Today the Pittsburgh Pirates announced the extensions of General Manager Neal Huntington and Manager Clint Hurdle. Both were extended through the 2017 season, with options for the 2018 season. Coincidentally, that puts both guys in the same boat as Andrew McCutchen, who is also under contract through the 2017 season, with an option for 2018. If you believe in “windows” for small market teams, then that certainly would mark the end of the window for the Pirates to compete, or at least a big point where the window could possibly end.
Huntington has been with the Pirates since late 2007. When he took over, the Pirates had one of the worst teams in baseball, and one of the worst farm systems. Last year the Pirates won 94 games, made it to the NLDS, and this year they’re ranked as having one of the top three farm systems in baseball. Despite complaints over the off-season that the Pirates didn’t do enough as contenders, they’re still considered a contender, and a lot of prediction systems have them competing for and winning one of the Wild Card spots.
Starting this year, the Pirates are expected to graduate at least one top 100 prospect to the majors each summer. This year it will be Gregory Polanco, along with Jameson Taillon if he ends up healthy. Next year projects to be Alen Hanson, Nick Kingham, and possibly Tyler Glasnow. After the 2015 season the Pirates could see Josh Bell, Austin Meadows, Reese McGuire, Luis Heredia, and more in future years. So not only do they have a talented young team now, but they have a lot of highly talented young players on the way.
That means that the Pirates should be competitive for as long as McCutchen is under team control, which is now as long as Huntington and Hurdle are under team control. They could even remain contenders after McCutchen leaves, and disprove the idea of a “window” for small market teams to compete. The biggest part of that will be on Huntington, as I think the General Manager has a much bigger hand in the success and failure of a team than the Manager.
That said, I don’t think there’s much Huntington can do at this point to focus on 2015-2018. I think he’s already laid the pieces in place to try and contend during those years. The biggest challenge for him now will be continuing to build the team, expanding beyond those years. McCutchen is likely gone after 2018. Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez are free agents after the 2016 season. Charlie Morton is under team control through the 2017 season. Gerrit Cole is under control through the 2019 season. Aside from Cole, the only person who is under control beyond the 2018 season is Starling Marte.
To contend beyond 2018, Huntington is going to need a lot of the current top prospects to work out, but he’s also going to need to keep adding to that group by giving the farm system a boost. That will be harder with the Pirates picking lower in the draft and getting less money to spend internationally. However, they have had success with middle round picks, and their best international signings cost very little money.
Worrying about 2019 and beyond is hardly something to be concerned about. What happens leading up to 2018 is a priority, and even before that, the main priority is 2014. Huntington doesn’t have to really do anything different to try and build beyond 2018. What he has been doing has been working, and he shouldn’t change that approach. The approach he has is what took the Pirates from one of the worst teams in baseball with one of the worst farm systems, to a contender with one of the best farm systems. That’s why he deserved the extension through the 2018 season, to allow him the chance to see the team and organization that he’s built play out.
The 2018 season might mark the window. But I think it’s more likely that the Pirates will continue to operate in a way under Huntington that will stretch the window beyond any player and any contract in the system.
Links and Notes
**The 2014 Prospect Guide is in stock on the products page of the site. The book features profiles, scouting reports, and grades on every player in the minor league system, including our top 50 prospects. The Prospect Guide has been mentioned as a resource several times on the Pirates’ broadcast, and has been purchased as a source of reference by opposing MLB front office members, opposing scouts, and media members. If it’s a good resource for them, it’s a good resource for you. You can order your Prospect Guide on the products page of the site.