By Jason Shetler
The Pirates are off to their best first half start since 1992, and a lot of that has to do with the moves that Neal Huntington has made since the beginning of 2012. Let’s breakdown some of the key transactions from Huntington in that time.
February 2012 – With two years left on his big contract with the New York Yankees, Huntington acquired A.J. Burnett in exchange for minor league outfielder Exicardo Cayones and minor league pitcher Diego Moreno. Since joining the Pirates rotation last year, Burnett has posted a 3.29 ERA, a 1.21 WHIP and an 8.8 K/9 in 41 starts, and is currently the National League’s strikeout leader.
July 2012: The Pirates found themselves in contention around the trade deadline, and looked to bolster their rotation by acquiring Wandy Rodriguez from the Houston Astros in exchange for pitchers Rudy Owens, Colton Cain and outfielder Robbie Grossman. Wandy has a 3.59 ERA along with a 1.18 WHIP since joining the Pirates.
After getting Wandy Rodriguez from the Astros, Huntington made two deals at the trade deadline, as he acquired Travis Snider from the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for Brad Lincoln and brought in Gaby Sanchez from the Miami Marlins for Gorkys Hernandez. Snider didn’t get much playing time after the trade due to a hamstring injury, but has done a nice job this season so far sharing the right field duties with Jose Tabata, hitting .275 along with a .767 OPS. Meanwhile, Sanchez has been solid this year in a first base platoon with Garrett Jones, batting .343 with a 1.153 OPS vs left-handed pitching to this point.
November 2012: One of Neal Huntington’s first trades of the offseason was acquiring Vin Mazzaro from the Kansas City Royals for minor league pitchers Luis Rico and Luis Santos. Although Mazzaro did not make the club out of Spring Training, he’s pitched well since being called up by the Bucs on April 18th. So far, Mazzaro has made 15 appearances with a 2.50 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP.
Huntington made his best free agent signing this past offseason by bringing in catcher Russell Martin on a two-year deal. Martin has certainly been as advertised both offensively and defensively, posting an .844 OPS and throwing out 41% of baserunners (12% above the league average) thus far.
December 2012: While several teams were looking to sign Jason Grilli at the Winter Meetings, the Pirates looked to bring him back, and did just that, as they re-signed Grilli to a two-year contract. The move to bring Grilli back seemed to indicate that Joel Hanrahan would be dealt due to a huge salary raise in arbitration. Grilli has been solid as the Pirates closer this season, posting a 1.22 ERA, an 0.74 WHIP, a 14.1 K/9 and currently has a Major League leading 19 saves to this point.
With the re-signing of Grilli, Neal Huntington did indeed trade Joel Hanrahan by dealing him to the Boston Red Sox along with Brock Holt in a package that included Mark Melancon, Jerry Sands, Ivan De Jesus and Stolmy Pimentel. Many fans along with most media outlets, viewed the move as yet another salary dump by Huntington. The reality is that for as good as Hanrahan was as the Pirates closer, small market teams can’t afford to overpay for closers, whether it’d be through arbitration or the free agent market. Melancon was projected to be the Pirates setup man to Jason Grilli, and has been lights out, putting up an 0.72 ERA, an 0.80 WHIP and a 9.4 K/9 in 25 appearances.
January 2013: Much like the Vin Mazzaro deal, Neal Huntington made another minor trade by acquiring Jeanmar Gomez from the Cleveland Indians for minor league outfielder Quincy Latimore. Despite a subpar Spring Training, Gomez made the club as the long reliever, mainly because he was out of options. Gomez to this point as been a pleasant surprise, pitching in ten games (five starts) with a 2.75 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP.
February 2013: Huntington agreed to a two-year deal with Francisco Liriano back in late December, but was put on hold due to an injury to Liriano’s non-throwing arm. The two sides struck a revised two-year deal about a month in a half later. Liriano spent all of Spring Training throwing off a mound and pitching bullpen sessions, and stayed in extended Spring until he was able to make rehab starts for some of the Pirates affiliates. Liriano was dominant in his rehab outings, and so far it’s carried over in his first three starts with the Pirates, posting an even 1.00 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP and a 12.5 K/9.
In addition to these moves that Huntington has made since last year, consider the other moves that are starting to look good, such as getting Bryan Morris in the Jason Bay trade in 2008, acquiring Jeff Locke as part of the 2009 Nate McLouth deal, bringing in Michael McKenry from the Red Sox for only cash considerations nearly two years ago, and the decision to convert Justin Wilson into a hard-throwing lefty reliever.
I’m not saying that every one of these moves are going to all pan out, but I think it’s fair to say that most of them will and should lead to good things for the Pirates and Neal Huntington moving forward.