What can Pirate fans expect if Bob Nutting were to fire Neal Huntington when the season ends? What can we reasonably expect to happen if Huntington were fired?
1. I assume Frank Coonelly will survive the most recent fracas but will have a lesser role to play in the operations decisions of the franchise.
2. I also assume the Pirates and the next General Manager will be talented enough that he will improve the performance of the Operations division of the organization.
This assumption is not as improbable as it may initially sound. The reason: Nutting, Coonelly, Huntington and the Operations staff truly did a good-enough job since 2007 that the Pirates GM position would be one worth having. Moreover, during that time Nutting has proven his willingness to spend money on the draft and on international free agents such that potential GMs will know that they will not be constrained by a frugal owner. This is one key benefit produced by the Coonelly regime. It has erased the memory of the McClatchy regime with respect to Pirates willingness to spend money on players. The Pirates GM position thus should attract talented applicants. It remains an open question whether the Pirates actually hire one of them. In other words, it remains an open question whether this assumption proves to be true.
3. Finally, I assume the next GM will not fire any of the competent persons now working in the operations department.
The Likely Benefits
1. A new GM will reduce or eliminate whatever stigma now surrounds the organization because of Sealgate. While noteworthy, this benefit is not as significant as it may seem right now.
2. A new GM will know as soon as he is hired that the Nutting replaced Huntington and others because they created a toxic working environment, one he believed would not achieve the goals he set for it. This perception would significantly lessen the probability that the next GM would foster a toxic work environment. This benefit is significant. Organizations thrive on a commitment to shared goals which are feasible and will bring rewards if achieved. They thrive when members of the staff communicate truthfully with each other. They fail when they become something like a Social Darwinian economy.
3. A new GM will likely hire a new Scouting Director and a new Director of Player Development. These, hopefully, will produce more talented draft classes.
4. A new GM and SD may and probably will dismiss the projectable pitcher draft strategy. This benefit would help realize the benefits promised by #3.
5. The new GM will likely replace Clint Hurdle.
Some Possible Harms
1. Hiring new Operations staff will likely diminish the effectiveness of the Operations staff over the short-term because some will be fired, some will be hired, some will fear for their jobs and everyone would need to learn what the new GM and his top people expect of them. The Pirates front office will become or remain a toxic working environment until the new GM completes his organization reforms.
2. A new GM and Player Development Director might eliminate the Fastball Academy. (The Fastball Academy makes sense to me.) It's unclear how likely this would be.
1. Nutting and Coonelly might fail to hire a better GM than Huntington. In other words, Assumption #2 may be false. Things could get worse.
2. The new GM may fail to hire persons that will out-perform Stark, Smith, etc. Again, things could get worse.
3. The next Field Manager might be as bad as or even worse than his predecessors.
4. Retaining Coonelly may hinder organizational reform.
There is, therefore, much risk involved when changing regimes. We already know this. Pirate fans wanted Bonifay fired and got Littlefield for their troubles. Plus, Huntington has not been horrible. If, for instance, we were to control history for the luck it contains, it is not obvious which current GMs would have been an improvement over Huntington. With a bit of non-Pirates luck, the Pirates might now have Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper as its starting outfielders or have McCutchen, Marte and Harper plus Stephen Strasburg as a starting pitcher. But.... One cannot assume luck - read: unique contingencies - plays no role whatsoever in the performance of a franchise. Controlling for luck in this matter entails evaluating Huntington for his performance relative to the opportunities he confronted. We would consider Huntington and the Pirates much differently if the Pirates had had better luck these past few years.
The Pirates hire people who will scout and draft better than the persons they replace. If this means firing Huntington, then so be it. I have not been wholly satisfied with the organization in this regard.
I've updated this post to improve its clarity and remove typos.