Neal Huntington and the Draft to Nowhere

Pride. Passion. Pessimism: Why Pirates GM Neal Huntington just can't win.

Editor's note: Welcome to a special presentation of Pulling No Punches, written by our pal The Legend of Vincent Tremblay. He runs an awesomely thoughtful blog, and drops flourishes of knowledge on Twitter. Take it away, Vinny T:

During primary season in Pennsylvania this year, Anthony Williams, Democratic candidate for governor, ran an attack ad against his opponent, Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato. In this ad, Onorato was criticized for backing the "Tunnel to Nowhere."

The tunnel in question is part of the Port Authority's North Shore Connector, which runs under the Allegheny River and will extend the T from Gateway Center to PNC Park, Heinz Field, the Carnegie Science Center and Rivers Casino. The entire project has been a political lightning rod for its priority over other public transit needs and for the decision to bore a tunnel under the river instead of building a bridge. (We're pretty good at bridges here in Pittsburgh; we've had lots of practice.)

The attack ad used the actual phrase "tunnel to nowhere." Makes it sound like the project has been abandoned, or maybe stalled half way under the Allegheny, doesn’t it?

Yet—politics and budgets aside—the reality is that the tunnel itself is complete, the extension is still under construction and is more or less on schedule to open in 2012.

Maybe that has something to do with why Onorato is the Democratic candidate for governor of Pennsylvania now? I’m not sure how that ad played Back East, but on Onorato’s home turf, I have to suspect it did more harm than good.

Now, I told you that story to tell you this one.

The venerable (and usually sensible) Pittsburgh sports blog Mondesi's House has been jumping all over the Pirates front office, notably general manager Neal Huntington. It seems that Mr. Huntington has been accused of a grievous injury to the already wounded Bucco Nation: He has done his job as general manager of the Pittsburgh Baseball Club.

It's one of the most thankless jobs in sports: PR manager for the White Sox, Bruce Pearl's dry cleaner, Antti Niemi and Pirates GM.

The crux of Mondesi's argument is that the Pirates are making a big deal about their recent amateur signings, most notably draftees Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie and international free agent Luis Heredia, when signing those players should be considered business as usual.

This is precisely why Neal Huntington can't win. Half of the sports opinion writers in town project the sins of former GMs Cam Bonifay and David Littlefield onto Huntington, and the other half rip Huntington when he defends himself from the first half.

Taillon, Allie and Heredia are examples of the types of moves Bonifay and Littlefield failed to make, or worse, refused to make.

Littlefield made a point of avoiding players represented by super-agent Scott Boras in the amateur draft. This is why, in Littlefield’s last draft in 2007, the Pirates passed up hot catching prospect and current Baltimore Orioles starter Matt Wieters for the more frugal option: left-handed relief pitcher Daniel Moskos. You get what you pay for. Moskos has stalled-out in AAA with an 0-5 record and a 10.38 ERA.

What's past is prologue, and in some Pirates fans' minds, perpetual, making the successes of the early '90s seem prehistoric. But the recent dark age of a storied franchise shouldn't be Huntington's albatross.

Remember: Huntington’s first draft was in 2008, and he went right after a high-priced Boras client: Pedro Alvarez.

The Mondesi’s House post was published before the Heredia signing, but it uses Cuban defector and Cincinnati Reds pitching prospect Aroldis Chapman as an example. The Reds gave Chapman a 6-year, $30+ million contract after winning a bidding war with the Oakland Athletics. Chapman’s stock rose after some strong outings for the Cuban national team in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. It’s unclear why the Pirates didn’t pursue Chapman.

Money is an obvious answer for this notoriously stingy team, but the sorry state of the Pirates Latin American scouting system may have had something to do with it, too.

The Pirates have maintained an academy in the Dominican Republic for years. Until owner Bob Nutting took control of the team from Kevin McClatchy, though, “maintained” would have been a poor choice of words. The McClatchy regime neglected Latin America so completely that Nutting had to restart almost from scratch. Today, the Pirates have a rebuilt scouting staff and a new, state-of-the-art Dominican academy.

Huntington's real problem is that he can only make the same promises Bonifay and Littlefield broke ad nauseam.

On one level, Mondesi’s House is right: This is standard operating procedure for a Major League Baseball franchise. It shouldn’t be a big deal. For the Pirates, however, it is a big deal. After years of cowering in fear of hard-bargain agents, the Pirates are once again pursuing the best players in the amateur draft. After years of cluelessness in Latin America, they are finding and signing top prospects.

The message to take away from these signings isn’t, “Hey, look! New pitchers!” but rather, “Hey, look! We’re gradually undoing the damage the last two GMs did over a 15 year span.”

Until this stockpile of minor league prospects becomes a winning team, though, the won't-be-fooled-again media will continue to use Huntington as a punching bag under the guise of populist anger. And after 18 years of futility, there’s plenty of that to go around.

How many Five Year Plans in that span amounted to nothing? It's Huntington’s lot in life, then, to be cursed for not completing his Five Year Plan in two years.

If only the Pirates had Onorato's campaign manager ... .

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Best Doctors in Pittsburgh

Best Doctors in Pittsburgh

Our exclusive list of the region's 584 leading physicians across 76 specialities.
Endless Challenges: 48 Remarkable Hours with 8 Pittsburgh Doctors

Endless Challenges: 48 Remarkable Hours with 8 Pittsburgh Doctors

Follow eight physicians over two days as they perform surgeries, consult on end-of-life care, treat accident victims, discuss hospital programs –– and then reset and do it all over again.
The Commoner — Too Much of a Good Thing?

The Commoner — Too Much of a Good Thing?

Chef Dennis Marron designs a menu of modern-American fare at The Commoner in the downstairs space of Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh.
What Inspires Ray Gastil's Careful Plan for Pittsburgh's Future

What Inspires Ray Gastil's Careful Plan for Pittsburgh's Future

How will the city’s new planning director stoke Pittsburgh’s next generation of developments?
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Everything That's Awesome About Pittsburgh Today
Latest Weight-Loss Breakthrough: Swallow a Balloon

Latest Weight-Loss Breakthrough: Swallow a Balloon

Pittsburgh’s Allegheny Health Network is testing an alternative to traditional gastric bypass surgery.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
The 'Burghy Mother's Day Gift Guide 2015

The 'Burghy Mother's Day Gift Guide 2015

Plan ahead with this list of 10 locally made must-haves for Mom.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Into the Wild: How to Be a Good Forager

Into the Wild: How to Be a Good Forager

Before picking and consuming foraged items, read up on the basic rules.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Best Locally Owned Clothing Stores That Sell Locally Made Wares

Best Locally Owned Clothing Stores That Sell Locally Made Wares

Independent boutiques and local designers abound in the 'Burgh. We bring you five of the best.

Comments


Bar Exam: How to Tell A Good Hotel Bar from a Bad One

Bar Exam: How to Tell A Good Hotel Bar from a Bad One

The recently renovated bar and restaurant inside the Sheraton Pittsburgh at Station Square is doing everything right.

Comments


Make This Now: Fudgy, Rich Chocolate Velvet Cake

Make This Now: Fudgy, Rich Chocolate Velvet Cake

Whip up this chocolate cake (with a secret ingredient!) to celebrate spring.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
#GottaHaveIt: Chic Wallets Made of Vintage Turkish Rugs

#GottaHaveIt: Chic Wallets Made of Vintage Turkish Rugs

Give your wardrobe a touch of international glam with an Artemis Design Co. wallet made from Turkish Kilim rugs.

Comments


This week's buzz from the PM editors
Phipps Premieres Its Tropical Forest Congo Exhibit

Phipps Premieres Its Tropical Forest Congo Exhibit

See colorful, rare specimens at this East End institution.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Sweet Tips for Extraordinary Desserts

Sweet Tips for Extraordinary Desserts

For the couple with a sweet tooth and eclectic taste, we bring you five tips to make your wedding-day dessert original and delicious.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Tour: Admire Downtown's Striking Architecture on May 1

Tour: Admire Downtown's Striking Architecture on May 1

Join the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation next Friday for an hourlong walk focused on downtown's most beautiful structures.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
It's Spring Carnival Time at CMU

It's Spring Carnival Time at CMU

Carnegie Mellon's popular event, running Thursday through Saturday, combines buggies, bots, booths and more.

Comments


Thinking outside the box (score)
Everyone Expects the Penguins to Lose. Perfect.

Everyone Expects the Penguins to Lose. Perfect.

Maybe this is exactly what the team needs –– to win.

Comments


Award-winning sports commentary by Sean Conboy
R.I.P. Corporate Penguins, 2009-2014

R.I.P. Corporate Penguins, 2009-2014

Fire Bylsma? Fire Shero? The Penguins' problems run deeper.

Comments

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags