Pirates extend contracts of Huntington and Hurdle
Both men agree to three-year deals with club option for the 2018 season
PITTSBURGH -- Eighteen months ago, responding to public appeals following the disappointing end to the 2012 season, Pirates club chairman Bob Nutting undertook a re-evaluation of the team's entire off- and on-field operations.
Saturday, the heads of those operations -- general manager Neal Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle -- both had their contracts extended by the Pirates potentially through 2018.
Asked whether he could put into words the difference between then and now, Nutting paused significantly, then said, "No. Probably not very adequately. Yet to some degree, we're exactly in the same place, an organization with a plan and a vision."
They will also have the same leadership team through 2018, if the options at the end of Huntington's and Hurdle's three-year extensions are exercised.
If Huntington serves out the contract, he will have served 11 years as the club's GM. In team history, only Joe L. Brown (1956-76) has had a longer GM tenure.
"I hope to be here a lot longer," Huntington said. "I love the people I work with, this organization. You can't get a better ballpark, and the fan base has turned its negative passion into positive passion."
The option year would be Hurdle's eighth in the Bucs' dugout -- harking back to the stability enjoyed for 11 seasons under Jim Leyland (1986-96).
"This gives me an opportunity to settle. My roots are in," Hurdle said in his office, a couple of hours before taking the reins for Game 2 of the weekend series against the National League champion Cardinals. "To know that there is a real and significant commitment on both sides, when the turbulence comes, we'll be bound together and have an opportunity to go farther."
Team elders applauded the moves.
"It's definitely good not to have to worry about him being here," Andrew McCutchen said of his manager. "We know he's not gonna go anywhere for a while. It's good to know we don't have to think about the future. It's huge for us, to know the skipper will be here in a Pirates uniform."
Neil Walker was happy for both men.
"They started building this thing a little while ago," said the hometown hero, "so it's rightful that they get the opportunity to continue it."
The tenures of their underlings -- Hurdle's coaching staff and Huntington's lieutenants and metrics think-tank -- will be resolved next.
"Those are the next dominoes to fall. We'll work to keep this leadership group in place," said Huntington, referring to assistant general managers Kyle Stark and Greg Smith and such men behind the club's heralded statistical analysis as Dan Fox, Josh Smith and Mike Fitzgerald.
"We're in the process of keeping this group together," said Frank Coonelly, the club president on whose plate had been the extensions to Huntington and Hurdle.
Both agreements were essentially in place prior to Opening Day -- but the announcement was held up by paperwork and other "administrative matters. The delay was my fault," Coonelly said.
In other words, Friday night's 12-2 putdown of the champion Cardinals had as much to do with the extensions as last season's 94-win playoff team.
"I had the pleasure of hiring Neal," Coonelly said, "and of extending his contract three times, and my belief in him is the same today as it was three years ago."
Huntington was hired in September 2007, and he hired Hurdle to manage the team in November 2010.
Between them, the front office and field leaders have engineered an improvement from 57 wins in 2010 to 94 and a postseason berth in 2013 as the NL's No. 1 Wild Card entry.
While Hurdle and Huntington both voiced appreciation for the other's support, team command voiced admiration for how the two men work together. Chemistry in the clubhouse may be overblown, but it clearly is an invaluable asset between the man who puts the players on the roster and the one who orchestrates their performance.
"Bringing in someone with his knowledge, energy, passion and leadership really was the perfect fit," Huntington reflected on his choice to manage the Bucs in 2011. "He's helped us all grow and get better, and hopefully we returned the favor. I can't imagine a better pairing. Clint is the perfect guy to work with.
"The hope is that we continue to grow this organization. Cohesiveness can be loud sometimes," Huntington added. "The goal is to keep moving forward, and ultimately bring home a World Series championship -- and wake up the next day and figure out how to do it again."
Remarkably, one hour later and on the other side of PNC Park, Hurdle voiced almost the same sentiment.
"When I was approached [about the extension], I wanted to know where Neal stood," Hurdle said. "I got a young GM who has made me better, and hopefully I've been able to add a different level of experience. It's a good fit for us."
"They bring very different skill sets to the table," Nutting said, "but have mutual respect for each other. I really believe that a cohesive, stable team is always in the best interest of the Pittsburgh Pirates. I love both of these guys.
"They've raised the bar for the organization, raised the bar for the city, and it's important to be able to reward and celebrate that."