This is part four of my interview with Neal Huntington; you can find the introduction and all the other parts here.
WHYGAVS: Going back a bit to Hurdle; Matt Diaz and Lyle Overbay both said that Hurdle helped recruit them to the Pirates. Does having him add a different dimension when it comes to selling players on the Pirates?
Neal Huntington: Yeah, Clint brings a lot to the organization: the knowledge, the passion, the ability to teach, the ability to communicate, the ability to lead. He brings some tremendous things to the organization. And yes, he’s a good recruiter because he believes in what we’re doing here as he gets to know the staff and the system more. We think that’s only going to grow and he’s going to pass that belief onto his players. If Clint can impact that belief in Lyle Overbay and Matt Diaz so that they want to come here — because honestly we’ve not always been a place that people want to play –
It’s hard to convince a free agent to come play for the Pirates?
It hasn’t been the easiest, which is a tough thing to admit. I’ve had an agent tell us we’d have to vastly overpay in terms of years and dollars if we wanted to get his client and that’s just not something we’re interested in doing. It’s not good, sound business practice.
We’ve got some good young players at the Major League level, we’ve supplemented them with some veterans that can help us on and off the field. They’re going to help us on the field first and foremost, but they’re also some new voices in the dugout, new voices in the clubhouse, new ways of teaching, new ways of communicating, helping the players achieve what they want to achieve. We’re going to continue to do what we’ve done for three years in scouting and development and keeping the pipeline of players open to bring the next wave in. We’re setting ourselves up to accomplish the goals we’ve set for ourselves. Getting there hasn’t happened as quickly as anyone would’ve liked; ourselves included. The 57 last year was a tough pill to swallow. The 18 years are all tough pills to swallow. But baseball turnarounds don’t happen overnight. Even the dramatic turnarounds — the Tampa Bays, the Minnesotas, the Atlanta back in the early ’90s or even the teams that jump two or three spots in one year — don’t happen overnight.
It’s not LeBron in the NBA, it’s not Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the NHL. In baseball it takes multiple very good players and multiple above average players multiple years to become above average. LeBron James, you can just plug him in. Sometimes it’s hard for people to recognize that. For Pedro Alvarez to play pretty well in his first half-season two calendar years after being drafted really is the excpetion. Buster Posey and Brian Matusz are doing it out of that draft, but the guys that do that are really the exception to the rule. Usually it’s 3-4 players for a college player before he gets to the big leagues and it’s 4-5 before he makes an impact. In high school it’s typically 4-5 to make it and 5-6 before he’s making an impact. To try and expedite the process, that’s where the trades came in and they haven’t all worked out. We took some shots on some guys with upside versus taking a nice, safe piece. Sometimes they’ve worked out, sometimes they haven’t worked out.
Does that change your approach? When you make a trade and have the player not work out and a couple of years later you’re already letting him go?
You try to revisit what happened. What did we know going through it? Hindsight-evaluating a decision based on what you found out after the fact, the only benefit there is asking ‘What could we have known before?’ But if you had all the information and it just didn’t work out … to hindsight evaluate is quite honestly a bad way to go about things. It’s not truly fair; we’ve got to evaluate the process up to the point that we made the decision and from there we’re trying to predict human behavior. That’s the most difficult thing we can possibly do. Some guys get it, some guys get it later, some guys never get it. As we talked about it’s one of those situations where you learn from each decision, both the good and the ones that don’t work out so well, but you can’t be gunshy. If you’ve made a continual set of mistakes you’ve got to try to figure out how to avoid those mistakes so you don’t repeat them, but you can’t be afraid to make a decision because one didn’t work out.
OK, last question. You’ve preached patience, but for some Pirate fans 18 losing years is already way too many and asking for two or three or even one more than 18 years is just too much.
I completely understand that perspective. The reality is, we are in the midst of executing our plan. As difficult and painful as it’s been at the Major League level at times, we inherited a situation where we had one of the worst teams and one of the worst farm systems and that doesn’t get turned around overnight. It takes time, it takes discipline, it takes patience, it takes a series of good decisions, and it ultimately takes talent. Whether it’s in the scouting department, the player development department, the Major League coaching staff, on the minor league teams, on the Major League team, it takes talent. It takes time for that talent to develop. I wish we could’ve snapped our fingers and become the best farm system in baseball and the best Major League team in baseball, but it doesn’t work that way. It works through time, through good decisions, through solid investments, and through good players becoming great players.