Neal Huntington defends Kyle Stark and Larry Broadway, explains Jeff Karstens decision

Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

The Pirates GM defends his assistant GM and farm director, explains his decision to non-tender Jeff Karstens, and discusses the club's balance of young players and veterans.

This is the latter half of our interview with Neal Huntington. Vlad, Tim Williams, Kevin Creagh and I are asking the questions. Here's the first half.

Can you talk about Larry Broadway and Kyle Stark -- their qualifications? Can you put their qualifications in context with regard to other organizations?

If you look at some NFL coaches, they never played in the NFL. They might not even have played Division I college football. You see some NBA coaches that didn't play in the NBA, and that might not have even played collegiate basketball. You see some general managers that didn't play college baseball. The playing part of it is sometimes an overrated prerequisite. A feel for the game, an understanding of the game, a knowledge of the game, a passion for the game -- those are things that are important. When you match that with playing experience, you've got a really good chance to have somebody that's a good executive.

In Kyle's case, Kyle came up in the Indians development system. This is a guy that went to law school. He's analytical. He's extremely intelligent. He's very passionate. He's one of the most avid learners I've ever been around. ... He came up in the development system that I came up in in Cleveland. ... Kyle was a part of that farm system. He understands, in our minds, the right way to develop players.

Larry Broadway we targeted three years before Larry became a Pirate. We targeted him as a guy that had a lot of pedigree. We targeted him as a guy that had a lot of intelligence, a lot of passion for the game. Our scouts respected him. And we went and tried to acquire him as a player to get him into our system to see if we were right, to help him learn us, to help him learn our system. We sent him out as an area scout with the intent that someday he'd come back into the office. He flew past every test with flying colors. A guy that got to AAA, a guy that's incredibly intelligent, a guy that's got a great feel for people.

He's responsible for [Nick] Kingham, right?

Yeah, as an area scout, yeah. ...

Kingham, [Drew] Maggi, Justin Howard, [David] Jagoditsh ...

Jagoditsh, yeah. So he showed us very quickly, feel, intelligence, passion, leadership, all the things you'd want in an executive. ... When I wanted to make the change in the office last year to advance Kyle's role to allow his strengths to impact more than just our player-development system, Larry became a natural guy to step in, in alignment with Kyle, in running our farm system. ...

You look around the game, and there's a club that just hired a guy straight off the field as their farm director. There's guys that have been college coaches but have never been in the pro game. There's guys that have come purely through the office that never played at the amateur or the professional level. The on-paper criteria that some people will set is not always perfect for every spot. And we've got a set of criteria that we believe in that we feel these guys more than fulfill. As they grow and develop we're excited about the impact they'll have on us as an organization.

Keeping it non-player-specific, two years ago there was the rumor that you guys were going after [Jorge] de la Rosa, and last year it was [Edwin] Jackson, and both of those would have been big deals. Is that the type of contract that you could go after this year, or are you looking more toward some of the non-tendered guys?

A little bit of everything. We've been in contact with almost every free agent out there to get a feel for what their market is, and it's about the right guy and the right fit. We found that with Russ Martin and we found that with Jason Grilli. And it's the same in trades. It's the right opportunity and the right fit, the right match. The right timing, sometimes, is important, and we're still working to find that next one. And if we don't, we still feel good about the group we have right here. But if there's a fit that makes us better, trade or free agency, then we'll act on it.

What about this offseason market has surprised you the most?

[Long pause]

I guess we see, for example, you turning down [Jeff] Karstens at, potentially, one year, $4 million, and then Kevin Correia signs for two years and $10 million. I know you don't want to bash Kevin Correia, but there's [an] asymmetry there.

Sure. And in Jeff's case, it was a really challenging decision. If he's healthy, and if he [pitches] the way he did in '11 and '12, it going to be a really bad decision. And we're fully aware of that.

I took note of you saying that [at the Q+A] ...

It's true!

That seems like the kind of quote that could get you in trouble.

It's the truth! Am I supposed to not ... That kind of drives me crazy at times. Am I not supposed to answer the question honestly? Maybe I put my foot in my mouth because I'm too candid at times. But if he pitches well, and if he stays healthy, it is a really bad decision. And I don't hide from that. We made our decision based on all of our information and based on, that big if, in our minds, was too big an if. We didn't want to take the gamble of $4 million that Jeff Karstens was going to pitch effectively and/or pitch healthy. And I'm not going to hide from the fact that if we're wrong, that statement is going to come back to haunt me.

It's a probability.

It's a chance that we took. Every decision we make is a gamble. ... There's a very good chance we're wrong. There's a very good chance we're right. We probably won't hear about it if we're right. We'll probably hear a lot about it if we're wrong. And that's okay. Our goal was to take that $4 million, reinvest in multiple pieces or invest it in one piece, or use it, in our minds, for a better probability to have a bigger impact on the club.

With Karstens, there's legit concerns about his health. You said when he's healthy, he's good. It seems ...

Well, he's been good for two years.

It seems like there's a little bit of an inconsistency there with Karstens and some of the other guys. Like [Erik] Bedard, you signed him last year. He's always had a history of injuries. And then [Charlie] Morton is guaranteed to be out for at least two months. So what really separates Karstens from those guys?

A couple things with Charlie. When Charlie's been healthy, he's been nearly as effective [as Karstens]. It just hasn't been as often, which is a risk we're taking. $4 million compared to $2 million, [an] extra year of control. Jeff's a free agent after this season. Charlie's a free agent after 2014. Given the cost of starting pitching, if we're right on Charlie Morton, we've got a very effective starter cost-controlled for the next year and a half, even if Charlie comes back midseason. If we're right on Jeff, we've got one year of control at double the cost. So that's the part of the factor. Not completely, but part of the factor.

With respect to Erik Bedard, we felt that there were strong enough indicators that the chance of success ... ironically enough, we felt like we'd get 15 really good starts out of Erik Bedard with a chance that we might not get more than 15. Erik was good for two months, stayed healthy but wasn't nearly as effective [after that]. Now ... his indicators [were] about a run different than what his ERA and what his projected ERA should have been. But the reality is, we were deep in the hole too many times when Erik started, and that's why we made the eventual move to release him. He wasn't going to be on our postseason roster, so we figured we'd go with someone else who had a chance to be on our postseason roster, and we made a tough decision late.

Was there ever consideration to tender [Karstens] and then try to deal him even if you didn't want to bring him back?

We worked hard to reach a pre-tender agreement with Jeff for a lesser amount than what we felt his arbitration value was. We weren't able to do it. We then worked hard to trade Jeff for a player and get something in return instead of non-tendering the player, [and] you get nothing in return. We weren't able to do it. We then tried to work to find a cash value for Jeff instead of a player, whether it was a waiver claim fee, or something higher. We weren't able to do that. And so we felt like our best option at that point in time was to disengage, to non-tender him, to continue to have dialogue with Jeff. So I don't want to beat up Jeff too much, because we are still trying to bring him back. But we felt that, at $4 million, it was too high of a cost for us.

It seems as if there's a perception out there that the Pirates aren't trusting their own AAA players, and they're kind of leaning more on grizzled vets. A couple instances: Jordy Mercer not really doing much at all on the major-league team, Chad Qualls being brought in instead of giving someone like Bryan Morris a chance. And the one that always stood out to me during the season was, after the marathon game in St. Louis, you had a freshly-rested Justin Wilson and/or Kyle McPherson who could have made a start in the most forgiving ballpark in the National League in San Diego, but Kevin Correia was able to convince Clint that he'd give him a couple innings.

I'd turn the question back in your direction and ... Starling Marte, Alex Presley, Jose Tabata, Jared Hughes, Tony Watson, Michael McKenry, Jordy Mercer making the club, Josh Harrison making the club, Chase d'Arnaud coming up late, releasing Erik Bedard to put Jeff Locke in the rotation, moving somebody out of the rotation that wasn't very happy to put Kyle McPherson into the rotation. I think if you cherry-pick, you can absolutely criticize anybody for anything, anytime. I think our general movement has been to go with our young players.

We stuck with Pedro Alvarez through some tough times. We've stuck with Charlie Morton through some tough times as he was growing and developing. We've stuck with James McDonald as he was growing and developing through some challenging times. So I would argue a little bit of the opposite of our track record. We like our young players. We want to put our young players in a position to be successful. ... The last thing we want to do is throw somebody into the fire because of our need. What we need to do is protect our young players and put them in a position to help us, to be successful, to contribute.

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