While the Pittsburgh Pirates are preparing for the 2017 season, the man who is responsible for building the team is still waiting on a new contract.

Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington (along with manager Clint Hurdle) is on the final year of his contact and waiting on a contract extension. It’s an extension that Huntington deserves and should get before the regular season begins.

The Pirates do hold a club option for 2018 on Huntington’s current deal, which he signed back in April of 2014. You don’t want to enter the season with a lame duck manager. Or general manager for that matter.

That’s especially true in the case of Huntington, who is in large part responsible for the Pirates turn around the past five years. Now in his tenth season with the club, Huntington has taken a dormant franchise and made it competitive on a yearly basis. When he took the job that was his promise and he has lived up to that.

Handcuffed?

Not only has Huntington successfully made the Pittsburgh Pirates competitive year in and year out, he has had to do it with his hands tied behind his back.

The fan base often gets frustrated with Huntington and the lack of major signings, but do you really think Huntington doesn’t want to spend money on players? The bottom line is he can’t due to financial restraints.

It is very difficult to build a winner with next to nothing as a budget, but Huntington has been successful doing so by sticking to the plan.

I know.  “The Plan” is the last things Pittsburgh Pirates fans want to hear, but the reality of the situation is that is what got the Pirates competitive and that is what will keep them competitive.

If Not Neal, Then Who?

Getting over the hump is a different story, but let me ask, if not Huntington then who do you want? Do you think a Theo Epstein, Brian Cashman, Dan Duquette or any other successful VP or GM is going to walk through the door and be willing to work with a $90 million budget?

It’s not happening.

I’ve often wondered why Huntington himself has stuck around so long as there have been more attractive job openings in recent years where he could have the freedom to operate like most general managers do. But he has been willing to see this process through and he should be afforded that opportunity.

Huntington has built a team that won 98 games just two years ago and made the postseason three consecutive seasons.

Last year’s team took a big step back and won only 78 games and a lot of that has to do with Huntington. It’s hard to win every year at the big league level. Teams don’t win every single year, but Huntington didn’t put a great product on the field.

Let’s face it, not all of his moves have worked out.

Trading Neil Walker for Jon Niese did not work out and although Walker needed to go, the return wasn’t great. Signing Ryan Vogelsong was also a mistake. The Francisco Liriano salary dump is still being talked about.

While many saw that deal a straight salary dump, what people don’t seem to get is Huntington didn’t just wake up and say “I need to give away a player today.” Dumping salary comes from a budget. Everyone wants Huntington to spend more, but not one general manager in the league reaches into his own pocket and spends his own money. Sadly Huntington’s hands are tied in that capacity.

The pitching was a huge disappointment last season, but eventually some of the blame needs to be placed on the guys on the mound as well.

Is it Huntington’s fault that Liriano blew up and others didn’t live up to expectations?

The answer is no. This isn’t me being a Huntington apologist. That is empirical fact.

Still A Lot Left To Prove

Huntington has made several moves the past four or five years that have not worked out, but the amount of moves that have worked out has doubled the ones that haven’t. He still has a lot to prove and there is still a lot to be critical of the Pirates front office.

This past offseason didn’t look great on paper.

In addition, they still haven’t won a division or playoff series. Huntington still hasn’t turned any of those prospects into a big piece.

That won’t come via free agency because Huntington works in a world when one major bad signing will cripple the Pirates budget for the foreseeable future.

It’s not like that with most teams, which is another reason why if Huntington gets closer to free agency, you couldn’t blame him for possibly wanting to test the waters. Huntington is far from perfect. He has to find a way to get this team over the hump, whether it be by dealing prospects for a potential game-changer; bringing prospects up to the big league team, or finding some other creative way to do it.

The bottom line is it has to be done. Huntington has earned the right to be the guy to do it though. He said 10 years ago that he wanted to change the culture. He’s done that so far with his hands mostly tied behind his back.

Now he needs the opportunity to build on that and see things through.

Matt Shetler

Matt is a life long Pirates fan with both a newspaper and radio background. Before coming to Pirates Breakdown he was most recently the co-owner and lead columnist for Pittsburgh Sporting News. He has been a credentialed writer for all four major sports and also has written for plenty of other sports and fantasy sports websites.
  • Neal has made some big mistakes. I may have made some of those too (and probably many more lol)

    Most notably the Liriano trade… but has many more big hits than flops so… IMO Neal will be highly sought after should he hit the market.

  • JAL 1234

    Agree, he done some good work with budget limitations. I see last season as one of those years a lot of things went wrong.

  • PLadd

    Ten years, zero division titles, one playoff game victory. What am I missing here?

    The guy is a farm director, not a GM. Fire his ass.