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Neal Huntington Reveals His True Nature, Once And For All

Being cautious with prospects may lead to Huntington’s professional demise.
Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty

On Friday, Neal Huntington was on 93.7 the Fan and said that if Pirate fans saw what the White Sox wanted for Jose Quintana, they wouldn’t have wanted to give it up. Let’s presume we’re talking all minor league prospects, as that’s what the White Sox have mostly traded for in their two main trades this offseason (the Eaton and Sale trades). Under that presumption, there’s virtually no combination or quantity of prospects that I wouldn’t give up for Jose Quintana.

Friday, February 10th, 2017 is the day that Neal Huntington finally dropped the mask and revealed that he’s a prospect hoarder. It’s either that or he has a pathological fear of giving up a prospect that will turn into a star for someone else.

We’ve shown in our past articles that prospects fail. A lot. Our Surplus Value work shows that it’s a good idea to keep the top 10 ones, but all the rest have significant failure rates. Prospects are currency to be used to supplement your current team with low-cost talent, but also to facilitate trades with teams for current impact talent.

In his career as a GM, Huntington has made 118 trades (up to date with the Pat Light and Phil Gosselin trades!). In those trades, he has never traded a prospect that was currently in the Baseball America Top 100. I’m not suggesting that Huntington casually start tossing prospects away like he’s throwing beads off a Mardi Gras float. But if Huntington isn’t willing to trade prospects, even multiple top ones, for Jose Quintana, then when would he ever do so?

Here’s a recap from our December article regarding the Pirates interest in Jose Quintana about his characteristics:

  • He’s a high-end #2/low-end #1 pitcher
  • He’s left handed
  • He’s 28, in the prime of his career
  • He’s controllable for four years
  • He’s making just $7M this year

That whole article was a blueprint for Huntington to follow. It even gave him an out on how to move Quintana at a later date to replenish the prospect worth lost to acquire Quintana in the first place. Quintana has so much surplus value in his insanely affordable contract that for any team acquiring him it’s a no-brainer, barring injury which no team can predict.

We don’t know, and probably never will, the exact permutation of prospects that the White Sox asked for from the Pirates. But let’s look at each of the potential Baseball America Top 100 prospects from the Pirates, based on the midseason list and one or two others:

  • Austin Meadows, OF — Seen by many, including the Pirates, as the heir apparent to McCutchen in the outfield. His inclusion may have been the deal-breaker for Huntington. Meadows is going to be good, but probably not great. He’s also never had a full season in the minors, yet, due to picking up an injury every year.
  • Tyler Glasnow, RHP — I’ve been a huge proponent of his, but last year’s performance set off some alarms for me. He has yet to develop a 3rd pitch, his command/control has not improved, and he’s so slow to the plate you can time him with a sundial. There’s still time for refinement, but Steve’s dire prediction last year that Glasnow would ultimately be a reliever is looking more likely.
  • Josh Bell, DH-in-waiting/1B — Bell has a great command of the strike zone, but his in-game power has not materialized enough to overcome his massive defensive deficiencies. Dreams of a 30 HR slugger in the cleanup spot are looking more like a high teens HR hitter, like a JT Snow-type.
  • Mitch Keller, RHP — This is the one prospect that I’d be most hesitant to deal, as Keller is exhibiting great command of the strike zone to go along with premium stuff. However, he’s only entering High-A this year and wouldn’t be ready for the Majors for at least 3 seasons. I’d be willing to deal his future to improve the present.
  • Kevin Newman, SS — Newman may be a major league SS, but his range is most likely going to take him to 2B. His complete lack of power is not appealing to me at all as a starter.
  • Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B — Hayes is a good 3B defensively, but isn’t demonstrating a dynamic bat. His thick frame presages a move to 1B long-term, where the pressure to hit is even greater.
  • Will Craig, 3B — Craig is a low upside, bad body that did not have a strong debut at all in the short-season league. I don’t see a long-term starter at 3B.

These are all flawed players; there are no can’t-miss types, even if such a thing existed. Quintana is a proven commodity and you have a team in the White Sox that is in the midst of a massive rebuild.

I understand the core tenet of what Neal Huntington is trying to do. He’s trying to create a sustainable model of success for the Pirates by keeping the talent pipeline flowing from the minors. It’s the way the Pirates can compete with more well-heeled clubs. The term ‘sustainability’ has infiltrated every facet of business and our modern lives. It’s a buzzword that in this case is clouding the ultimate vision of the Pirates. Huntington is trying to create an 86-win club every year that with some bounces here and there can be a 90+ win club. He’s minimizing risk while he keeps kicking the can down the road.

The whole goal of this baseball thing-a-ma-roo is to win. It’s especially helpful to win in the current year. The Pirates can compete this year with Jose Quintana and still have enough pieces left, especially with a trade or two down the line, to keep on winning. Ask the fans, or maybe fan, of the Tampa Bay Rays about getting really close only to see how hard it is to get back as a small-revenue club.

What Huntington has shown is that he’s playing not to lose, instead of playing to win.

Nerd engineer by day, nerd writer at night. Kevin is the co-founder of The Point of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Creating Christ, a sci-fi novel available on Amazon.

18 Comments on Neal Huntington Reveals His True Nature, Once And For All

  1. Not to be the word police, but I think you mean “presages” instead of “precludes” in about Ke’Bryan Hayes.

    On the larger point, I would love to have Quintana on the Bucs, but three of those players wouldn’t only hamper the Pirates down the road, but they currently serve as backup plans for the current lineup. Bell, flawed as he is, is the starter at 1B. Meadows and Newman both provide insurance (albeit cheap insurance) for areas that are question marks/injury risks for the Pirates as do Glasnow/Keller to varying degrees. WTM on bucsdugout explained it (in the comments section) much better than I can or would try to claim credit for.

    I still think they should have found a way, though. Some combination of give now/give later. Of course, I’m no GM, just someone who wants it all. I want a World Series and to be competitive for a long time. Easy Peasy.

    • Kevin Creagh // February 13, 2017 at 9:56 AM //

      That’s the exact word I was going for and I changed it! You “principals” with your “principles”.
      The thought that we can’t trade various players because they’re backups down the line is the kind of thinking that gets us to this article. At some point, you have to rip the Linus Blanket away and go for it.
      Yes, Meadows is clearly the next OF, but the Pirates have been spoiled by having three stud OF’ers. There are plenty of good, not great, corner OF’s (especially for PNC’s small RF) available every year.
      I don’t like Newman that much and don’t see him as an upgrade over Mercer.
      If they get Q, Glasnow is not as needed. Keller, as mentioned, is 3 years away.

  2. Harry Schade // February 13, 2017 at 11:12 AM //

    “On Friday, Neal Huntington was on 93.7 the Fan and said that if Pirate fans saw what the White Sox wanted for Jose Quintana, they wouldn ?t have wanted to give it up.”

    Perhaps they wanted Taillon or Cole along with prospects…

    • Kevin Creagh // February 13, 2017 at 1:23 PM //

      That’s entirely possible, moreso with Taillon (6 years control) than Cole (3), as the White Sox are in a deep rebuild.

  3. “Perhaps they wanted Taillon or Cole along with prospects ?”

    This was pretty much my first thought when I read the blurb. “Gotta be after Taillon.”

    It’s not a guarantee that the Sox only asked for 3 or 4 minor leaguers. As you point out, his contract is ridiculously affordable. I doubt they’d have the nuts to expect “Cole++” as a return for Quintana, but Taillon? I can easily buy that’s what was asked for.

  4. What about the now. Nobody wants to talk now we have a couple potentially good starters and a four in the third spot four is maybe a five and who knows what’s holding down the five . Meadows is not only unproven but currently blocked. Bell appears to hit for average but no power and questionable defense. Glasgow will be a reliever eventually Diaz is blocked they ruined Alen Hanson. And won’t trade unproven potential for a controllable stud lefty who’s proven himself. Get used to what we’ve seen 2nds and 3rds occasionally a wild card. But that’s all. And. Neil tell us what they asked for if your so sure you know what we would have thought.

  5. Martin Dorfman // February 18, 2017 at 7:27 PM //

    The huge issue is that Nutting, and Huntington by extension, are risk-aversive to the point of being more interested in minimizing risk than actually winning; Nutting from the financial side and Neal from the player control side. The combination of those 2 attitudes freezes this team from ever doing everything that is necessary for this team to win it all unless pretty much every player on the team has a career season in the same year. If he isn’t willing to put the big-boy pants on and get into this thing to win, he should sell the team to someone who will. The Drive-for-85 mentality will only continue to assure mediocrity, especially when the competition is doing everything they can to win.

  6. So we are one player away from beating the Cubs and the Cardinals? Quintana will do that? Man, never knew one pitcher would make or break a season.

    In all seriousness, I like Quintana and want him on the Bucs but we need much more than one great pitcher to contend. Right now, I think we are the second best team in the central behind the Cubs. The dodgers will be good, and the mets/nationals will too. But, to say that Quintana will put us above the cubs is unrealistic. We need a lot of things to drop to beat them, not one pitcher. We need our outfield to produce greater then what they have done in the past, we need our pitching, mainly Cole, to live up to their potential, we need Watson and company to be better than they were last year, Bell needs to be consistent on offense and average on defense, Harrison needs to be his all star caliber. We need our whole team to step up and not just one player. Again, not trying to pick a fight about prospects or Quintana, but taking a look at a bigger picture that isn’t defined by one player.

    • Completely agree with this. Love Quintana but he’s not Randy Johnson. We have no idea what the ask is. If Glasnow is part of it how much better could Q be than him? Its only around 30 games with tons of luck sequencing etc involved.

      • Kevin Creagh // February 19, 2017 at 10:08 AM //

        Quintana is the level of pitcher that we hope Glasnow becomes — high end #2/low-end #1. He’s been doing it for 4 years. Glasnow has a long way to go to even dream of that type of consistent production. I’d estimate an additional 3-4 wins more than with Glasnow.

    • Kevin Creagh // February 19, 2017 at 10:06 AM //

      At no point have I said that getting Quintana would make us better than the Cubs. But what it would do is take an 85-win caliber team and make them an 89-90 win team. That gets you in the wild card discussion.

      Adding Quintana gives the Pirates a formidable rotation that matches well against the Cubs, Giants and Nationals. It makes them better than the Cards and Dodgers overall rotations. It’s a rough ride in the NL this year to get to the WC game up top.

      And just because the Cubs are defending WS champs, doesn’t mean that they aren’t prone to regression or injuries. In particular, I think their rotation is shallow after their top 3 (I’m not a believer in Lackey at his age) and they have little depth in the minors.

      Quintana is one of 25 players, but he’s a very important player. He’s a lot better than most Pirate fans realize.

  7. Sad reality is they will likely have 40-42 wins at the All Star break this year and some team will overpay for McCutchen’s resurgence and a newer rebuild will ensue. We will always contend for a wild card but will never have the ace that is needed to win and win consistently in the post season.

  8. When will people finally put some trust in Neil’s decisions?

    • Kevin Creagh // February 19, 2017 at 10:09 AM //

      In general, I do trust NH. But in recent seasons, he has frittered around the edges of roster construction rather than get a key cog that will take the Pirates from peripheral WC contender to division contender.

  9. What’s the point of stashing MiLPs if you’re never going to use them? Huntington has a long, predictable pattern of making the Pirates the toughest club to actually give deserving MiLP studs their shot at the majors. Happened with Marte, Polanco, has been happening with Glasnow and Kingham (sp?), and will just keep happening. What’s the point of bottling up all your talent for too long when your MLB product is mediocre? I’ve seen a lot of upper management like Huntington in so many businesses and public entities in my long life: They’re above their competence level, so they “manage” by trying to be least open to criticism rather than being proactive. .500 is OK for the Pirates, their established norm. In our longtime fantasy league in KC filled with SABR vets in the age 55-80 range, drafting a minor leaguer in the Pittsburgh organization is the kiss of death.

  10. I agree with you, Kevin. The window is open now. (With this metaphor, what are the Pirates supposed to do? Jump out? Look out? Breathe in?)
    Because the Sox’s system is weak in OF prospects, of course they want Meadows. The Bucs should also be willing to trade either Glasnow or Keller because the Pirates would be getting back 4 mature years of the pitcher that we hope Glasnow and Keller grow into during their 1st 6 major league seasons. If the Sox want Meadows, Glasnow and Keller, then I can understand how Neil would hesitate to depart from his plan to have a low cost, sustainable pipeline of talent for a decade to come. But that doesn’t mean Neil should not make the deal. I suppose that I would need to have a better understanding of Keller’s true ceiling before I would know for sure. Could the White Sox add a sleeper prospect to the trade to make it palatable to the Bucs?

    • Kevin Creagh // February 20, 2017 at 9:49 PM //

      I guess they could have tossed a short-season lottery ticket in there. The Sox wanted to get all these trades done this offseason and progress on one new timetable. There’s no way they’re thrilled to still have Q, Frazier, Robertson.

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