This afternoon the Pirates announced that they have extended the contracts of Neal Huntington and Clint Hurdle for three years, with club options for the 2018 season. Both had already been under contract through 2014, with the Pirates holding options on their services for 2015.
When the Pirates hired Huntington in 2007, the organization committed itself to a more sabermetrically-informed path forward. The process of rebuilding the team around evaluative practices that relied heavily upon newly-available objective measures of performance made the Pirates, at the time, one of the few teams to commit so decidedly to that direction. While many clubs were already using sabermetrics in some capacity, few were basically rebuilding a whole organization from the ground up like the Pirates.
Today, six years after the process began, and as the organization prepares to enter the next stage of its evolution from rebuilding to consistent contender, the Pirates affirmed their commitment to continue to move forward guided by the same underlying principles.
Asked today whether the success of the team and the extension of his contract brought him any personal satisfaction by validating his approach, an approach that wasn't without its critics, Huntington said that he doesn't like to "look backwards," adding: "We've just begun. We took a lot of heat for saying that the last place it would show up would be on the field won-loss wise. We've just got to keep going."
Pirates' owner Bob Nutting was asked whether his confidence in the process ever wavered, especially when the performance of the team on the field was below expectations: "Absolutely there have been, and will continue to be times where we take a step back and hold people accountable. And we'll do assessments and make adjustments when we need to. I think you saw that two years ago. At the end of that process we collectively decided that far more was going right than what was going wrong," Nutting said.
Clint Hurdle, who has accumulated a 248-242 record in his three years as manager of the club, tipped his hat to the process that started before he was hired. "The positive movement began well before I got here," he said, "For three years a lot of heavy lifting was done with no tangible signs of success at this level and that makes it hard." Hurdle added that when he interviewed for the job he felt confident the team was ready to take the next step, to enter its "renaissance."
Asked about how Hurdle fit into the larger process that has led to the team's recent success, Huntington said, "I'm not sure there are enough words to describe it. He really was the perfect fit. To bring the knowledge, the energy, the passion, the leadership, beyond the X's and O's of the game. He's helped us all get better."
So, after an offseason that did not necessarily meet the expectations of many Pirates' fans, the organization expressed confidence in the direction of the club by extending two members of its leadership team. Huntington said that the next "domino to fall" will be to keep the rest of the leadership team in place. The extensions do not guarantee that Huntington and Hurdle will be here three years from now, as their contracts are not a major investment of the team's resources like a player's contract, but they do represent a commitment to continuity, at least for now.