Pirates general manager Neal Huntington participated in a live online chat with Pirates fans on Friday. During the chat, Huntington answered questions about the just-completed First-Year Player Draft, the status of the organization's top prospects, evaluating his trades and roster decisions in hindsight, and more. The complete chat transcript follows.
Huntington: Thanks everyone for joining the chat today. Let's get to your questions.
SnakeWesker: I've heard some baseball experts project Stetson Allie as a reliever. Do the Pirates see him as a potential starter, or coming out of the bullpen?
Huntington: We believe that Stetson Allie has the traits necessary to become a Major League starting pitcher. As with all pitchers in the Minor League system, there will need to be mental, physical and fundamental refinements as he develops but if we are able to come to agreement with Stetson (we remain optimistic), we will develop him as a starter. It is important to note that a benefit of drafting starting-pitcher candidates is there is always the fallback of the bullpen later in their career.
no_smoking: Mr. Huntington -- We've seen some very poor fundamental baseball from the Pirates this season, especially on defense and the base paths. Can you tell us about any plans to make improvements in these areas or if there are any plans to make personnel changes?
Huntington: Our fundamental play has been disappointing at times this season, but I assure you that John Russell and his staff continue to work hard to help our Major League players learn how to play the game the right way. Our Major League team is a collection of players that were developed in other systems, and while even the best Major League players make fundamental errors, we will continue to help all Pirates players to play fundamentally sound baseball. It is our expectation that as we move forward with more players that have been developed within our Minor League system, the quality of baseball will continue to improve.
booferks: With so many things going wrong this year, From Aki Iwamura, to Jeff Clement, Charlie Morton and Lastings Milledge, and now Andy LaRoche, do you feel that your job is in jeopardy in any way? Also, do you or have you been hearing the fans that want John Russell to be replaced, along with the coaching staff?
Huntington: Admittedly we have had a number of players not perform at expected levels this season, but that does not shift my focus from ensuring our process is sound. The minute I/we start making decisions to attempt to save a job is the day I/we should lose that job. I have been hired to build a consistent championship-caliber organization and my singular focus is how we make that happen. We will take some calculated risks along the way and all of our decisions will not work out perfectly. When something does not go well, we evaluate what happened, why it happened and what could we have done differently. A particular success or failure will not dramatically impact how we do things and nothing will shift our focus from bringing the fans of Pittsburgh a winning Major League team again.
jen41: How long do you think Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones will be with the Pirates? Seems like as soon as we get good players who produce on a daily basis you trade them for even more prospects, and thus the cycle repeats.
Huntington: It is our hope to keep Andrew and Garrett in Pirates uniforms for a long time. The reality is no team keeps all of their players in the era of free agency. In fact, a quick look at the '04 and '07 Red Sox World Series Championship teams shows a turnover of approximately two-thirds of their roster. Additionally, the '03 and '06 American League Central Twins and the '06 and '09 American League Central Twins also experienced a turnover of about two-thirds of their roster. We will work to keep as many players as is feasible for as long as is feasible in Pittsburgh, but it takes two sides to reach an agreement. Additionally, industry history shows us that we need to make logical decisions if we have any chance to play meaningful games in September and October consistently. As the Rays, Twins and Rockies have shown, drafting, signing and developing your own players and making some good trades at the right time allows an organization to lose players such as Santana, Holliday and Hunter and remain competitive with the best teams in baseball.
1swing3: With the depth that you currently have in the Minor League system, are you planning to sign fewer Draft picks than usual this year?
Huntington: No organization intends to sign every player it drafts. The average number of players signed the past couple of seasons is between 31-32. Some of the organizations that sign a high number of players, sign a high number of seniors in college who are by far the least costly in terms of signing bonuses (frequently less than $5,000), but also have by far the lowest percentage chance of positively impacting a Major League team. Our focus has been, and will continue to be, drafting players that will be challenging signs because of their higher potential. And as a result of that higher potential, they come with higher bonus demands. We will sign the players that we are able to find common ground with, the others we will not sign. We do not enter the Draft with a set number of players we look to sign, rather our focus is on adding as much talent to the system as is feasible while not paying $10 for a $1 item.
Cremdaddy: Please tell me that when the Trade Deadline rolls around again this year that we won't just unload payroll, but make meaningful, helpful deals only.
Huntington: Our focus the last two Trade Deadlines has been adding talent to the system, not dumping payroll. We had a number of players who were nearing free agency and were likely near ending their time in Pittsburgh. We worked to get as much as we could in return for each player, but in more cases than we expected, the interest among the industry was much lower than we anticipated. Admittedly, all of the moves have not worked out as planned to date, but several of the players involved have many years of their careers to develop. Nate McLouth, Xavier Nady, Damaso Marte, Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez and many other Major League players did not reach their full potential until several years into their Major League careers. It is a bit early to close the book on many of the players acquired. We are beyond the talent accumulation mode and any future trades will be made because we believe it to be a good baseball trade.
altidore: Do you plan on signing both Jameson Taillon and Allie?
Huntington: It is our intent to sign not only Taillon and Allie, but several other quality prospects out of our 2010 Draft class. As with any deal it takes two sides to reach an agreement, but we are optimistic we will add a large number of talented players to the system via the Draft again this year.
beaver1312: Will Tony Sanchez be promoted by June 30th?
Huntington: A large number of you have expressed interest in Tony Sanchez and his potential move to Double-A. Tony has swung the bat very well for Bradenton. Additionally, he is learning quickly how to call a game (something he did not do in college), has caught and led the pitching staff very well. He continues to make quality progress on all fronts. As with every player in our system, we have a set of developmental challenges for him to work through to show us he is ready to advance, and Tony is working through those very well. He will move when we feel he has accomplished what is necessary for him to move, but his progress to date has been very good.
cybixler: Neal, Matt Capps is having quite a nice year in Washington. Any regrets over allowing him to leave Pittsburgh?
Huntington: Matt had an outstanding April for Washington, much as he did for the Pirates a year ago. At the time of the decision, we made it clear that we expected Matt to have a better year in 2010 than he did in '09, and to date he has done just that. It was a difficult business decision and we wish Matt the best, as he is a quality person and player. At the same time, Octavio Dotel has done a very nice job for us closing out victories. His overall numbers are skewed by some poor performances where he needed to pitch in a lopsided game, but overall he has done a solid job for us. We have the same ability to retain him for only next year as we would have had for Matt, so we did not sacrifice anything in terms of contractual control. Overall we feel the decision has worked out fine to date.
iaroyalsfan44: What are the plans for how Neil Walker will be handled in the future?
Huntington: Neil has earned the chance to show us if he can handle being an everyday Major League second baseman. As we stated this offseason, we believed Neil had (and has) the ability to be an everyday Major League player, we just had to find the right spot. Neil worked hard at various positions defensively and swung the bat well in Triple-A. After we shifted his focus to second base in early May, he showed us he was ready for the next step. And despite less than 30 games as a second baseman, he has done a nice job at the position while swinging a productive bat.
piratefan11: Why would you keep the promotions of Jose Tabata and Brad Lincoln a "secret"?
Huntington: It was not our intent to keep the promotions a secret, we simply followed normal industry protocol. We are very excited about Lincoln's and Tabata's ascension to the Major Leagues, but 99.9% of the time the player is made aware of his promotion the night before he flies to the Major League team, and the announcement is made the next day upon the player's arrival to the Major League team. Stephen Strasburg is a unique case and the hype surrounding his promotion was nearly unprecedented, as was the pre-announcement of his pending promotion.
cybixler: Neal, glad to hear you're not changing your focus as a result of the failures of Iwamura, Milledge, Morton, LaRoche, Clement, etc. But don't you think you should be held accountable for acquiring so many players who have not performed at expected levels?
Huntington: I absolutely take responsibility for the decisions made to acquire the players you indicated. In some cases, we are far from closing the door on the player and fully expect that, like so many other successful Major League players, their success will come after a few years at the Major League level. In other cases, the decisions will not work out. We know going into every decision that there is a risk. We identify the risk, assess the probability for success, weigh other options and make the decision we believe will best impact the Pirates. Our focus is to take intelligent risks to acquire talent that can help this Major League team win. If a decision-maker becomes passive, tentative or afraid to make a decision, he quickly becomes an ineffective decision maker. We will continue to be aggressive in our decisions but will work to learn from decisions of the past. Even the "can't-miss" prospects sometimes do miss, and the best GMs have some less-than-stellar trades on their resumes. A quick look at last year's All-Star team shows several Major League players who were once essentially passed over in their career only to rebound and become All-Stars. It is our job to help that group that you listed meet expectations and fulfill their potential.
pittfan34: Do you have any regrets on the Freddy Sanchez trade?
Huntington: As we look back on the Sanchez trade or the Jason Bay trade or any other trade, we have and will continue to evaluate the process we followed and the quality of the information we had available to us at the time we made the decision. If we can find flaws in the process or information we had at the time of the decision, then yes, we missed something. To justify or criticize a decision based on a snapshot in time is not a practical way to evaluate the decision. Had we (or the industry) known Jason's production was going to exceed even what he was doing in Pittsburgh, and thus remove the doubts raised by his 2007 season, there would have been a much larger level of interest in him. Our focus for each of those trades was big-picture and the long-term, not immediate results. At given specific times, the moves have looked solid, at times they have not. A more appropriate evaluation of most decisions requires more than a simple snapshot evaluation.
Huntington: Last question today. Thanks again for joining me.
jbs1738771: As the Pirates are the only team I have ever cared about, and I have been a lifelong fan of the Buccos, in a few sentences, what reasons would you give us to "keep the faith" and remain fans of the Pirates (and MLB in general)?
Huntington: I wish that on September 30, 2007, I could have snapped my fingers and made the Pirates a 95-plus-win team at the Major League level with one of the deepest Minor League systems in all of baseball. Unfortunately, that was not a realistic solution to the problem we were facing (a 90-plus-loss team, with the core of that team nearing free agency and one of the weakest Minor League systems in baseball). We could have made the mistake that many organizations make and continued the perpetual chase for .500. Instead, we overhauled nearly every process and system in the organization and put in place a plan to build a consistent championship-caliber organization. We have added many new staff and have given guidance to all staff members to improve our evaluation and development process to help acquire and develop the championship players within the system. The last and most important step in the process is impacting the players and their performance at the Major League level. It takes a vision, a plan, discipline, time and patience to turn around an organization. I understand that the Pirates fans are tired of losing; we all are. Why should you "keep the faith?" I believe you should keep the faith because there are great things happening just below the surface (scouting and player development) that will soon become evident above the surface (Major League wins and losses). Baseball is a great game, PNC Park is the finest ballpark in America and you, the fans, deserve a winning team. Every member of the Pirates organization has a singular focus to return winning baseball to Pittsburgh. While it may not occur at the snap of the fingers, it has happened over time in Minnesota, Colorado, Tampa and other similar markets. The lessons learned from those organizations are being applied to our model and better days are coming to PNC park. Those organizations were not overnight successes; rather, they had a vision, implemented their plan, remained disciplined in the face of adversity, and much to the surprise of those outside the organization (but not to those inside the organization), they became playoff caliber teams because of their years of commitment and their successful execution. That process is in place in Pittsburgh. Keep the faith and you will be rewarded!
Huntington: Despite the strong interest level and the large number of remaining questions, that will be the last question for the day. Thank you all for your questions and thank you for your passion. I hope to see you at PNC Park.