The Pirates 10-6 win over the New York Mets, Tuesday night, moves them two games under .500 at 76-78, as the team looks to avoid becoming the first team in MLB history to find itself at least 16 games over .500 after 108 games and finish with a losing record, as ESPN’s Jayson Stark reported this week.
As the Pirates continue to fade in what many are proclaiming as an epic collapse, speculation continues to emerge that it’s possible owner Bob Nutting could make a surprise move after the season centering around the Pirates front office or their scouting staff. Those facing the most scrutiny right now include GM Neal Huntington, scouting director Greg Smith and assistant GM Kyle Stark who’s become famous for Navy Seals training of Pirates prospects in the farm system.
Personally, I believe Huntington shouldn’t lose his job over another second half collapse and I don’t think he will as Huntington is under contract for two more years. While we have been critical that he didn’t make enough impact moves at the deadline to make this team a true contender, adding Wandy Rodriguez was a clear upgrade over what a Jeff Locke or Justin Wilson were going to give the Pirates this season and in 2013, 2014, despite what some writers in love with prospects might say. The Pirates still haven’t received any impact on the trades for Gaby Sanchez and Travis Snider and probably won’t, but the jury is still out on Snider. Huntington’s biggest move this year was acquiring A.J. Burnett and that move has paid off greatly. Along with others in the organization, Huntington got the cornerstone of the franchise locked up long-term in Andrew McCutchen.
As for the Pirates continued failed signings of 30 something veterans, those signings are often a collective group effort from those in the organization. Huntington and Co missed badly on the Rod Barajas signing but for instance, Clint Hurdle was the main person behind the Pirates aggressively going two years for Clint Barmes when Huntington initially only offered one year and the main thing that Huntington needs is Frank Coonelly taking a step back from the day to day baseball operations and letting Huntington have full authority on personnel moves, which hasn’t been the case for five years now.
However, one reason we’re hearing rumblings of Huntington being in jeopardy of losing his job is because he’s no longer become a puppet to Coonelly and has made himself a much more authoritative figure in the organization. Coonelly hasn’t been a fan of it and feels undermined by Huntington I’m told.
If Bob Nutting believes it’s time to shake up the baseball operations, he should look no further than the scouting staff and how the Pirates are developing players. That area needs to be seriously looked at and the points of emphasis are on Greg Smith and Kyle Stark, but some will argue that if the scouting staff has to go, Huntington should also take the fall.
It’s not too early to start evaluating the 2008 and even 2009 draft classes and the Pirates have little to nothing to show for so far, with not a lot of hope down the road out of those draft classes.
While the team didn’t go wrong with the Pedro Alvarez selection, the rest of the class is a dud. Second round pick Tanner Scheppers went unsigned, third round and fourth round picks Jordy Mercer and Chase D’Arnaud have no ability as impact Major League players now or down the road, sixth round pick Robbie Grossman was used as a trade asset in the Wandy Rodriguez trade, and ninth round pick Matt Hague is going to be a career minor leaguer who can’t hit Major League pitching.
Fifth round pick Justin Wilson is the one player selected after the first round who might reap some benefits for the Pirates but his impact would likely come in the bullpen.
The 2009 draft has the look of being an utter failure and it starts right at the top with the selection of Tony Sanchez, No. 4 overall. An in-excusable decision to draft Sanchez that high with the intention of spending more in the later rounds. It’s a move that will put the Pirates back just like what they did in the 2007 first round.
The Pirates stance in 2009 was that they would allocate more money outside of the first round and the return is looking bleak with the most promising player being reliever Victor Black, the 49th overall pick. The hard throwing righty posted a 1.65 ERA in 60 innings of relief for Double-A Altoona and some scouts feel he has potential as a closer. He throws in the high 90’s and has hit 99 on the gun.
After Black, there’s little to no hope out of this group: Second round pick Brooks Pounders was traded to Kansas City, third round pick Evan Chambers, CF, has no projection as a Major Leaguer and hit .191 in the minors in 2012; Fourth round pick Zach Dodson had a 4.86 ERA with Class-A West Virgina and was suspended on August 9, 2012 for 50 games without pay after a second violation for drug abuse; Fifth round pick Nathan Baker was one of Baseball America’s top 150 prospects coming into the 2009 draft but Baker has yet to emerge as a top-15 prospect in the Pirates system and was 4-7 with a 4.94 ERA for Altoona….. he projects as a reliever; sixth round pick Zack Von Rosenberg is not a prospect to write off yet but scouts feel his velocity needs to improve to eventually become a Major League starter and it hasn’t improved much in two years so far. Von Rosenberg went 5-7 with a 4.36 ERA for West Virgina…….9th round pick Brock Holt is the best hitter of the group but is smallish and most scouts project him as a long-term bench player at the MLB level. The 24 year old is hitting .295 with 0 homers and 3 RBI’s for the Pirates after a September callup.
While Huntington and the scouting staff are facing the most scrutiny, manager Clint Hurdle deserves to be seriously looked at. Yes, the Pirates are improved in the win column and have posted the most wins since a 78 win season in 1999, and if the Pirates finish strong in the final eight games and go 6-2 to capture their first winning season in 20 years, it’s hard to get rid of Hurdle but Hurdle doesn’t deserve to be as safe as many insiders feel he is.
For all the praise about Hurdle being a motivator, this ball club has quit on him for the second straight year WHEN THE GAMES COUNT and his in-game strategy has been atrocious in the second half of the season. One former baseball executive joked to me last week that Hurdle should be fired for pinch hitting injured players, naming Travis Snider and Neil Walker as the two main examples.
With one year left on his contract, Hurdle’s fate should be tied to Neal Huntington. If Huntington gets fired, so should Hurdle. A new General Manager has the right to bring in his own guy and if the Pirates fire Huntington, a new GM also deserves to have full authority over Frank Coonelly on the baseball operations side of things. That’s what needs to happen if Huntington goes but good luck to any new GM getting that type of authority over Coonelly. Nutting and Coonelly would be more likely to make a new General Manager keep Hurdle as manager similar to what the Penguins did when they hired Ray Shero. For the Penguins it worked out well as Shero and Michel Therrien had a good working relationship, were successful, but there was always this feeling around the team of how Therrien wasn’t Shero’s guy and Therrien knew he was never secure because of that and he was never granted the type of job security that a handpicked Shero coach was going to get.