Neal Huntington, now officially the Pirates new General Manager, won’t have to learn to talk like a Pirate, though he is facing several challenges with his new team. Let’s take a quick look at some of the ones he can have the most effect on.
1. Changing The Culture - This is perhaps the toughest. Though Frank Coonelly has done a good job in his first few weeks, speaking directly to players and fans, Huntington is facing a tradition of losing and a culture that has accepted that. Getting rid of anything that speaks to that acceptance is easy enough. In fact, clearing the decks of the remains of the Littlefield administration might be the best steps. It will be hard to fire real people from real jobs, but more than almost any other, this organization needs a complete rebuild. It’s going to take more than lame uniforms to change a culture.
2. Recreating The Tribe - It’s clear that Coonelly wanted to use the Indians as the model for the Pirates. Huntington certainly knows how the Indians work, but can he actually find the parts? The Indians have a dynamic GM, solid scouting, a great stats department, and the wild card of the DiamondView system. I’ve been told that one new GM asked about acquiring the system and was told he’d need to deal a top-level prospect for it.
3. Surrounding Himself - This is more of a 2a, since Huntington will need the right people in the right roles in his new front office. Chris Antonetti isn’t available, Tony LaCava won’t be allowed to make a lateral move, and Brian Graham appears to have the inside track for the AGM slot, so it’s not exactly Cleveland right off the bat. Assuming that Coonelly will handle contracts, Huntington needs someone who can handle the stat side and someone who can help with the rules. Those should be relatively easy to find.
4. Tearing It Down - Huntington is coming from the Dave Dombrowski lineage and his Tigers model might be as much a path to success as the Indians model it appears the Bucs are using. No Pirates fan wants to see a 120 loss season, but if it was a stop along the way to contention, one bad season is a small price to pay. The Pirates currently have a lot of role players. Packaging them out for prospects that might turn into good or even great players would be smart. The one downside here is that Bob Nutting isn’t as likely to overpay for talent as Mike Ilitch.
5. Articulating The Plan - Frank Coonelly is more the front man than Neal Huntington, but someone is going to have to show their work to fans. Saying “here’s the plan, here’s what we need to do, here’s how we’re going to do it” would help to re-establish credibility. It would engage the fans in the rebuilding process and create a buzz that a Steelers team usually steals in the fall.
It’s a heck of a challenge in Pittsburgh, but it’s doable. Watch the above five issues to see just how successful the team is going to be.