While Huntington dropped buzzwords like "process" and "plans," the Bucs kept dropping games. In his first four years on the job, the losses grew -- from 94 to 95 to 99 to 105. A frustrated fan base was getting restless.
Then the process kicked in. The wins mounted, from 57 to 72 to 79 to 94 to … the 2014 Pirates won't continue that pattern, but a second straight postseason appearance should make up for that.
During the Pirates' stay in Atlanta in the last week of the regular season, there were three significant developments: The Braves dismissed their GM, Frank Wren, for not being able to maneuver the team to its fourth postseason appearance in five years; the Bucs clinched a playoff berth; and Huntington marked the seventh anniversary of his hiring on Sept. 25, the day he sat down with MLB.com for a reflective Q&A.
MLB.com: Last year was such a monumental breakthrough for the team. This year validated one of your mandates, sustained competitiveness. Does that make this repeat more meaningful?
Huntington: To be able to repeat a postseason appearance is a great sign for the organization and for our fan base. We still want to get deeper in the playoffs so, while it is a good step, it's certainly not the last step.
MLB.com: In your view, what would make for a successful season, even while acknowledging that the ultimate goal of any team is to win the World Series?
Huntington: That's about it. A good season is one that ends with a parade in downtown.
MLB.com: A year ago, you were aggressive in making in-season moves, such as the end-of-August acquisitions of Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau. This time around, the opposite -- trusting your judgment that the in-house talent was good enough. Which takeaway is more rewarding?
Huntington: That's really tough to answer. We've had guys step up. This July 31 (non-waiver Trade Deadline) we wanted to, we were willing to, give up prospects as we did last August. We worked hard to find the right deal, large and small, and we couldn't find the right impact coming in the door to match the impact that would've been going out the door. We also liked the opportunities with guys coming up from Triple-A, or guys getting healthy, or guys showing signs of taking steps forward, so we didn't feel like we had as big a need as a year ago.
As crazy as that sounds, a team that was on its way to winning 90 games vs. a team fighting for its playoff life, we felt we had a nice balanced lineup. We felt we had the players to put us in the position we are today.
MLB.com: The Gregory Polanco experience. The first couple of months, I'm sure you were aware of everyone clamoring for you to get him here already. You held out for specific reasons, waiting for the right time. In retrospect, your beliefs have been validated. He has struggled and hasn't even played the last six weeks.
Huntington: I wish ... had Neil Walker stayed healthy (Josh Harrison had to take over at second in mid-June, creating a vacancy in right field) we would've led Gregory continue to develop. There's a reason why that Triple-A level exists, why most guys who have had success at the Major League level have experienced Triple-A beyond 250 at-bats. We've certainly experienced that -- had Walker not gotten hurt, Polanco might have had a smoother transition. There are valuable lessons to learn, and he was just on the front edge of learning them when we brought him up.
I hated doing it. I really did. But we felt like he was borderline ready.
MLB.com: How much do postseason matchups matter? The team you wind up playing -- how much can that influence your prospects?
Huntington: Certainly, there are teams on paper you match up better with. But in a short series, man, it's just about going out and executing. Sometimes the better teams win, but sometimes they don't. Just to have the opportunity to get there is great, but the challenge to advance through it is even better.
MLB.com: Is the postseason just buying you time before you have to dive into what figures to be a very difficult offseason, with a lot of big decisions awaiting?
Huntington: The guys in the clubhouse, their focus needs to be on winning and advancing deep ... but we've already begun the process of preparing for 2015 and beyond. I don't know if it delays anything from our standpoint ... it may delay our ability to execute plans. We hope the offseason begins as late as possible.