Huntington lauds Bucs' 'good core base'
GM discusses McCutchen and Cole trades, franchise's future on MLB Network
PITTSBURGH -- Pirates management has been bombarded with questions about the past, present and future of the franchise as the club moves forward after dealing Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole, their best player and best pitcher.
Why didn't they do more to capitalize on their 2013-15 run of contention? Why didn't they keep the team together for one more run this year? When they decided to deal veterans, why not go all the way and start a full rebuild?
General manager Neal Huntington attempted to answer all three questions on Wednesday during an appearance on MLB Network's "High Heat."
Huntington acknowledged the argument that they could have done more in 2013-15. They lost in the National League Division Series in '13, then they lost the NL Wild Card Game to Madison Bumgarner in '14 and Jacob Arrieta in '15.
Each year, the Pirates showed a willingness to part with mid-level prospects, but they held onto their top Minor League talent. Their biggest free-agent signings were Russell Martin (two years, $17 million) and Francisco Liriano (three years, $39 million and eventually traded after struggling in 2016).
That approach has frequently been contrasted with that of another small-market club, the Royals, who made big trades for Benjamin Zobrist and Johnny Cueto before winning the World Series in 2015. In retrospect, should the Pirates have gone all-in to capitalize on their window with McCutchen and Cole?
"Our young players are the lifeblood of our present and our future," Huntington said. "As we look at our next competitive team, our goal is to have it be '18. … A lot of those players wouldn't be here had we pushed all of our chips in in '13, '14 or '15 or even '16 or '17 as we were trying to make another run.
"I get the criticism that we should have done more. Our belief is that if we get there as frequently and consistently as possible, we give ourselves the best chance to be that team."
The Pirates won 78 games in 2016 and 75 in '17. They could have brought back most of the same roster, as they didn't lose any key players to free agency. Instead they chose to reload their roster, dealing Cole and McCutchen for young right-handers Joe Musgrove, Michael Feliz and Kyle Crick, outfielders Bryan Reynolds and Jason Martin and third baseman Colin Moran.
"We fell short in '16 and '17. We knew we needed to make a change," Huntington said. "As we looked at this '18 club, our thought was, 'Let's make a hard baseball decision but, in our minds, the right baseball decision. Let's go get a return that can help us become a consistent playoff-caliber team, hopefully quicker than later, but certainly for a longer stretch of time."
The Cubs and Astros took part in more significant rebuilds, dealing everyone of value, dramatically slashing payroll and expecting to lose for a few years as they built up a deep and talented Minor League system. Supplemented by increased spending, each rebuild ended with a World Series championship.
Why aren't the Pirates doing the same? They don't believe this will be a five-year rebuild, Huntington said, because of the talented young core they still have in place.
"As we looked at where our young players are, there wasn't a need to strip it to the core. We have a good core base," Huntington said. "We feel like we can be really interesting much sooner than most people anticipate, much like the Twins and Brewers did, much like we did in 2013."