- Grove City, Pennsylvania

July 24, 2013

EXTRA INNINGS: Being Pirates' GM Huntington for a day

By Jim Sankey
Allied News Baseball Columnist

OPINION — OK. YOU are not you. You are Neal Huntington, general manager of the upstart Pittsburgh Pirates, seven sleeps before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

For the first time since before Bill Clinton became President, one year before the Rockies and Marlins played their first game, and five years before the D-Backs and Rays joined major league baseball, the Bucs have a legitimate prospect of playing October baseball.

The team has a real shot at being the division champion and a greater chance of grabbing a one-and-done wild card berth.

So, Neal, what do you do between Wednesdays?

Unlike any time since 1992, the 2013 Pirates pitching depth has provided 11 different quality starters due to injuries — not a catalog of suspects who never made it. Pittsburgh’s mound corps has led all of baseball in ERA for much of the season. And that bullpen! Get the team to the eighth inning and it leads to hoisting the Jolly Roger nine out of 10 times.

While this year’s staff illustrates why a team can never have too much pitching, there are greater worries than which pitcher might next land on the disabled list.

“Led” by the bat miseries of Garret Jones and Neil Walker, the 2013 offense leaves much to be desired. After a recent run of 0-for-29 with runners in scoring position and just one sacrifice fly since May 27, the offense has been downright, well, offensive.

Particularly, right field and shortstop have been sinkholes, swallowing up outs with distressing regularity.

Jordy Mercer performed adequately when he first took the job away from Clint Barmes, but has since put up such weak numbers that it makes fans hope that Clint Hurdle will soon stick hitting coach Jay Bell at his old position. Travis Snider, Alex Presley, and Jose Tabata have taken turns at plugging the dam, with similar unacceptable outcomes.

So, Neal, are you looking for a shortstop, a rightfielder, or both?

Are you looking for rent-a-player types who will be free agents at season’s end or are you scanning rosters for established athletes who might be with the team for two or three seasons?

And whom are you willing to part with to get them?

Hopefully, as you learned last year, when you trade fringe players like Brad Lincoln, Gorkys Hernandez, Robbie Grossman, and Casey McGehee, you should not expect more than Snider or Gaby Sanchez in return. Further, you should not pawn them off as “players with upsides whom we control for several years.”

If instead you trade for, as some have suggested, White Sox right fielder Alex Rios or Milwaukee’s Norichika Aoki, what do you do about star outfield prospects Gregory Polenco who could be ready as soon as next year and Josh Bell who could arrive in 2015?

If you are committed to the youngsters who will be under control for six or seven years and at a much smaller cost, then do you “rent” Mets right fielder Marlon Byrd or the Cubs’ Nate Schierholtz for two months?

Certainly the Byrd seed required for the New Yorker or the Cubbie would be less than for Rios and/or Aoki.

While experts say that the organization’s shortstop prospect Alen Hanson could be ready by 2015, the Bucs have been linked with Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez.

Another factor is that Ramirez is signed for $9.5 million next year, $10 million for 2015, and $10 million for 2016. Rios is owed $12.5 million in 2014 and $13.5 million in 2015.

So, Neal, how much money would the Sox have to kick in? And if you are committing to “stars” for your team for a couple of years, why would you object including “can’t-miss prospects” Polenco and Hansen in a deal?

You’ve got a week — less if you want help for the huge upcoming five-game series with St. Louis.

Whom will you get? Whom will you give up?And what will you tell us fans next Thursday when we criticize whatever you’ve done?