Neal Huntington was on The Fan this morning, discussing the off-season plans. As you’d expect, he didn’t really reveal much, and gave the typical answers to the typical questions.
For example, the first two questions asked if the Pirates could afford to keep guys like Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, and Mark Melancon in 2016 and whether Tyler Glasnow and/or Josh Bell would be up on Opening Day. Huntington said that they could afford to keep everyone if that’s what they determined would be the best team. He didn’t exactly say no to Glasnow and Bell, but you can guarantee that they’ll both start in Triple-A, for reasons Huntington mentioned (mechanics for Glasnow, defense and in-game power for Bell). Of course, subscribers to this site would already know those two reasons, since we’ve been repeating them constantly in the off-season previews for each player.
Huntington did say that Kang is “doing everything in his power to get back as quickly as possible”, but that they’re still a ways away from Kang returning. The next step for him is full weight-bearing on the knee. Huntington did say that the recovery has gone as well as they could have hoped. He was asked if Walker and Kang are related, in the sense that they might not be able to trade Walker if Kang isn’t ready, and said that Kang’s status won’t impact what they do with Walker.
He talked about the first base position, and said they’re still evaluating whether Pedro Alvarez is the best option for the dollars he will make. He referenced the Joel Hanrahan trade a few years ago, where they traded a player, and then put his money to better use elsewhere. The Pirates dealt Hanrahan and ended up signing Russell Martin and Francisco Liriano that off-season. In Alvarez’s case, you can see why the Pirates would be looking at a similar approach. He was replacement level last year, and will make about $8 M in 2016. You could imagine they could land a better option for less money, while using the money saved to upgrade other areas.
Huntington didn’t reveal anything specific for the first base position, including when asked if Michael Morse could be the everyday first baseman. He did throw out a few scenarios, including an Alvarez/Morse combo, Morse paired with a left-handed hitter, or Morse alone among those. That said, when asked about whether there was anyone who didn’t meet expectations, he immediately mentioned Alvarez. A fair translation would be that you shouldn’t expect Alvarez back next year, which isn’t a surprise.
On the subject of J.A. Happ, he said that they are interested in bringing the lefty back, which is something he’s been saying since I asked him about the subject at the end of the regular season. Happ also told me after the Wild Card game that he’s open to returning to the Pirates, so there is mutual interest there.
Probably the most interesting takeaway from this interview was at the end, when Huntington was asked whether it takes something special to close out games. In his response, he said that they felt comfortable with Tony Watson as the closer if they dealt Mark Melancon this off-season.