Neal Huntington traded away Jose Bautista for essentially a bag of beans. He also failed miserably to get much of anything in return for Jason Bay and threw away nearly $5 million on a stiff named Aki Iwamura.
For those blunders - and several others - diehard, impatient Pirates fans who are fed up with losing and have little respect for Huntington's talent evaluation skills have long been calling for the general manager's ouster.
Well, Huntington is now getting the last laugh. And he's also likely to get a contract extension soon, so he will continue to be the Pirates' point man for at least another year or two.
Mirror file photo
Pirates GM Neal Huntington has players and fans in a good mood these days.
He deserves it, too.
Huntington clearly has made some high-profile mistakes. But unless you've been living under a rock lately, you've certainly noticed the Pirates are having a magical season that had them in extremely unfamiliar territory entering play Saturday.
It's incredible to even think about the team being in that position.
The Buccos have been so bad for so long, and last year they were a train wreck, bottoming out with a miserable 57-105 record.
A lot of what happened in 2010 was Huntington's fault. He put the team together, and he was part of the horrible decision to hire the worst possible manager for the club in John Russell.
Exacerbating the situation, it surfaced last June that Huntington and Russell had received secret contract extensions through 2011. That infuriated the fan base because neither had done anything at that point to earn the vote of confidence.
That was then, this is now.
If you subscribe to the theory that a terrible season should be blamed on the general manager, then it's only fair that the opposite hold true, as well.
So cut Huntington some slack.
Since taking over as GM on Sept. 27, 2007, Huntington and his staff have done a nice job of improving the minor league system and at least having capable backups at the higher levels.
Those efforts went largely unnoticed until this year, understandable since most fans care only about what's going on with the big league club.
What's happening with this year's major league team is due at least in part to the unheralded work that's taken place in the minor leagues the past few seasons.
The Pirates have been leveled by injuries, but there's finally some semblance of depth in the organization. Backups such as Alex Presley, Josh Harrison, Chase d'Arnaud and Tony Watson have been able to step in and help keep the team afloat, when in years past the fill-ins were often vastly overmatched.
Even more important is Huntington's efforts in building this year's starting rotation, which is the single biggest reason the team is enjoying success.
Huntington inherited lefty Paul Maholm, but he brought the other four members of the rotation to Pittsburgh through trades (Charlie Morton, Jeff Karstens, James McDonald) and free agency (Kevin Correia).
Additionally, he landed closer Joel Hanrahan in a trade and found reliable relievers Jose Veras (minor league free agent) and Chris Resop (claimed off waivers) on the scrap heaps.
Huntington and team president Frank Coonelly also realized Russell was not the right man for the job, so they went out and found the right man. It's easy to give first-year manager Clint Hurdle a ton of credit - and rightfully so - but some also should go to those who hired him.
Huntington doesn't deserve all the credit for the team's success. His predecessor, Dave Littlefield, did a lousy overall job as GM, but Littlefield's legacy will be some successful draft picks such as Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker and Maholm.
Huntington, it should be noted, does not deserve credit for Walker's success. He and the coaching staff misevaluated Walker's abilities - they envisioned him merely as a backup infielder - but Walker's determination and athleticism helped him force his way into the everyday lineup.
Huntington has had some big hits and big misses with talent evaluation when it comes to trades, and that aspect of his job will be under the microscope the next couple of weeks leading up to the trade deadline.
The Pirates have a chance to win right now, this season, and continue to build their depth and talent pool for the foreseeable future. Huntington and his scouts must properly evaluate the talents and potential of the players being traded plus those of any additions, which can be the most challenging jobs for a GM.
Huntington has made some good trades, some bad ones and one ludicrous deal (see below). Now he's got a chance to help the franchise end this dreadful 18-year losing skid and perhaps get back to the playoffs by adding one or two key additions at the trade deadline.
The Pirates found thesmelves in first place in mid-July, and the franchise is heading in the right direction.
Huntington doesn't deserve all the credit for what's happening, but he deserves enough of it to merit a pat on the back, a congratulatory "good job" and a contract extension.
Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. He can be reached at 949-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
NEAL'S WHEELINGS AND DEALINGS
An examination of Huntington's major trades since he took over as general manager in September of 2007:
Traded away: OF Xavier Nady, RHP Damaso Marte
Players received: OF Jose Tabata, RHP Jeff Karstens, RHP Ross Ohlendorf, RHP Daniel McCutchen
Analysis: A fantastic deal all the way around as it brought a starting outfielder in Tabata, better-than-expected starter in Karstens and a solid reliever in McCutchen; Ohlendorf injured
Traded away: OF Nate McLouth
Players received: RHP Charlie Morton, LHP Jeff Locke, OF Gorkys Hernandez
Analysis: Deal angered many at the time, but McLouth has fallen on very hard times, while Morton has made huge strides after disastrous 2010
Traded away: LHP Sean Burnett, OF Nyjer Morgan
Players received: RHP Joel Hanrahan, OF Lastings Milledge
Analysis: Hanrahan is best closer in baseball this season, but Milledge was major disappointment and is no longer with Bucs; didn't give away vital pieces
Traded away: RHP Octavio Dotel
Players received: RHP James McDonald, OF Andrew Lambo
Analysis: Gave up aging reliever for young starter in McDonald, who has chance to be key contributor for years
Traded away: C Ronny Paulino
Player received: C Jason Jaramillo
Analysis: Paulino was a malcontent, was regressing in Pittsburgh and probably was addition by subtraction, but still he is far more talented than a backup like Jaramillo
Traded away: SS Jack Wilson, RHP Ian Snell
To team: Mariners
Players received: SS Ronny Cedeno, 1B Jeff Clement, RHP Aaron Pribanic, RHP Nathan Adcock, RHP Brett Lorin
Analysis: A salary dump to get rid of Wilson, and it was simply time for the troubled Snell to go; decent return, but lost Adcock in Rule 5 draft to Royals
Traded away: OF Ryan Church, RHP. D.J. Carrasco, IF Bobby Crosby
Players received: C Chris Snyder, SS Pedro Ciriaco
Analysis: Looked like a good deal in that it brought a quality catcher in Snyder, but his future is now in doubt after back surgery; didn't give up much
Traded away: Jason Bay
To: Red Sox (three-team trade)
Players received: 3B Andy LaRoche, RHP Bryan Morris, OF Brandon Moss, RHP Craig Hansen
Analysis: There was no way the Pirates could sign Bay and had to dump him at the 2008 trade deadline, but the return was lousy for the team's best player; Morris is only hope left for the trade
Traded away: 2B Freddy Sanchez
Player received: RHP Tim Alderson
Analysis: Huntington and Pirates scouts got snookered on this one by vastly overvaluing Alderson, who doesn't look like a major league pitcher; needed to get much better return for former batting champ
Traded away: LHP John Grabow, LHP Tom Gorzelanny
Players received: 3B Josh Harrison, RHP Jose Ascanio, RHP Kevin Hart
Analysis: An awful trade because Bucs gave up two major league arms and got little in return from two pitchers; Harrison is trade's only possible saving grace
Traded away: RHP Jesse Chavez
Player received: 2B Aki Iwamura
Analysis: A truly terrible deal, not so much for giving up Chavez but for a total swing and a miss on a stiff like Iwamura, who made nearly $5 million but hit just .182
THE COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS
Traded away: 3B Jose Bautista
To: Blue Jays
Player received: C Robinzon Diaz
Analysis: An utter disaster and one of worst trades in recent memory; Huntington and Pirates failed miserably evaluating Bautista's potential and got only a minor league catcher in return for a guy who probably will have back-to-back 50-homer seasons
The Pirates: THEN ...
The team Neal Huntington inherited: The primary players from the Pirates' 2007 season - when the club finished 68-94 - and where they are now:
C.....Ronny Paulino.....Starter for N.Y. Mets; spent two years with Marlins
C.....Ryan Doumit.....Still with Pirates; currently on disabled list
1B.....Adam LaRoche.....Was starting for Nationals; out for season (shoulder)
1B.....Steve Pearce.....Still with Pirates; currently on disabled list
2B.....Freddy Sanchez.....Won World Series with Giants in 2010 (out with shoulder injury)
2B.....Jose Castillo.....Out of baseball; spent 2010 in Japan; played for Giants and Astros
SS.....Jack Wilson.....Backup for Mariners; injured much of past two seasons
3B.....Jose Bautista.....Starter for Blue Jays and now the game's premier HR hitter
LF.....Jason Bay.....Starter for N.Y. Mets but struggling; had huge 2009 for Red Sox
CF.....Nate McLouth.....Has had major struggles since getting traded to Braves
CF.....Chris Duffy.....Out of baseball; played briefly with Brewers in 2009
RF.....Xavier Nady.....Backup for Diamondbacks; also played for Cubs and Yankees
OF.....Nyjer Morgan.....Starter Brewers and playing well; also played for Nationals
LHP.....Paul Maholm.....Still with Pirates and has ERA under 3.00
LHP.....Tom Gorzelanny.....Starter for Nationals; also pitched for Cubs
RHP.....Ian Snell.....Retired in spring; now back in AAA (Dodgers); pitched for Mariners
LHP.....Zach Duke.....Starter for Diamondbacks but struggling
RHP.....Matt Morris.....Out of baseball after disastrous start with Pirates in 2008
RHP.....Tony Armas.....Out of baseball; pitched for Mets in 2008
RHP.....John Van Benschoten.....Just joined Padres' AAA team; was in independent ball
RHP.....Matt Capps.....Closer for Twins; also pitched for Nationals; 42 saves in 2010
RHP.....Shawn Chacon.....Out of baseball; pitched for Astros in 2008
RHP.....Salomon Torres.....Out of baseball; pitched for Brewers in 2008
LHP.....John Grabow.....Reliever with Cubs since 2009 but has struggled for two years
LHP.....Damaso Marte.....Out of baseball; pitched past three seasons with Yankees
LHP.....Shane Youman.....Out of baseball; pitched independent ball past three years
... AND NOW
How the current team was formed: A look at how each player on the current 25-man roster, plus a few more key players who are currently injured or in Triple-A, came to the Pirates:
RHP.....Kevin Correia.....Signed as a free agent in January
RHP.....Jeff Karstens.....Came from Yankees in Xavier Nady/Damaso Marte trade in 2008
@RHP.....Brad Lincoln.....First-round pick (No. 4 overall) in 2006 draft
LHP.....Paul Maholm.....First-round pick (No. 8 overall) in 2003 draft
RHP.....James McDonald.....Came from Dodgers in Octavio Dotel trade in 2010
RHP.....Charlie Morton.....Came from Braves in Nate McLouth trade in 2009
*RHP.....Ross Ohlendorf.....Came from Yankees in Xavier Nady/Damaso Marte trade in 2008
LHP.....Joe Beimel.....Signed as minor league free agent in January
RHP.....Joel Hanrahan.....Came from Nationals in Nyjer Morgan/Sean Burnett trade in 2009
RHP.....Chris Leroux.....Claimed off waivers from Marlins in September, 2010
RHP.....Daniel McCutchen.....Came from Yankees in Xavier Nady/Damaso Marte trade in 2008
*RHP.....Evan Meek.....Rule 5 draft selection from Rays in December, 2007
@LHP.....Daniel Moskos.....First-round pick (No. 4 overall) in 2007 draft
RHP.....Chris Resop.....Claimed off waivers from Braves in August, 2010
RHP.....Jose Veras.....Signed as minor league free agent in January
LHP.....Tony Watson.....Ninth-round draft pick in 2007
*C.....Ryan Doumit.....Second-round draft pick in 1999
C.....Eric Fryer.....Came from Yankees in Eric Hinske trade in 2009
C.....Michael McKenry.....Came from Red Sox in trade for future considerations in June
*C.....Chris Snyder.....Came from D-backs in D.J. Carrasco/Ryan Church trade in 2010
1B.....Lyle Overbay.....Signed as free agent in December
*1B.....Steve Pearce.....Eighth-round draft pick in 2005
2B.....Neil Walker.....First-round pick (No. 11 overall) in 2004 draft
*SS.....Ronny Cedeno.....Came from Mariners in Jack Wilson/Ian Snell trade in 2009
SS.....Pedro Ciriaco.....Came from D-backs in D.J. Carrasco/Ryan Church trade in 2010
SS.....Chase d'Arnaud.....Fourth-round draft pick in 2008
*3B.....Pedro Alvarez.....First-round pick (No. 2 overall) in 2008 draft
3B.....Josh Harrison.....Came from Cubs in John Grabow/Tom Gorzelanny trade in 2009
3B.....Brandon Wood.....Claimed off waivers from Angels in April
OF.....Matt Diaz.....Signed as free agent in January
OF.....Garrett Jones.....Signed as minor league free agent in December, 2008
CF.....Andrew McCutchen.....First-round pick (No. 11 overall) in 2005 draft
OF.....Alex Presley.....Eighth-round draft pick in 2006
*OF.....Jose Tabata.....Came from Yankees in Xavier Nady/Damaso Marte trade in 2008
* - On the disabled list @ - In Triple-A but with big-league experience