He’s overseen one of the most dramatic turnarounds in professional sports, taking a team from 20 straight years of losing to the precipice of a third straight playoff appearance. He’s pushed all the buttons on deals and acquisitions that have overhauled this Pirates team since 2007 into one of the top teams in all of baseball.
It’s far past time that he’s rewarded and recognized for this effort. It’s time to start lobbying for Neal Huntington to be the 2015 Executive of the Year.
Plenty of people had reason to question why the team would invest so much money in a starting pitcher (A.J. Burnett) coming off an 8-18 campaign with the Philadelphia Phillies. The 4.59 ERA and 1.41 WHIP weren’t much to look at either but Huntington made the move and was rewarded with an all-star start to the year from Burnett.
Many Pirates fans expressed dismay and frustration when the team was unable to sign popular catcher Russell Martin back during the offseason. Huntington had plan B ready to go by trading reliever Justin Wilson to get Francisco Cervelli.
One of the biggest offseason moves was to acquire Jung-Ho Kang on a four year $11 million contract. After a lousy spring, Huntington and the rest of management stuck with their belief that Kang could be a major contributor. Kang has emerged as a legitimate rookie of the year candidate and has helped fill the void on the left side of the infield when injury struck Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer.
Another move made by Huntington that wasn’t very popular was the trade that sent fourth outfielder Travis Snider to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for Steven Tarpley and Stephen Brault, both of whom are having strong years in the minor leagues. Snider conversely, was let go by the Orioles and has signed back with the Pirates on a minor league deal which will help the outfield depth down the stretch. Getting two good prospects basically for free is always a good move.
Other minor deals brought Archimedes Caminero and Antonio Bastardo into the bullpen and both have been big contributors.
We haven’t even touched the deadline deals yet. While many Pirates fans clamored for a big splash move this year, Huntington once again took the low key approach to improving the team.
With Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer sidelined, the team needed infield help and reacquired former Pirate Aramis Ramirez to man third base. Ramirez had a slow start with the team but has hits in 11 of his last 13 games. Joakim Soria and Joe Blanton have been strong additions to what was already one of the best bullpens in baseball and even J.A. Happ has shown flashes of being a contributor by allowing only one earned run in his past two starts.
Keep in mind this is a team that has lost a lot of starting pitchers to injury who were expected to be major contributors this year in Nick Kingham, Jameson Taillon and Brandon Cumpton. This is also a team without Burnett for a while, if he even pitches again this year.
Through it all, it’s been the total of all the moves by Huntington that has put this team in position to still be chasing the St. Louis Cardinals for the right to be kings of the toughest division in baseball. Even if they fail in that quest, it’s all but a foregone conclusion that the Pirates will once again be in the postseason for the third straight year.
Don’t just focus on this year’s Pirates squad, but also on the fact that Huntington still has a lot of the top prospects that project a bright future for the Pirates.
Huntington should have won the Executive of the Year award in 2013 when the Pirates first started this magical run, so here’s hoping the voters finally get it right.