When a team goes into a free-fall as the Pirates have done for the second straight season, it is wise to blame close to everyone in the organization from the ownership, to the water boy. In many cases, a total collapse usually leads to wholesale changes throughout the organization (hello, last year's Red Sox).
But, these are the Pirates and many of the Pittsburgh faithful are excited that, despite going just 4-11 in September, the team still has a chance to finish with a winning record.
At the same time, fans feel the frustration of seeing this team choke down the stretch for the second year in a row. Clearly, some changes need to be made; however, none of these changes should involve the general manager.
No, this is not redirecting blame in an effort to wave an apologist tapestry of Neal Huntington. He did make mistakes when it came to improving this team at the trade deadline. But, Huntington is not the sole reason why this team has had an epic meltdown and replacing him could create more problems.
Before the All-Star break, everyone was singing Huntington's praises; his shrewd trades to pick up frontline starters James McDonald and AJ Burnett as well as the draft that produced Pedro Alvarez. Even while Clint Hurdle continuously threw away outs with bunts which contributed to a historically bad offense, the team found ways to win which put a padlock on Huntington's job.
Now he should get the ax? Why?
If it's because Neal didn't trade for Chase Headley, that's not good enough. Sorry, Headley would've been a solid corner bat, but he wouldn't have been able to dig the Pirates out of a collapse like this. He can only play one position and he only hits once through the lineup. A team that has gone 15-28 in its last 43 games is not one player away from being a contender.
And, if the last 20 years have taught Pirates' fans anything, it's that players coming to Pittsburgh sometimes don't hit as well as they did before; or, they hit better once they leave. Don't believe me? Nate McLouth, Pedro Ciriaco, and Brandon Moss would like a word.
To further that point, the LA Dodgers acquired a slew of players including Hanley Ramirez, Josh Beckett, and Shane Victorino. They've been just as inconsistent as the Pirates. Meanwhile, the Phillies and Brewers are surging despite trading away Zack Greinke, Joe Blanton, and Shane Victorino.
Huntington has been effective at doing what he set out to do four years ago: create an organization that can acquire and develop talent throughout the system. We've seen breakout years from teenage international signees as well as college draft picks. The first wave of Huntington-era talent is just starting to hit the North Shore with a few waves behind them. The Pirates will surely be ranked in the top ten in farm systems by Baseball America next year, a ranking that has eluded them since the annual list was released over ten years ago.
The Pirates have had several things go wrong through these last two months. The starting pitching, relief pitching, hitting, base running, and defense have all been atrocious. Those issues stem from the players Huntington used to field the team. The same players that created a 16 game cushion in the winning column. It's not a pass on Huntington's performance as a GM, it's a realization that larger issues start from the group in the clubhouse.
Neal Huntington's job should be safe…for now.