

First I want to look at the guys that we dealt, since opening day 2008. In no particular order, they were: John Grabow, Jose Bautista, Tom Gorzelanny, Freddy Sanchez, Ian Snell, Jack Wilson, Adam Laroche, Nyjer Morgan, Sean Burnett, Nate Mclouth, Jason Bay, Damaso Marte, Xavier Nady, Soloman Torres and Ronny Paulino. A total of 15 guys that had spent time on the big league club the last two seasons.

For the most part, everyone on this list was under 28 and contributed somewhat at the MLB level. I will argue that we really didn't part with much at all. Aside from Bay, who went into an ideal situation, with a stacked lineup, where he will see a ton of fastballs; what did we give up? Maybe you can argue about Mclouth, but I still view him as a very good player, not a superstar. I would rather have Andrew McCutchen in center field than Mclouth, and that is no knock on Nate.

The rest of the list are just simply average to above average major leaguers. Most were upcoming free agents who weren't going to be here anyway. We really didn't give up anything other than a collection of guys who simply were not getting the job done in Pittsburgh. Most of these guys really had no value here and that includes Sanchez and Wilson. A total rebuild was necessary and that's what Neil Huntington did different than his predecessors. You can't rebuild a franchise like the Pirates by dealing one or two guys. The farm system needed replenished. Aside from Bay, none of the guys will be impact players for their new clubs. We really didn't give up anything of value. I thought Huntington said it best when he said, "It's not like we broke up the '27 Yankees."

Now, I will agree that a rebuild like this, requires taking on some risk. It requires an excellent job from the scouting department all the way up to the GM. This time they can't miss with their decisions. Do we know what we got with all the acquisitions? Not at all, and don't expect all these guys to pan out. Out of the 30 guys brought in since opening day 2008, if 15 prove to be solid major leaguers, then it was a great job by Huntington.

Now realize one thing, when Huntington took over the team, the cupboard was bare. Entirely empty. At the minor league level, there was McCutchen and Neil Walker. That's sad. The Pirates farm system was drained completely, by years of mismanagement. In Huntington's two seasons, he has tried to completely give the farm system a make over. You don't think he's doing it? Take a look a the current list of top 10 prospects. Only Brad Lincoln remains on that list from the Littlefield era. Now after the job Huntington did, Walker isn't viewed as a top 15 prospect. I'd say the makeover of the system is working.

The 30 guys brought in, in no particular order: Robinson Diaz, Jeff Clement, Andy Laroche, Lastings Milledge, Gorkys Hernandez, Jose Tabata, Tim Alderson, Brandon Moss, Craig Hansen, Jeff Locke, Argenis Diaz, Ross Ohlendorf, Delwyn Young, Nathan Adcock, Bryan Morris, Kevin Hart, Mariano Salas, Josh Harrison, Brett Lorin, Aaron Pribanic, Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutchen, Kevin Roberts, Jose Ascaino, Hunter Strickland, Ronny Cedeno, Tyler Yates, Charlie Morton, Joel Hanrahan and Jason Jaramillo (I hope I didn't leave anyone out). that list doesn't include finally having a couple of good drafts and even signing a guy like Garrett Jones. On paper, it looks like quite the haul in exchange for a bunch of guys who simply weren't in the plans.

It's entirely about value and how you value a certain player. All I hear is complaining that all we got was minor leaguers. Well, that's the point. The idea is to be able to compete for years to come, not just take a shot at .500 one season. While I see value in what we got in return, it is a hard thing to figure out how these guys will do at the MLB level. Could I be over valuing some of these guys? Sure. However, the Pirates fan base definitely is guilty of over valuing guys like Wilson, Sanchez Gorzo,etc. Like it or not, none of those guys brought anything to the table for the future. Take your blinders off and realize that we really didn't part with much during the last two years. Again, the goal is winning, not taking a run at.500.

Now from here on, everything is based on projections and how these guys do at the minor league level. I expect Clement, Milledge,Hernandez, Tabata and Alderson to be solid major leaguers with upside. That's five more than currently on the roster. Mostly everyone else projects into the next tier of guys that should get to the big leagues, especially the 3 arms acquired from Seattle. If a good portion of these guys succeed, then it was a good rebuild.

Now to the question on why we are just getting good prospects in return and not great ones. To start, I thought we did well with Alderson and Clement this week. First part of the answer is that top tier, home grown guys just aren't available anymore, especially arms. Secondly, we didn't have any talent to trade worthy enough of teams shelling out top prospects. We traded average guys with no upside. Which is why I was shocked the Giants parted with Alderson for Sanchez and that we got a guy like Clement in a deal for Wilson and Snell. I thought the whole process of Huntington worked. In each case he sold low and bought high. No longer did we trade trash for trash. We traded trash for upside and I am fine with it. I do feel it was important to rid itself of the losing culture that spreads throughout that locker room like a cancer.

Therefore, we really only brought in 2 big time prospects, but not by lack of trying. So as far as a letter grade, I give the whole process a solid B. Everyone brought in has some upside and something to offer this team in the future. Just look at the organization from March 2008 until today. We had zero power and now we have a few guys with major league power in the system, We had zero arms and now we have a ton of guys with not only potential, but serious arms strength. We are stacked at a few positions, most notably outfield and corner infielders.

I also feel it's important to create competition throughout the organization. We haven't had that in a long, long time. We have more talent all through the organization now, than at any point in the past. The guys currently on the MLB roster now get a chance to prove they belong. They can secure a job for years, by simply producing. If not, there are now guys behind them to push them for jobs. Healthy competition is always good.

Part two of the rebuild is soon to begin. I still expect Duke and Capps to be shipped out, either in August or in the off-season. Now the goal is to start filling in at the MLB level. Spring training will be fun to watch, as many of these guys will be given opportunities to win jobs. Some of the outfield prospects can now possibly be dealt to sure up other positions. So, Neil Huntington's work is no where near done.

Part 3 of the rebuild is on Bob Nutting and I don't know if that's a good thing. He absolutely has to start spending some money on the product on the field. In the next two seasons, we should be able to add quality on the free agent market (I say quality because I know superstars are out of the question). By 2011, there is no reason, a team like the Brewers, in a smaller market should have double the payroll as the Pirates. Fans got the worst news possible today, when Nutting announced that ownership will not change anytime in the near future.

However, this is it. I bought into the plan and have liked the results so far. The payroll is down to the $25-$30 mil range. It's time to start adding and most importantly, it's time to start winning. No more rebuilds. This is the group that the organization likes, well let's start producing and winning. The goal here is 2011 and 2012.


  1. great point on how Pirates fans and Pirates media tend to over value their own players. I like the return in every deal and i think eventually things will turn around

  2. matt

    I think you hit on why we will never win a world series with part 3 of your breakdown. bob nutting, the worst owner in sports

  3. I have to disagree with your grade. from your standpoint of where we were to where we are now, I would say A-

  4. I just don't see the big time impact, but I see a bunch of guys who could contribute. For now I still say a B

    Having said that I also said the job isn't done. If we sign Sano and then deal Doumit (he's one guy that has to go), Capps, Maholm and Duke and get very good returns for them, then I probably say give it an A.

    Just because the non-waiver deadline has passed, doesn't mean Huntington will stop trying to improve the franchise

  5. I loved your last two posts. Anyone that complains about the deals should read your stuff. I really like the deals, but what's your thought on acquiring too many guys at one position and not getting help in other areas such as ss.

  6. well, the first thing is you can never have too many arms. no problem there, especially since they all have arm strength.

    i assume you are talking about Clement. The first rule is you can never have too much talent. If you can play, they will find a spot for you. I don't think that's the case at first base with Clement, that's the only spot for him. I don't think we are log jammed at first and I see him as the future there. It's not Pearce and it's too early to judge Jones.

    Having said that, keep acquiring the best talent available, regardless of position. Down the road, we can deal from strengths to acquire other positions