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Huntington: My Work for the Year is Done!

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This article makes me a little sick to my stomach:

The Pirates' roster, despite precious few changes this offseason, is pretty much set for 2008.

"From a substantial additions standpoint, yeah, I think we are," general manager Neal Huntington said during a break at the team's minicamp. "There are still a lot of free agents out there, guys who need jobs who might add depth, so we're not done looking. At the same time, we're still willing to listen if somebody has a deal to make this organization better."

If nothing more happens, that will mean the Pirates are keeping together essentially the same group that went 68-94 last season, made no notable acquisitions beyond the signing of utility infielder Chris Gomez and five waiver claims, lost relievers Shawn Chacon and Salomon Torres without finding comparable replacements and added no significant talent to the minor-league system.

Not much cause for excitement, to be sure, and not much indication the team is attempting to improve in 2008 or focus on the future...

[Huntington]'s top priority, as he stressed repeatedly, is the future.

"I would say there is a pretty good nucleus in place with the major-league roster, particularly the rotation. I would argue, too, that, if you go around the diamond with our everyday players, there are as many as five who underachieved last year. If just three of those five meet or exceed expectations, those 68 wins become greater."

First things first: kudos to Dejan Kovacevic for spelling out the problem pretty clearly in the third paragraph.

The part here that really gets me is the part about underachieving, and we're left to wonder if Huntington really believes that junk or if he just has to say it. Here are the Pirates' 2007 everyday players:

C Ronny Paulino - too early to tell if he underachieved or is just godawful, but believe it or not, he actually pretty much matched his 2007 ZiPS projection

1B Adam LaRoche - maybe he underachieved, or maybe he just regressed to his career norms after a career season in 2006

2B Freddy Sanchez - had pretty much the season we expected

SS Jack Wilson - overachieved

3B Jose Bautista - pretty much what we expected

LF Jason Bay - underachieved, although it's unclear why

CF Chris Duffy / Nate McLouth - Duffy was worse than expected and McLouth was substantially better, so let's call it a wash

RF Xavier Nady - posted career highs in many statistical categories, including homers and OPS+

In summary, I have no idea what Huntington's talking about. Bay certainly underachieved, and I'll also give him Paulino and LaRoche. But that's it. And much of any rebound those guys have should be offset by Wilson's return to Wilson-dom, as well as potential regression by the rest of the offense, which is not particularly young. (I wouldn't be surprised if Sanchez took a dive this year, for example.) Actually, the Pirates' best chance of having an improved corps of position players next year is to open a spot for Steve Pearce and hope he catches fire, but Huntington has failed to do that.

In the article, Kovacevic explains Huntington's failure to make a big trade as follows:

Huntington has made no secret of his wish to make a trade in the Haren-Swisher mold for legitimate prospects to replenish a barren system, and he was known to have had many discussions regarding Bay and Nady. But other teams were wary of Bay's subpar 2007, in which he batted .247 with more knee trouble, and of Nady again failing to establish himself as everyday material because of various injuries.

Well, point taken about Bay. But has Huntington considered that perhaps the reason that Nady hasn't yet established himself as "everyday material" is because he is not, in fact, everyday material? He's now 29, injury prone, defensively challenged, and an average hitter. Teams don't give up a Nick Swisher-type package for those kinds of players. And at this point, having Nady in the starting lineup does not help the team, because it keeps Pearce in the minors. So trade Nady and be happy for what you can get.

Also, the Pirates have just two players who could potentially command anywhere near Swisher-type packages, and those guys are Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny. If Huntington is serious about using the trade market to replenish the farm system, he needs to quit bollixing around with Bay and Nady and think about trading Snell or Gorzelanny.

In the meantime, everything Huntington has done so far, and many of the things he has said so far, suggest that he's just fine with the players he has. Unlike Dave Littlefield, he's resisted wasting money on pointless free agents, and he hasn't lost anyone important with roster bungling, so that's good. But like Littlefield, he seems to think that mediocrity is just fine, or at least that this collection of mediocre, low-upside players is somehow going to blossom into a contender. I'm going to try to give Huntington the benefit of the doubt until after the draft, but he seems to be doing his best to make that hard for me.

In other news, the Pirates are in discussions with LaRoche about a long-term deal. I suppose you could argue that's okay in a buy-low sort of way, but you could also argue that it'd be spending a bunch of money on yet another average player, and it's almost certainly true that long-term deals shouldn't be the Pirates' first priority right now.