Welcome to the second annual installment of recapping the good, the bad and the ugly of Neal Huntington ?s last 12 months. 2016 was supposed to be a bridge year. Why was it a bridge to nowhere?
3. Re-signing Ivan Nova – Yeah, it ?s still a good signing. Even though Nova struggled in the second half, it ?s hard to be too disappointed with a season where he had an ERA in the low 4 ?s over 31 starts and 187 innings. He didn ?t live up to his two month stint last year or his incredible April, but it was a good turn for a guy who stuck in a rotation for the first time in his career. Three years, $26 million may not be highway robbery, but it ?s a club friendly deal.
2. The acquisitions of Sean Rodriguez and George Kontos – Both Kontos and Rodriguez were acquired the same day on August 5th, and it helped make up for a quiet trade deadline. (We ?ll touch on that in a bit). Rodriguez only cost the Pirates a fringe prospect in Connor Joe, while Kontos was picked up for free.
S-Rod had a down year after missing spring training and most of the regular season because of an offseason car accident. He will be better in 2018, which will help the bench immensely. Kontos looked fantastic pitching in the seventh and eighth innings down the stretch. The Pirates need help to bridge the gap to Felipe Rivero. Kontos may be one of those guys.
In a year of negative press and underachieving, for one day, everything was coming up Huntington.
1. Not overreacting – For as much grief as I and many others given Huntington this year over him staying pat, there are aspects of the 2018 team that will be much better because of his patience. There were times where it looked like Chad Kuhl should go to the minors. That maybe they should trade Andrew McCutchen or Josh Harrison. That they needed to get an outfielder in April to replace Starling Marte. None of those things happened. Thank goodness.
Huntington has had a plan in place for a while now and has followed it (almost to a fault). The 2018 team will be better because of his minimal tinkering.
3. Signing Daniel Hudson– I don ?t think anyone expected Hudson to be the next Mark Melancon, but the next Neftali Feliz seemed like a reasonable goal. The two had similar fastballs, were coming off of bad seasons and had a chance to be back of the bullpen arms.
That ?s about where the similarities end. Hudson saw his walks jump to a career high 4.82 per nine. He also had the seventh worst WPA among all relievers (-1.72). He did have several strong months, but the first year of the two season pact did not go as planned.
2. Trading for Joaquin Benoit – One of Huntington ?s favorite soundbites for the trade deadline is, to paraphrase, ?the Pirates will look to add at the deadline for another consecutive year. ? This year ?s addition was Joaquin Benoit, who came over to replace Tony Watson at the deadline. It did not go well, with Benoit hitting the disabled list in August and making only one appearance in September.
Sure, Benoit had a 7.56 ERA and took two losses in his eight game tenure, but at least Huntington can say next year that the Pirates will look to add for ANOTHER consecutive year.
1. Not picking up an outfielder at the trade deadline – The Pirates desperately needed an outfielder at the trade deadline. Starling Marte was still trying to get his bearings back after his 80 game suspension, and Gregory Polanco just hit the disabled list again. It was a buyer ?s market, with nobody making a strong push for Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson, Melky Cabrera or Seth Smith.
Huntington passed on buying anyone despite having the cash and prospects to do it. I recognize I just praised him for not overreacting and sticking to the plan, but passing on a rental who could help you win now for a low level prospect or two was disappointing. When Polanco got injured in July in Colorado, the Pirates were 49-48 and just 2 games out of first.
The Cubs and Brewers both made major additions during the trade deadline, cementing themselves as contenders. By staying quiet and not addressing their greatest need, Huntington effectively punted the last two months away.
3. Choosing Antonio Bastardo over Tyler Webb – Bastardo ?s spot in the bullpen was fairly guaranteed going into the season. Webb was an intriguing minor leaguer that was stuck behind a logjam of lefties. Ultimately, Webb was sent back to the Yankees, while Bastardo and Wade LeBlanc made the team.
While LeBlanc at least ate innings and was a good mentor to Trevor Williams, Bastardo offered nothing, ending the year and maybe his baseball career by allowing 16 runs in nine innings. Webb struggled in his cup of coffee in the majors this year, but at the very least could have matched that line. Bastardo ?s contract probably kept him around longer than he should have. It cost the Pirates a promising young arm.
2. Cost cutting – Where to begin? Huntington takes no joy in having a low payroll, but there was plenty of midseason slashing that justifiably made an already irate fan base angrier. There was cutting Jared Hughes in spring training so the Pirates only had to pay a portion of his arbitration salary. There was the empty promise that they would re-invest the money they saved from Jung-ho Kang and Starling Marte ?s suspensions. And of course ?.
1. The Juan Nicasio Fiasco – Nicasio is going to get paid this offseason. It won’t be with the Pirates. Huntington recognized this and tried to trade him in August. After getting low balled by the team that claimed him, Huntington decided the best thing to do was to expose him to the irrevocable waiver wire. He was claimed by the Phillies and then quickly traded to the Cardinals. The Pirates got nothing.
Huntington insisted he made the move because it was best for Nicasio. If that explanation is a little too ?Harry and the Hendersons ?-like for you, you ?re not alone.
The move was bad. The damage control and PR afterwards was worse. The $660,000 saved became a major talking point. Huntington mostly ignored the money talk, but made several comments that he thought a rival club leaked the news to ?embarrass ? them. The best way to avoid being embarrassed for a move like this was to not do a move like this.
While losing Nicasio at worst cost a win or two for a sub-.500 team, this is going to go down as one of Huntington ?s worst goofs. At least unloading a contract didn ?t take multiple prospects this time.