Neal Huntington has earned some trust after building the Pirates to a 94 win team.
Neal Huntington has earned some trust after building the Pirates to a 94 win team.

If it was up to me, A.J. Burnett would have been given a qualifying offer of $14.1 M. That would have been more than a fair price for Burnett, no matter what valuation system you look at, and no matter what cost per win you use. I also believe that the Pirates have the payroll for Burnett, since that salary would put them right around $77 M, which is a few million more than where they finished last year. Factor in the added revenue from the National TV deals, the playoffs, and the increased ticket sales last year, and the Pirates could definitely afford Burnett plus other help.

So when Neal Huntington said multiple times this off-season that the Pirates can’t afford to pay A.J. Burnett, I disagreed. I said both times that I would pay Burnett. But that’s as far as I’m willing to go.

I’m not going to call out the Pirates for not spending money. I’m not going to start screaming and freaking out because Huntington isn’t doing what I would do. I’m not going to worry that the Pirates will screw up this off-season — the first one where fans expect them to be contenders going into the following season.

And why am I not doing these things?

Because it’s still November, and that would be ridiculous.

Because everyone who has ever screamed that the Pirates will never spend X amount has been moving the goalposts the last few years after the Pirates do spend X amount.

Because I don’t confuse years 1993-2007 with years 2008-2013, and can see that Huntington took a horrible all around organization to a contender with a top farm system.

But most importantly because I like to learn something from history.

Let’s go back to last off-season. The Pirates were coming off a huge collapse. Some people wanted the management group fired, others felt they deserved one more shot. There was pressure to improve the team, not with the expectation that the Pirates could be contenders, but with the belief that they had very little chance of being contenders and needed to do anything they could to get to that point.

The first move the Pirates made was in late November when they signed Russell Martin. The deal wasn’t seen as a good one. Martin had poor offensive numbers, and good defense. He also had some great advanced metrics like pitch framing skills, which weren’t appreciated at the time. The total combination isn’t exciting to the average fan that gets frustrated with a pitching and defense approach to winning. And after the signing of Rod Barajas the previous off-season, there was worry that Martin was just going to be the next in line of some poor free agent hitters — especially when the Yankees wouldn’t even out-bid the Pirates for his services.

A few days later, the next move came when the Pirates non-tendered Jeff Karstens. He was due an estimated $3.8 M through arbitration, and the Pirates didn’t think he was worth that. It’s the Karstens move that reminds me of the current Burnett situation, although not on the same scale since Burnett is a much better pitcher. It’s more about the reactions being similar.

When Karstens was non-tendered, a lot of people were up in arms. That included myself. Karstens was seen as an injury risk, but his value when healthy was definitely worth the $3.8 M. That was the argument. It didn’t make sense that they would pay Charlie Morton $2 M when he was guaranteed to miss half the season, while passing on Karstens over the possibility of missing time. And if the Pirates wouldn’t spend $3.8 M on Karstens, then would they even spend money at all?

We know what happened with the above moves, so I don’t need to go into great detail about how Russell Martin looked great, how Karstens missed the whole season, how Morton was definitely worth tendering, and how the Pirates did spend money on Francisco Liriano (and eventually Karstens at a cheaper price). But the tone last off-season was the same as the tone so far this off-season, with people going crazy because the Pirates weren’t making the obvious moves.

That might have been justified last year. The Pirates were coming off their collapse and they had made questionable moves in the past. There were also things we couldn’t see. We didn’t know that the Pirates were planning on entering the 2013 season with an extreme focus on defensive shifts. We didn’t fully value Russell Martin’s defense behind the plate, especially when it came to the advanced metrics that got more popular throughout the year. In 2012, A.J. Burnett was just seen a former Yankees pitcher who found success again after leaving New York. In 2013, people weren’t looking at Burnett, Liriano, Mark Melancon, Vin Mazzaro, and Jeanmar Gomez as much as they were looking at Ray Searage and the pitching coaches who were responsible for reviving their careers. We didn’t know about the future adjustments that were planned with each pitcher, plus the shifts that would help them all bounce back.

There was an excuse for the lack of trust last year. The trust wasn’t necessarily earned. That’s not the case this year.

The Pirates are coming off a season where they won 94 games, made the playoffs, and spent a franchise record $75 M in payroll. Not every off-season move worked out last year, but a large majority of them worked, and a lot of them worked because of things that were impossible for us to see during the off-season. At this point, Neal Huntington has earned trust. He has at least earned enough trust to get to the end of the off-season and evaluate how it actually went, rather than creating scenarios and complaining about them.

I disagree with Huntington on the Burnett decision. But I also trust him. I’m just a guy looking at Burnett’s value the last few years, and guessing that the Pirates could afford him while addressing other areas of need. The moves I’m suggesting are the obvious ones that we all see. I don’t have Huntington’s stats department finding hidden values about each player. I don’t know what new strategy they will employ to try and get an edge next year. I haven’t scouted each free agent to see which one might benefit the most from a specific adjustment that no one is even thinking about right now. I’m looking at the extra revenue they have and adding that to last year’s payroll, but I don’t know how much of that revenue will go to things we don’t track like scouting, statistical analysis, and other approaches that have produced some great values for the Pirates.

I’m also fine with my situation. I’m fine not knowing every detail of the Pirates’ plan for the following season. No one knew the plan last off-season, and no one will know the plan this off-season. The baseball off-season is supposed to be about discussing potential moves, reacting to the moves that are made, and stopping short of being outraged that the team wouldn’t do exactly what you would do. That’s the approach I take. I give my suggestions. I give my reactions. But I’m not going to call out Huntington for not making the moves I thought he should make, especially when Huntington is working with so much better information than anyone who gives an opinion online.

For years the big argument with the draft was that anyone with a Baseball America subscription can pick guys like Pedro Alvarez, Gerrit Cole, and the other top picks. Huntington’s job was to find value where we couldn’t see it, because he is supposed to have the resources and information to do that. So why is it different with the off-season? Why do we expect a General Manager to only make the obvious moves that we can see, and then lack trust when he goes to the resources and information that we don’t have in order to make a move?

It would be different if the Pirates weren’t coming off a great year full of excellent decisions that led to the winning. But they are coming off such a season. And so I’ll wait and see what they do, rather than screaming because they aren’t making moves on my timetable. I’ll react to each move, and as usual, I’ll later revisit those reactions to see if I was right or wrong. I might get labeled an apologist for this approach, and that’s only a bonus. I was always amused by the “apologist” labels when the Pirates were in the process of building a contender. The fact that you can be an apologist for a team that just won 94 games is something I never imagined, and something I find very funny. All those years, when I imagined how people would react to the General Manager that finally built a winning team in Pittsburgh, I never thought that two months into the following off-season that same GM would see a lack of trust.

Huntington has earned that trust. He’s earned the right to not make the obvious move in tendering Burnett, and to go with the move that none of us can see right now. He’s earned the right to mystery surrounding how the Pirates will spend their money this off-season, and how much money they will spend. If Huntington botches the off-season, then obviously the trust would disappear. But that hasn’t happened, and until it does, I’ll be trusting what Huntington does — even if I happen to disagree with the move.

Links and Notes

**Pre-Order the 2014 Prospect Guide

**Pirates Sign Two Minor League Free Agents

**New Player Pages: Nevin Ashley and Cody Eppley

**Winter Leagues Notebook: Pirates Have Talented Outfielders in Winter Ball

IMPORTANT: You will need to update your password after the switch to the new server in order to log in and comment. Go to the Password Reset Page to change your password.


  1. I do agree with you that Huntington should be given some room to maneuver even though I have called for his firing numerous times in the past . Obviously he has improved the organization although I imagine it took him longer than expected . So for what it is worth I will watch what happens in the next several months before I make up my mind if last year becomes the norm or if it was an anomaly .

  2. The more I think about it the more I like NH’s acquisition of Jaff Decker. I believe that a year from now we will be looking back at this trade as NH’s “Liriano moment” for this off season. Until I looked them up I hadn’t realize how bad Marte’s splits were. If you discount Decker’s AAA OBP of .381 down to about a .350 for MLB exposure it still would be a huge upgrade over Marte’s .307 OBP vs. RHP. A look at the splits for the rest of the team reinforce’s Tim’s idea that Alvarez is a platoon player as well. I foresee the following as the Pirates 2014 lineups:

    Vs RHP:

    RF Decker
    2B Walker
    CF Cutch
    3B Alvarez
    1B Lambo
    LF Marte
    C Martin
    SS Mercer

    Vs. LHP

    LF Marte
    SS Mercer
    CF Cutch
    1B Sanchez
    3B Harrison
    RF Decker
    2B Walker
    C Martin

    I hope that the Pirates can trade Snider and Tabata for highest return this off season, looking for IF reinforcements, using Lambo and Harrison as backup outfielders until Polanco’s arrival. If there are no takers for Snider I’d DFA him. Tabata you have to keep because of his contract if there are no trade takers. When Polanco is ready I’d play him not only in RF but also in LF spelling Marte up to half the time against RHP, allowing Decker to continue to see some time against RHP.

  3. RJ, I am kind of with you.

    I would not offer Burnett and take the money and more and sign the best available LH first baseman available.

    As I have said before, offer Barmes 1.5-2 m and tell him he starts 2-3 times a week and no more.

    Lambo and Tabata in right until Polanco is ready. That rf looks a lot better with a real good hitter playing 1st.

    Keep an eye out for a starter if one is available at a reasonable price, but there are some nice internal options (like Gomez) until Tallion.

    Make a nice 2 yr offer to McKenry and tell him to get a nice place in Indy and we will see him when we need him in 2014 and he could be back in Pittsburgh in 2015

  4. I like all the thoughtful insightful comments. Each offseason has it’s own dynamics and while it is early and the Pirates moves at this point are both somewhat expected the absence of any urgency with regard to 1b/RF is disconcerting although the market has to set itself. Interestingly last year the Pirates moved quickly on Martin and didn’t wait to raid the dumpster for the scraps. Some concerns: Is the underpaying Burnett and the public statements in the media a strange repeat of the Sano debacle and we will be left holding the bag? Will the Pirates get a meaningful bat for 1B to platoon with Sanchez and not a scrapheap retread? Can the Pirates ever find a free agent backup middle infielder who will actually perform to expectations? Huntington has an excellent year last year and deserves the accolades. But let’s watch closely and see if he follows it up.

  5. Chris,

    Like many, I loved AJ. The old school attitude and guts that AJ presented gave the young players examples of how the game used to be played.
    He was vital in making the Pirates winners.

    I agree though, I wish him the best and its time to move on.

    Now, one too many attitudes in the dugout.

  6. I didn’t have a high opinion of NH until the 2011 season. What he did with that team with the personnel he had on the field,He should have been executive of the year and CH should have been manager of the year. If you want to break it down NH and CH did more with what they had than anybody in baseball. The 2011 team with Kevin Correia as the #1 starter for most of the year probably should have been a 62 win team. The Pirates went into the 2nd half over 500 . They ended up winning 72 games and collapsing the final 2 months of the season. That team was no where near as good as they were playing in the first half. Their overachieving can be contributed to Hurdle,Huntington and in my honest opinion the best pitching coach in all of baseball Ray Searage. The number of pitchers he has vastly improved are countless over the last 3 years. The Pirates fell flat on their face when the good teams started to rise to the top. I don’t question anything NH does anymore. He is a genius and Cherington winning the exec of the year was a travesty . My take on Aj is there is a good reason why he wasn’t offered the 14.1 qualifying offer. I have no real proof of this but I think the clubhouse is growing tired of A.J Burnett and vise versa . How many times have we seen AJ challenge Clint Hurdle. Hurdle doesn’t need that kind of leader. Aj was pretty much non-existent in the STL series. There were times he refused to talk to the media. There were also rumors of He and Jeff Locke separating themselves from the rest of the team. Sounds to me like this relationship is over and it’s time to move on

  7. The Twins just paid Ricky Nolasco, not the quality of AJ Burnett although younger, $12M to join their organization. Another small-ish market team somehow found the money to improve (so they think) their team. I believe the two teams had very similar payrolls last season, despite the fact that one team was much better than the other. So, can we please stop questioning whether AJ is worth $14.1 QO? Can we please stop debating whether the Pirates can afford it? The Pirates are 100% able to afford the $14.1M QO for AJ and still add another player, whether that is what they want to do is another story, but they are able to afford it. Honestly, seeing how this offseason is going I would be more than willing to say that without a trade or signing Phil Hughes the Pirates are not going to be able to pick-up a high-quality starter this offseason for less than $10M. Dan Haren at $10M, Josh Johnson on bounce-back at $10M and Ricky Nolasco, not a bounce-back candidate but still at $12M. Boy oh boy do these other signings make the $14.1M qualifying offer look like a STEAL!

  8. Ok, maybe a dumb question for Tim or anyone else.
    (remember, I do not know much about this)

    Is Jeff Karstens done? Will he every pitch again?

    If he has anything left…

    Considering the Pirates paid good money for him
    not to pitch last year, does he even owe us something
    if we offer him a minimum contract (and I mean absolute
    minimum) for a minor league non 40 man contract
    to see if he can pitch again?

    Would the Pirates have any interest in this at all?

  9. Signing Martin and non-tendering Karstens last year were easy calls. We absolutely had to improve our catching from a defensive standpoint, and Karstens was an injury plagued 5th starter at best with no upside pitcher type who doesn’t win you divisions. 🙂 We still don’t know why the Pirates didn’t offer Burnett, and if it was because they couldn’t afford to because of the budget the owner had set, we are in big trouble. If it is purely money, we will not be able to complete long. Burnett was an easy call to offer for the $14m……….

    • Look at this way, you have a pie with several pieces and x amount of total dollars budgeted for these pieces, we don’t know how many pieces there are however, they do, each piece has to have so much money allocated to it, if you give all the money to one piece, you don’t have enough money for the other pieces, so how many pieces they have to pay and how much they have to pay each piece determines how much they can pay one piece. But money is not the only way to acquire talent, the Pirates have talent to trade for talent, therefore if we do not sign Burnett because of money it does not mean the ship is sinking, it just means we do it in another way, that would be to keep drafting well and developing those drafts.

    • It was REALLY easy for you Hank ! You don’t have to worry about Budgets,revenue stream,cash flow,absolutely nothing,right ?

      • I worry about winning first…….which is what every owner and management team should also be doing. I do have to worry about budgets……the abnormally low salary budgets which the Pirates owner’s might set because of their lack of deep pockets and vision(not realizing the additional $’s winning can bring in. Hopefully they have a better clue now).

  10. Actually we do know the plan, we don’t know the execution of the plan, the Pirates don’t know that yet.
    We know the Pirates need right field held down for a couple of months till Polanco gets here. We know they are going to get a dance partner for Sanchez at first base. We know they would like a veteran pitcher that can actually pitch with a good ground ball ratio. We know they are going to find AAA players that have the ability to help out with the major league team in 2014. That is the plan! Who, When and Where is yet to be determined. Huntington’s telephone could ring in the next few months and everything could change, therefore it is fruitless to try and figure out what they will or will not do.
    I get a chuckle out of the Burnett case, players come and go and baseball goes on, if Burnett ends up here, great, if he does not, the Pirates will continue on and they will still win, the infrastructure for the Pirates is set very well at this point in time, we are pretty close to the point where we can just plug a player in and keep going, if you need a lot of players plug and play does not work, but the Pirates need only a couple of players, something very few teams in baseball can claim.

  11. The Pirates will continue to not be taken seriously until they start acting like a major league front office and not a some penny pinching buisness. I would never expect them to spend with the Yankees, Dodgers, etc. but there is no reason whatsoever that they should not be up there with the Reds, Brewers, etc. Last year the Reds payroll was 110 million, the Brewers were at 91 million. This is where the pirates need to be, not 75-80 million. But then again, it;s always about the bottom line with Bob “Bottom Line” Nutting

    • There are no awards given for payroll spent, only for performance on the field. The Pirates finished better than the Reds or BrewCrew this year, finally. So I think both of those clubs are taking the Pirates seriously, as are the Cards, who were down 2-1 in the playoffs before coming back to win. Frankly I hope that Nutting and his partners are solidly profitable every year. I remember how close Pittsburgh came to losing the Pirates 20 -25 years ago because the previous owners couldn’t figure out how to run the franchise profitably and it was almost sold to new owners who would have moved the Pirates to another city. You have to remember that the only alternative to the small budget Pirates is no Pirates at all. Let’s be thankful for what we have instead of complaining about what we will never have.

  12. Ok, well this is a pretty pointless argument: whether NH is good or trustworthy or not. It also seems to incite anger and some level of misanthropy. Whether we trust NH or not based on his success with acquiring nice bull pen pieces, AJ Burnett, Russell Martin, and Francisco Liriano does not speak to the current market, the current availability, and what the best decision is currently for this team. Do I think he has earned some cache with the fan base and with other major league GMs with the work he has done with the Pirates? Yes! However, I will stop short of saying that that cache makes not tendering AJ Burnett a smart decision. Cache or not, GMs make mistakes…and NH has made a significant one thus far with AJ. Maybe the Pirates still work out a deal with him, but if not that will be a mistake.

    Tim recently posted the link to his earlier article about the available free agent bounce-back starters. Almost all of them are currently gone and the ones left simply are not close to the caliber of pitcher of AJ Burnett. Phil Hughes is likely the best pitcher left of the group. Maybe the Pirates work out something with him to replace AJ…he’d be younger, has always had good upside, and maybe they harness that upside and he excels with us. My problem is that the Pirates DO have the money to keep AJ Burnett and should have given him the QO and should be slotting him into the rotation next season. Over the last two seasons AJ Burnett has not just been one of the best pitchers in the NL…he’s been one of the top 30-40 pitchers in all of MLB (and how many teams are there in MLB again?). NH did a great job of acquiring Burnett and the staff did a great job harnessing his talent and getting great production from AJ…now is where they keep that talent on the roster. I appreciate the idea of going with prospects over expensive proven players…I appreciate the build-from-within mind frame. However, there is not a piece in the organization or known to be available outside of this organization that is the quality of AJ Burnett and the Pirates have the money to spend without clear choice on where else to spend that money. AJ should be in the starting rotation next year and give way the following year as the Pirates pay to keep Liriano (if he has another good season) and watch AJ be replaced for a full-season of Jameson Taillon…and let Rodriguez be replaced for a full-season of Kingham. These prospects are not ready now nor will they be ready mid-season to provide the level of play of AJ. Let Taillon progress as he needs to and come up and struggle to find his footing like Cole and after seeing him gain that footing at the end of the season move forward with him the following year.

    GMs make mistakes, trustworthy or not, and this AJ Burnett situation is a mistake (on many levels)…

    • My thoughts same on AJ as yours…..
      “The devil you know”
      I believe he has another season in him similar to the last 2.

    • How do you really know if ” this the Burnett situation is a mistake
      ( on many levels ) ” yet ? Do you have insoide information that nobody else seems to know or is reporting ? Or are you just kind of spouting BS ?

      • Don’t we all spout BS?? It’s what people do…only I call it just giving an opinion…..
        It’s no better or worse than your opinions on this site.

        • ” Don’t we all spout BS?? ” You speak for yourself Jeff. It isn’t very difficult to recognize those who might spout BS on here from those who have a pretty considered opinion,even if it is one we might not agree with. Continue on categorizing yourself.

          • Interesting that you would categorize my opinions as BS when they consistently come close to those of Tim. Interesting.

      • Let’s see, the team won 94 games last year and won several awesome offseason award, but thanks to the comments by NH, which did not have to be made, we are (not just here all over the internet and media) talking about whether they will spend money or revert back to not spending. We are discussing whether Burnett is worth it and whether the Pirates are wrong for not giving him a QO. Add that to the fact that the Pirates SHOULD have given him a QO and that NH’s comments really aren’t that bright or smart…and, yeah, we’ve badly managed this and that’s a mistake.

  13. IMO, the Bucs will be about an 88-89 win team next year, primarily because they’ll be playing interleague in 2014 against a better group of clubs than in 2013. I also think the Nats will figure themselves out and it’ll be a true 3 team race for the WC. If somehow the Bucs do win more than 94, Neal should simply be given Corbett’s job without an election.

    Do I fully trust Neal to build a competitive team? Yes. Do I think he’s got the chops to bring home a trophy? I’m not sure. While I think he’s the best GM the Bucs have had in more than a generation and I stated last year if he were fired he’d be hired by someone else in a week (as a GM, not as a scout a la Littlefield). The defensive shifts were great and he got Hurdle on board with that.

    So what’s there to work on that will make a difference in 2014? The OBP still stinks and no attempts were really made to fix that (that I know of) last year. They still have too many baserunning gaffes (including too many CS to be as aggressive as they are).

    Wandy is still a huge question mark. Locke is at best a 5. Morton should be solid, and is in a contract year, but he’s had more than his share of injuries to different key body parts. Cole… who’s to say he doesn’t develop arm issues going to 200 IP. All sorts of things can happen and I am worried about SP depth.

    I’m simply not excited about any of the bounceback guys on Tim’s list. IMO, best of what’s left might be Pelfrey, but it’s hard to figure out what he really is. As Tim noted, we fans don’t have all the data that Dan Fox/Mike Fitzgerald have, but we have some of it. And what we have doesn’t look like there’s an AJ or Liriano is what’s readily available.

    So, IMO, SP needs will be handled internally or via a trade.

    I mentioned once before the guy who I think is this year’s AJ. It’s Ryan Dempster. $14 mill contract, moved to the bullpen, possibly not in Boston’s rotation plans for 2014 (last contract year), but many peripherals still reasonable including an 8+K/IP. I’m not saying Neal should go get Dempster, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did if the cost was the same type of minor leaguers the Yankees took for AJ.

    • A thoughtful post as usual Scott. Even if I don’t always agree with you (and thank you for not mentioning Bourjos in this post 🙂 ), you usually have some good points. One area I would disagree is with Locke being a #5 at best. Even with his horrific 2nd half, his ERA was slightly better than league avg, and FIP and xFIP were slightly worse than league avg. By definition, that is a #3 or strong #4 starter. Just because the Pirates have 3 better options already doesn’t change that. And from what I understand, some players actually get better than their rookie season, so there’s a possibility for improvement.

      I am on board with the Dempster option if the Bucs don’t sign AJ and it doesn’t cost much in prospects and the Sox eat half the salary. It’s exactly that kind of move that nobody is talking about that I think NH will pull off, either for a 1B or a SP.

    • I like the Dempster idea. Maybe the Pirates offer to allow the Red Sox to shed some payroll so they can bring back Salty and Drew easier and take Dempster off the Red Sox roster. Dempster’s xFIP last year was 4.21, slightly lower than his actual ERA. He had a career worst HR/fly-ball ratio and he has seen his ground ball % fall every year since 2008, but still had a decent 47.4% ratio in the 2010 season. If the Pirates can get him back to that 47-48% ratio and bring down the HR/fb ratio he could find success again. However, he’s likely a 3.70-3.75 ERA pitcher at best, as indicated by his continual xFIP in those ranges during his successful seasons. IF Dempster could lower his bb/9, his HR/fb ratio and increase his gb% he could be a good bounce-back candidate. Even in a down year last year he still pitched 171.1 innings. Dempster could rebound to a nice 2.5-2.7 WAR given the right circumstances (see above) and could be a nice pickup if the Red Sox picked up $5-6M of his salary.

      Let me just mention, however, that AJ Burnett’s xFIP last year was 2.92, amazing…and the year before his xFIP was 3.40 both significantly better than Ryan Dempster has ever put up.

  14. I agree with everything in the article but I would add that my concern is not with Neal but with the limitations Neal is clearly under. It had been stated years ago that if the fans came more money would be spent. At this point we are not clear if that will be the case. Additionally we fans don’t really know what the budget is so of course there is concern. I for one am OK with AJ not being here. I worry more about the statement Neal made when he stated we can’t pay fair market. I know Tim equates that to AJ but I wonder if its not towards any FA worth his salt. Its tough knowing we are behind the 8 ball in comparison to most clubs. Its even harder when we don’t know how far behind we are or if we can even keep talented players under market value if their abilities demand 10-20 million

    • Now THAT is a fair concern. my hope is that once they get a full year of these higher ticket prices and higher attendance under their belt, the’ll be able to shake the small market label (and revenue) and get to the middle of the pack or even the higher end of the middle.

    • “It had been stated years ago that if the fans came more money would be spent. At this point we are not clear if that will be the case.”

      When Coonelly made that comment to us, it was in response to a question wondering if the Pirates could have a $70-80 M payroll. They had a $75 M payroll last year.

      • Could they ever realistically get to the $90-$100 million range in payroll in the next few years and if so, what would have to happen in order for them to get there? I’ll be frank I get confused with all the revenue sharing, TV deals and increased attendance as far as how they can get allocated to the payroll or what the team actually gets.

  15. Someone (I forget who) said, “If you are considering retiring you already have mentally.”. I believe there is truth to this. While I would of liked to seen the Pirates give a QO to AJ maybe they didn’t want to pay for someone who is thinking about retirement. Maybe NH’s quote is based on AJ’s statement that is was the Bucs or retirement. He might want AJ to approach him with the desire to pitch rather than a final pay day.

    With that said, it is also possible this year’s reclamation is Wandy. We are not privy to his current medical reports and progress. There are therapies that do help with the pain of arthritis. If Wandy is good to go there is less need for AJ.

  16. I must be missing something. When did Neal become one of the best Gm’s in the league? Neal does go into the offseason with a plan. First and fore most is try and keep the payroll low to max out the profit margin for his boss. Secondly throw enough crap against the wall and hope something sticks. He’ll bring in enough low level talent for the min rate and pray to the god above that at least one will have a career year!
    So to say you got faith in Neal is just insane, if he was worth anything do you really think he would still be here. If you say yes you’re either lying to yourself or a fool. Why would anybody stay in Pittsburgh with an owner who isn’t willing to pay the going rate for players when you can go work for any other owner that might give you the freedom to do what you want and give you the budget to see your plan through.

    • In summary, you think Bob Nutting is cheap and as a result the Pirates can’t possibly have a good GM because a good GM would leave for a better team, even though contracts exist to prevent such free movement.

      • Even if a GM DID take it personally that his owner didn’t give him infinite funds, Huntington signed up for this. He applied for the job. He’s actually said “this is what we signed up for” in regards to being a small market in several interviews that i’ve heard.

        Huntington’s job isn’t to put the cheapest team that he can out there. His job, along with other GMs, is to optimize wins while working on a payroll constraint. It just so happens that his payroll constraint is a little more constricting than most.

        My view of him not signing Burnett is that he and the analytics dept think that the team can get more wins if the QO wasn’t made. I trust that because NH and the pirates are no longer in the rebuilding mode. Their goal used to be “play with all of these young players and see who can possibly be around for the next good pirates team.” The constraint now, since the team is good and contending, is an upper limit of payroll, and i’m sure he’ll do everything he can to get close to that number because that does make his job of maximizing wins easier.

        • Neal did sign up for this but wasn’t he just an assistant to the scouting director when he was named the Pirates Gm? That’s like going from pushing the mail cart to being named Vice President of that same company!!! You might now a little about what goes on but you’re really not qualified, so you just wing it and hope nobody finds out you have no idea what you’re doing!!

          • From that wonderful always-correct resource wikipedia…

            “Huntington spent 16 seasons in professional baseball prior to joining the Pirates. He became Assistant Director of Player Development with the Montreal Expos in 1995. He later moved to the Cleveland Indians, by whom he was employed for 10 seasons, serving first as the Assistant Director of Minor League Operations before becoming Director of Player Development (in 1998), Assistant General Manager (2002–2004), and finally Special Assistant to the General Manager (2006–2007).[3]”

            so while he wasnt an experienced GM, he made a fair slow and steady climb to it. But i guess worst case scenario, the pirates win 0 games this year, PNC Park gets burned down by angry fans in October, 2014, and we all have to find a new hobby.

      • I’ll be honest with you – I wish they’d just pay Burnett and we’d have a known quantity in the rotation as opposed to hoping we catch a bounce back candidate like Liriano for a few million cheaper. And I was one of the ones who was pissed about Karstens, couldn’t understand giving the money to Morton, the “overpay” for Martin – a guy on the downside of his career. And so I trust Neal because while I feel I’m an educated fan who watches the team closely I just flat out feel he knows better than I do and he has a plan. I realize he’s not going to be right 100% of the time but I rarely now question his rationale so if they let AJ get away I’m going to have faith that they feel they have something better in store for 2014.

        What I really, really do not understand is how anyone who’s been a fan of this team since 2008 and probably much longer can use the following terms to describe Neal Huntington – “Stupid” “Idiot” “Moron” “Lucky” “Cheap” because I’ve seen those adjectives lately.

        The payroll has continually increased, the team on the field has continually gotten better, they added payroll and players at the 8/31 deadline, the farm system is now one of the best in baseball according to most experts and we’re expected to compete pretty much for the next several years. Ask yourself why? How did we get here? Who’s responsible? I can understand the questioning of some of Neal’s moves but the hatred towards the man just baffels me. This team was simply hopeless before he took over. Hopeless.

    • You’re definitely missing something Bob. To answer your question, it’s been over the last 6 years that NH became one of the best GMs in the league. Remember what he inherited. Sure it would have been nice to get to the playoffs in 3 or 4 years instead. Damn near impossible, but nice.

      Yes, he’s restricted financially. That only makes what he’s done more impressive. Your argument about another team stealing NH falls apart with one name, Andrew Freidman. He’s still the TB Ray’s GM after leading them to an average of 92 wins over the past 6 years in the AL East. Or does he suck too?

    • I don’t understand your hate for Neil or Nutting. They took a putrid major league team with a barren farm system and turned it into a contender with one of the top farm systems in baseball. Also, they’ve been increasing the payrole every year. They’re not going to become the Yankees or Red Sox overnight or probably ever. I don’t really understand what you want from them.

    • Bob,where did you find the Magic Stupid tablets ? Using your thinking,the GM of the Red Sox was even luckier than NH. He went out last season and signed a bunch of past their prime players who really couldn’t hit much but knew how to work the count and add veteranosity to the Clubhouse. Then he sat back after making a dumb trade with the Pirates and hoped for the best. Where do people like you com from ?

  17. I love Aj just as much as anyone else who reads but why get Burnett for 14M when you can give Bartolo Colon 5M or even 7M (he made 3M last year) on a one or one plus option deal? He’ll provide the same value (per fangraphs) Aj WAR 4.0, Colon WAR 3.9. For WAY less money. Plus with the Pirates outstanding defense and shifting behind him, he could arguably be more valuable cause of the way he pitches, which is what the Pirates preach, absolutely pound the zone and create ground balls and weak contact. I understand he’s older but you have that same risk with Aj at half (or less!) of the price. I would throw 6M at Colon, doubling his salary of last year, to come to Pittsburgh.

    • FWIW, I think you’re underestimating what Colon will get on the open market. MLBTR pegged it at more like $10 million, and most projections on these deals have seemed to miss on the side of underestimating the deals that u.timate.y got done.

      And for those questioning why we’d give a to-be-37 y.o. Burnett another year, keep in mind that Colon will be 41. Also, I hear you on their 2013s, but also keep in mind that AJ projects about 1 WAR higher than Colon next year.

      Again, FWIW.

      • True, after I wrote my post, I saw that I underestimated, however I still think he won’t be over 10M cause he is 41, but 10M is still less than Aj’s hypothetical QO. And I also feel that Colon, consistently out performs his projections. But this could all be moot as Aj could come back on a prorated salary (maybe 10M), the Pirates and him could already have a verbal agreement about this and we just won’t be hearing about it until later. But I agree with everything you said.

    • Bartolo Colon is a terrible gamble, even at the price you indicated. First, you are completely wrong about his ground ball pitching mentality. Take a closer look at fangraphs closer. He is about 15% less than AJ in terms of ground ball % and has been over 45% only once since 2002! Compare that to AJ traditionally being around 50% or better throughout his career and being in the 56% range while with the Pirates! Not only that but if people don’t think AJ was worth the risk then why would a 41 year old Colon? Further, you’re underestimating the likely payday for Colon. I think $7M would be $2-3M under what he will get in the open market. Finally, did you look at FIP or, especially xFIP before discussing Colon? AJ Burnett has pitched very well the last two years, but his FIP and xFIP actually are LOWER than his ERA has been, and significantly too. Colon on the other hand? His FIP and xFIP are greatly higher than his ERA indicating that he’s not pitching as well as the ERA numbers indicate. His xFIP last year was 3.95 and the year before it was 4.17. Still decent numbers for a 41 year old…but not close to what you’d get from Burnett based on his last two years and it looks like he’s due some significant regression…for money not so different from Burnett.

  18. The above fact aside, though, I do think the FO has done a great job getting us to where we are.

    The one new danger, IMO, is the discussion around the fact that we won 94 games – which is awesome, of course! – and the feeling amongst some that this is the base we will be building from this off-season.

    But I think that 94 is misleading, as some who looked at the team’s Pythag numbers will tell you. With all planets aligning, it’s entirely possible the team played 5-6 games “over its head” in 2013. It would be more realisitic – more effective, if you want to do the right things to help you maintain/surpass 94 – to be of the mindset that your starting point is really more like 88-89 wins.

    What does 88-89 wins get you? Nothing, for all practical purposes, outside looking in.

    It’s just a matter of approach – if you think you just have to add a few wins to that 94 to take the next step – win the division, say. or be able to beat the Cards in a Game 5 – then you’ll approach your off-season targets (and drops) one way.

    If you take the approach that your base is more like an 88-win season, then clearly you are going to try to take a different, more aggressive tack in the off-season.

    It’s entirely possible that the former approach – that we’re a 94-win team who just has to “tweak” a few things – could be placing less importance than necessary on a 4-WAR pitcher like Burnett, i.e. ‘we have the higher base, and we can “afford” to let him go’.

    Take that additional 4 WAR out of the equation, though, and you might, in reality, start to look like an 84-85 win team, and how in the world could the Pirates gain 9-10 wins in one offseason to keep them in the playoff discussion?

    They can’t, which is why I think they should take the conservative view on where they actually stand, in the hope that this view will lead them to be more aggressive in trying to maintain their position as a playoff contender.

    That approach started with a no-brainer – signing AJ – and thus far (granted, November) the needle has moved backward or, at best, not at all, IMO.

    • i think most would agree that if the Pirates lost AJ and failed to sign anybody, that’d leave a bad taste in our mouths as far as the rotation.

      But i think we can expect them to bring in somebody whether that’s AJ or a 2 WAR SP and a 2 WAR 1b or whatever.

      Also, while their record was a little lucky, they’re also going to be more talented in a lot of ways next year. A non-lucky 94 wins isn’t out of the question, IMO, as long as they at least address SP and 1b.

    • jg, agree totally that we can’t assume 94 wins next year, and most likely won’t get them. Only 5 teams won that many this year. Only OAK and ATL had that many the last 2 years in a row. Anyone thinking that’s the starting point is almost certainly going to be disappointed. But the FO just needs to keep looking for value anywhere they can find it. I know a 1 year deal with AJ doesn’t sound like a waste, but if they figure they have Taillon coming up midseason and Frankie, Cole, Morton already in the mix, plus possibly Wandy and then all of the depth options, why not just take a flyer on 1 or 2 low cost/high risk/high reward SPs and focus on shoring up 1B instead?

  19. But OMG how are teh pirates gonna replace AJ’s 10 winssss? panic!

    yes. that’s a point that i heard made on a radio show. (I don’t understand how anybody can still think of baseball in that manner, but that’s a different discussion for a different day.)

    but seriously, *applause*. I wish more people who had readership/listenership took your approach.

    and on the Burnett subject, this dragging out is making me think they’re working out some “come back mid season” plan. Without being… you know… AJ and Neal… I feel like this could be the best for both parties, and i feel like any other decision would have been announced by now.

  20. The only flaw in your logic on AJ is that making a bad baseball decision in November isn’t “OK”………just becasue it’s only November. it is what it is……a bad baseball decision – all of the “budget” noise around is just a poorly-executed attempt to detract from that fact, that’s all.

    • Of course we don’t know if any bad baseball decision has been made yet. If you’re talking about not giving the QO, there are good points to be made on both sides of that argument, even if Tim thinks it should have been given.

  21. I think NH should have been GM of the year. It was a bit odd that the Boston GM won yet the Boston Manager wasn’t a serious contender for manager of the year, which Clint Hurdle won. Go figure! So NH was #2 out of 30 in his profession, the top 7%. If you can’t trust someone of that pedigree who can you trust?

    That said my preference if the Pirates are to spend any money on pitching this off season would be to extend Liriano and Morton through the 2016 season. That would solidify the rotation in 2015 and 2016 with the additions of Taillion and Kingham (maybe Locke).

    I think that Burnett is probably worth a 2 year contract for $28 – $30MM in the open market. If Burnett doesn’t retire I expect that either Washington, Baltimore or Philadelphia will sign him at that. I also think BMWs are great cars and worth their sticker price, but I’m not rushing out to buy one either, for the same reason the Pirates aren’t jumping on Burnett. Not that I couldn’t, but it doesn’t make sense given all the other priorities in life and my present budget.

    Burnett is not without defects. Age and potential decline is one obvious and oft stated risk. But I also don’t like the way he seems to respond to pressure. Why was he substandard as a Yankee and so proficient as a Pirate? Was it all the magic of Ray Searage, or was it that being under the spotlight in NYC caused Burnett to put more psychological pressure on himself which lead his arm to betray him? When he came to Pittsburgh the pressure and expectations were off, he could relax and “be himself”, leading to success. Why did Burnett fail so miserably in his last game against the Cardinals, arguably the biggest game of his career? Surely AJ wanted to pitch well more that we all wanted him to do it. He couldn’t get it done. I think it is fair to say that AJ beat himself before the Cards beat him. Why? I suspect that the pressure of the situation caused him to lose his ability to command his knuckle curve, which must be one of the hardest pitches to control as so few others attempt it. IF I had one game to win and I had to choose a Pirates pitcher to win it I would choose Cole or Liriano in that order because of their demeanors. I love their mentality in a big game. With AJ I don’t have that confidence. When you are building a Championship team you want a staff of at least three guys in whom you have that supreme confidence. I think that the Pirates look at AJ as a potential 4th or 5th starter because of this, and you don’t pay your 4th or 5th guy $14+ MM unless you are a large market team like the Yankees.

    Lastly, for all of his reputation as a leader in the club house, and I think he is one of the club house clown type (which can be really good), he is also a pain in the a… at times to his team mates and the coaches. Do you really pay extra for that aggravation? I wouldn’t.

    Having said all that I should say that I appreciate AJ’s contribution to the Pirates for the last two years, and I like the guy. I just think that it is time that the Pirates moved on.

    • Touchy subject, but this is the other side of the coin, IMO. If it’s not the age/decline factor its ^^this.

      We can only speculate if the above is true. The Pirates would have a much better feel.

      Even so, he has great value in the regular season. But like you said, 14m is a lot for a small market team to pay for that.

  22. I read my baseball news like I would Garfield comics. I expect some some attitude but in the end there is lasagna.

  23. “No one knew the plan last off-season, and no one will know the plan this off-season.”

    I think that’s a very good point – one I certainly hadn’t pondered to any extent. Do you think NH & Co have improved/changed their approach with respect to veteran acquisitions over the last couple of years? What I mean is, his early vet acquisitions rarely worked out (Aki, Overbay, Church, Diaz, Barajas, Bedard, etc). But seemingly starting with Burnett (and then Liriano & Martin & Melancon) he acquired players who were critical to the success of the team in 2013. You are right – we don’t know the plan for this off-season. But looking back, do you detect changes in the approach?

    • ’79: Those first guys you mentioned came at a time when we needed something to step up and help immediately. Now, the Pirates have a solid base of young players/pitchers who are self-sufficient on their own, but could use additional help. The plan for next season only goes as far as young guys that the FO wants to sign long term. Do we offer a long term deal to Walker? Although only with one year of MLB Service, do we attempt a Tabata-type deal with Starling Marte? Do we attempt an extension for ‘Cutch? Pedro? Russell Martin?

      With pitchers who, if any, do we want to try to keep? I think Liriano will not make it to ST with the Pirates – his value will not get any higher than it is right now. We will not sign Wandy for longer than 2014. Charlie Morton will also be a FA after 2014 – do we try to keep him? A lot of these decisions depend on whether we have AJ for 2014. If we do, then NH can start shopping Liriano. This is a contract year for Wandy so I expect he will try to offset last year’s problems. If so, he will be trade bait at the deadline.

      Right now, NH and Frank Coonelly are just waiting for the phone to ring – then our plan for next season may get a lot clearer. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

  24. This article is very much in line with the way I feel. For the longest time this is just what I would’ve said about various Steelers decisions- “that’s not the guy I would’ve picked here, but I trust Colbert & Co.” It sure is nice to feel that way about Huntington at last.

    However, I don’t take issue with those who would accuse us of being a bit too results-oriented. Yes, the Liriano signing turned out to be a home run. But if Liriano had blown out his elbow last March (or, gulp, this March) would that mean that this signing was a bad one? Those who choose to withhold judgement for another couple years certainly have my blessing…….but I’m feeling good about NH.

    The difficulty for a GM is that your average tenure may very well be insufficient to balance out all the noise. A few untimely injuries to players signed in free agency and you’re probably fired. Ride a wave of good fortune to a 95-win season, on the other hand, and you’ll enjoy carte blanch (at least for the next twelve months).

    With that in mind I believe that the best thing for this franchise would be another year of favorable outcomes. We’ll likely enjoy another successful season as a result, but just as importantly our GM will feel empowered to go out and do his thing again and again and again.

    This is a very important offseason if you think about it from that perspective. Good decisions (or, more accurately, good outcomes) should culminate in an era of stability in the Pirate front office. Whereas the questions and doubts that come with a summer of bad outcomes will only serve to derail the positivity the club has built up in this town.

    Personally? I’m feelin’ good. I think NH got this!

    • Great post Manifesto. With the opposite directions the teams are heading, could we actually trust the Pirates’ FO more than the Steelers’ FO soon? A couple of comments:

      “Those who choose to withhold judgement for another couple years certainly have my blessing” And they have my blessing as well. The people that don’t have my blessing are the ones that say NH is an idiot (or far worse) for not giving AJ the QO or for trading Dickerson for a couple of guys that actually have a shot at helping the team this year or for not overpaying for Byrd or signing anyone else yet. NH is 1 for 1 in turning steaming piles of crap into playoff teams/premier organizations. All of the haters combined (plus all of their friends and family) haven’t done anything close to that. But if denegrating the FO makes them feel better than actually thinking, so be it.

      “But if Liriano had blown out his elbow last March (or, gulp, this March) would that mean that this signing was a bad one?” Last March, maybe. This March, no, it was still a good signing because of the year Frankie already gave them. But I understand your point about injuries and luck playing a role. Though one of the most impressive things about the season was how the Bucs did it even while the rotation was taking some big hits (AJ and Liriano missing a month each, Morton only half a season, Wandy, etc.). A testament to NH building the necessary depth.

      “Ride a wave of good fortune to a 95-win season, on the other hand, and you’ll enjoy carte blanch (at least for the next twelve months).” You might even undeservedly win GM of the Year. The BoSox GM signed a couple of free agents to 8 figure contracts that worked out. He also made a lot more moves that didn’t work out, including being robbed by our own GM. But he already had a very solid foundation in place, plus low expectations from the freakishly bad finish the previous season, so he gets the accolades.

      “Good decisions (or, more accurately, good outcomes) should culminate in an era of stability in the Pirate front office” Regardless of what some fans think, I’d bet NH has already earned at least another 3 or 4 years of job security and thus FO stability. You know what would be really funny? If NH left for a better offer somewhere else and the Bucs take a few steps back and all of these haters look back and say “Why’d we ever let Neal leave…?” As a Bucs fan I obviously don’t want that to happen, but there’d be a certain amount of karma involved if it did. Everyone worries about Searage being pulled away, but should they really be worried about NH?

    • I agree that people get caught up judging the result, often when the result (good or bad) is a product of pure luck. This is why it is more wise to judge he process. And on that score, NH comes up aces. Forget for a moment that he inherited a terrible major league team with a horrible system and turned it into a 94 win team with (arguably) the best farm system in baseball. Last year, coming off 2 late season collapses, when many were calling for him to be fired and most of the remaining weren’t willing to give him more than a year. When he had every personal reason to mortgage the future to “win now” he stuck to his plan, held his top prospects, signed value free agents and continued to build the team in a way that might sustain success for years to come. As we all know, the results were great, but it is process that ought to earn TBMTIB all of their praise and all of our trust.

  25. Could it be, in your opinion, that the Pirates just don’t see AJ as being that valuable in 2014? Have they possibly detected something (loss in velocity, shoulder soreness, not as crisp) or do they expect a large drop off? That is my guess… either that or they have already spoken with AJ and plan to bring him back at a agreed upon salary but cannot discuss it at this time.
    Is any other team calling AJ’s agent right now?

    • I’ve said this before: I think that they feel they can get a pitcher who can put up the same numbers for less. They did it with Burnett and Liriano, and it seems they’re going to go that route again.

          • Question is, will they have to pay “market value “for any of those remaining pitchers?
            If so, no go according to Neal.

            • I don’t think the “market value” quote can be taken literally. I think it applied to someone like Burnett. If Burnett went for market value, then the Pirates wouldn’t be able to afford him. Obviously they’ve signed guys in the past, and they’ve paid more than other teams to do so. Russell Martin didn’t exactly give them a discount last year.

          • Well- That list includes Hudson who is supposedely going to the Sox, Haren and Johnson who are already signed. Two pretty awful pitchers in Hughes and Hammel that I think we have better internal talent than which will cost us nothing, and Halladay. So again, even though we don’t want to get all flustered, our hands are quickly becoming tied IF we want to pick up a pitcher. I’m in the camp that says we have no need to sign someone, spend it elsewhere. If Burnett wants to come back at 11.5-12.5 million on a 1 year deal great, but we aren’t going to wait around, we have holes to fill. Not too many valuable players are going to sign 1 year deals, so outfield is going to be tough so first base becomes the main priority, and as always, i’d love to add a high end SS, or a SS prospect to the mix in a trade

            • The list doesn’t include potential non-tenders, trades, or other free agents who weren’t listed in most top 50 lists coming into the off-season. So it’s not like there’s only 2-3 guys left.

      • Some will crucify me for this, but is it really out of line to wonder how much AJ has left in the tank?

        Its easy to key in on that terrible Game 1 in the playoffs, but I’m not going to focus on that. AJ has never been a guy that would give me that warm fuzzy feeling in the playoffs — you just don’t know if you’ll get Jekyll or Hyde. But heck, you have to make the playoffs for that to even matter.

        Im more concerned with the rough patch of starts he had in the second half. I know, I know, pitchers go through slumps occasionally too. But AJ is no spring chicken. Paying old players can be dangerous. Frankly, I’m fine with their decision not to give him 14m. Yes, he was one of the best pitchers in the NL last year. But we’ve seen how little it takes to change that. I don’t think the Pirates should be paying for what he was worth last year. That goes for all players, but especially older ones. They should offer him what they think he will be worth THIS year. Not based off fangraphs projections, but their own.

        • He had the same rough patch in August 2012. I wonder if it’s an age thing and being less effective as the season goes on?

          As for the playoff game, he has a poor history in St. Louis. If it was anywhere else, I’d be more concerned about that one game. Then again, it was also one game, so you can’t really be too concerned.

          • In my opinion it has to be an age thing. They have to be worried about a sharp decline. Otherwise a 1-year deal for 10-15m seems like a no-brainer based on the last two years.

            I trust them with evaluating arms.

            • Agreed Goodkat. They have to be worried about spending 15% of their payroll on an aging pitcher when they have a LOT of young arms they can try.

            • I don’t think it *has* to be any single factor. Two rough patches that occurred two years in a row in the 2nd half aren’t proof of anything.

              Your opinion/concern is a fair one. But I expect AJ to be very solid once again if he returns to Pittsburgh. If you studied history to identify reliable warning signs of a coming decline, I’ll bet you’d find that we didn’t see any of them from AJ in 2013.

              Just my hunch. If he’d never mentioned the R-word I think our perception of where he stands in his career would be much different.

              Pitching next season as a 37-year old puts Burnett in the company of Bronson Arroyo, Ryan Dempster, Jake Westbrook and Ryan Vogelsong. Cliff Lee and Kyle Lohse will be 36. Tim Hudson will turn 39. Does this seem like anything close to a swan song for ANY of those names??

              And a pitcher’s late thirties are not all about hanging on despite a gradual decline anymore either:

              Hiroki Kuroda, coming off his age-38 season, has posted a better ERA in each of the last four seasons than he did in either of his first two in the States as a 33-34 year old. Both Andy Pettitte and Bartolo Colon lowered his ERA every year from age 37 to age 40.

              Whether it’s PEDs, improved medical care, or clean living, it’s apparent that a pitcher in the latter half of his thirties is perfectly capable of maintaining- and possibly even continuing to enhance- his level of play.

  26. I totally agree with you on Burnett and can only add that if Neal doesn’t bring him back and he does retire we will never know if we were right in thinking that he can really help the team, lol!

Comments are closed.