The streak is over. It ended Tuesday with a bang, after Travis Snider’s pinch-hit, go-ahead home run in the ninth inning.
Now, Pirates fans can focus on more significant items on the agenda as the Pirates play out their final 23 games of the 2013 regular season. The most significant item on said agenda is a deep playoff run.
Success for the Pirates has started from the top, and at the top is Neal Huntington.
The mindset for the Pirates to not just attain moderate success in the regular season is one that has become embodied by the likes of general manager Neal Huntington, president Frank Coonelly, and owner Bob Nutting.
Look no further than the moves made by management last week to acquire Marlon Byrd, John Buck, and, later, Justin Morneau.
“The ultimate motivation, as you all have, we’ve watched this club, this major league staff work hard, do a lot of really good things this year,” Huntington said Saturday. “We felt that this move gives us a better chance to play in October, gives us a better chance to win the division, and gives us a better chance to advance deep into October, if not win it all.”
The moves made certainly do. Inserting Byrd and Morneau into the middle of the Pirates’ lineup makes the batting order exponentially more formidable after Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez take their cuts.
Now, instead of having to contend with the likes of Garrett Jones and Jose Tabata, opposing pitchers face Morneau and Byrd. With more protection in the lineup for the Pirates’ star players, Alvarez and McCutchen should figure to see the quality of pitches thrown to them improve which translates to more production from the Pirates’ three- and four-hole hitters.
But most importantly, it’s a sure sign the Pirates organization is headed in the right direction after ownership went deeper in its pockets than fans have seen in the past.
“That’s what they’re supposed to do,” starter A.J. Burnett said.
For Huntington, the trade talks with Minnesota never revolved around the amount of money the Pirates would take back from the Twins as they did when Burnett was acquired from the New York Yankees before the 2012 season.
“We went into it knowing the whole time that for us to make this move, it was going to have to be that we took the dollars back,” Huntington said. “There wasn’t really ever a conversation about dollars for prospects, it was Justin Morneau as a pure baseball trade.”
That’s not to say the Pirates are going to inflate their payroll and become the Yankees, though. It’s just an encouraging sign that, unlike Pittsburgh general managers in the past, Huntington has the ability to make decisions based on what will most help the team–not what is most cost-effective.
When it came to Morneau’s salary, Huntington said the Pirates assumed “All of it.”
“And that’s a credit to Bob Nutting. He’s allowed us to go a pretty significant amount over-budget to be able to make this move,” Huntington said.
But as Huntington will admit, the moves made last week seem to vary from the standard sort of moves made by the Pirates. Pittsburgh gave up Dilson Herrera, Vic Black, and reportedly Duke Welker between the two deals in addition to Alex Presley, a trio of prospects in the upper echelon of the organization’s minor league system.
“We felt we’re at a little bit of an interesting point in the franchise’s history, these are not moves that we want to make habits of,” Huntington said.
It sure is an interesting point, much more interesting than any in the past 20 years really. The Pirates easily could have sat on their laurels and coasted into the postseason with all likelihood.
Instead, Huntington improved and the cost was a minor stake in the future which the Pirates are pretty well hedged against. When you can turn two minor league relievers into legitimate every day players, you should do it eight days out of the week.
“We impacted today without truly affecting tomorrow in too big of a negative way,” Huntington said. ”But we felt like this move allows us not only to get to October better, but to win the division better, and better the opportunity to play deep into October.”
Plus, as Huntington said, the ability to deal these players away is more tangible success from the mission he entered the organization with in 2007 to “flood” the organization with minor-league talent.
“It’s a credit to our scouts and player development people that we’ve added so much depth to the system, that we can make these type of deals that are very now-oriented for a team that always has that one eye in the future,” Huntington said.
It’s also a credit to the man himself, who had pieces like Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett to work with when he first came here in 2007. And five years later, the trades moving Nate McLouth and Jason Bay out of Pittsburgh don’t look so harmful.
It’s such an amount of credit due to Huntington that if he wins The Sporting News’ Executive of the Year award for 2013, it might not be enough. With the job Huntington has done rebuilding the Pirates to this current version that looks to conceivably contend for the rest of this decade, I’d list Huntington as an early short-list candidate for “Executive of the Century”.