Neal Huntington is gone. The projections are dead. The run differentials of zero and the pursuit of being .500 is gone (for now). The firing comes after a short yet tumultuous offseason for the organization which saw the firing of manager Clint Hurdle and the departure of team president Frank Coonelly.
Huntington’s ouster also comes just a month after owner Bob Nutting declared the GM’s job safe, labeling the front office team as the “right people to continue to lead our baseball operations department” per a press release. Nutting has yet to speak publicly about the turmoil within the organization and has hid behind a series of press releases dating back to Hurdle’s firing.
The Pirates are quite literally adrift after this announcement. While the fan base has been calling for the heads of all three of these individuals, the timing of their respective dismissals is confusing and chaotic. A manager search was ongoing over the past few weeks; was Nutting really letting a GM whose job was not secure oversee such a search? With decisions needing to be made regarding the 40-man roster shortly after the end of the World Series, why was Huntington the last to go? If Coonelly had truly alerted the team toward the end of the 2019 season that he was departing for the league offices, why would Nutting stand his ground on Huntington’s job security only to renege upon hiring a new president? How much control does Travis Williams have already, and is a hockey guy ready for such baseball duties as rebuilding a floundering front office?
While we may never know the answer to several of these hypotheticals, the last question could be answered in the coming weeks and the arrival of the winter meetings. Williams’ hiring and the hiring of a new GM will ultimately decide what happens with Chris Archer’s contract option, Starling Marte’s trade availability, and how a host of first year arbitration-eligible players’ hearings fare.
Had Huntington not been fired, one could imagine
the savvy projections man him standing pat behind his roster and stating the club’s intentions to compete in 2020. With his dismissal, the prospect of a tried and true rebuild are fully on the table. It’s hard to see the organization parting with the likes of a seemingly young and promising core; I would think Kevin Newman, Bryan Reynolds, Mitch Keller, and even Cole Tucker would be safe from the trading block (let’s throw Ke’Bryan Hayes in there as well). There is a glaring need to restock the starting pitching at the major league and minor league level, a priority that should come first for whoever becomes the next captain of this front office.
A rebuild would mean mediocrity at the most and putrid play at the worst for the next several years for this ball club. While those of us on this site may be prepared for such a process, it’s hard to say that the rest of the fan base will be as understanding. Knowing what the potential payoff could be in terms of a competitive team, one can only hope that fans see the bigger picture if the roster does in fact get revamped to rebuild.
As for now, it seems as though the Pirates are on a severely damaged ship. It remains to be seen if they are sinking or not, but the chaotic timeline of October firings is not a good sign that Nutting is running the club correctly or with any kind of baseball savvy. While these firings are seemingly necessary to point the club in the right direction, there is no guarantee that Nutting has any idea which direction that is. This makes the prospect of a rebuild all the more nerve-wracking—can the new president hire a GM that can right the ship?