AMHERST, Mass. -- Neal Huntington didn't think he had finally cracked the formula when the Pirates were contending midway through the past two seasons.
"As soon as you think you've got some things figured out," the Pirates general manager said Tuesday at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. "this game kicks you right in the teeth and reminds you that it's bigger than you are, better than you are and you better keep working at it."
Huntington was part of a panel that included two other Major League GMs, Ben Cherington of the Red Sox and Chris Antonetti of the Indians. All three attended UMass Amherst.
The Pirates' past two campaigns fell short of their in-season promise. Huntington does not dismiss that reality.
"We live in a very results-oriented industry," Huntington said. "You win and you lose. And it's simple: If you lose, you're incompetent. If you win, you're a little bit less incompetent in some peoples' minds. And that's a struggle, because the challenge is we're trying to keep our players, we're trying to keep ourselves focused on the process. Because the reality of our environment is Step 1 leads to Step 2, Step 2 leads to Step 3, so if we focus on our process and we take care of each individual in our organization ... the outcome at the end is going to be a better Major League team.
"We're going to play better baseball and we're going to get the outcome we desire. Obviously, we did that for four months, and then for two months we stopped doing that and we became very focused on the win and the loss. We're a young team and we've got to mature beyond that. We're a young staff, we've got to mature beyond that."
Recent history has proven that small-market teams can compete and compete consistently, but that doesn't stop Huntington and Antonetti from giving Cherington a hard time about the difference in payroll between Boston and their clubs.
"Our game is great, you start looking at parity within the game, the number of teams that have had opportunities," Huntington said. "Chris and I and Ben joke all the time about payroll disparity. At the same time, we've been able to compete, most small markets have been able to compete here in recent years, and we have hope here in Pittsburgh. Is the system perfect? No, the system's not perfect, but it's working better than it worked 15, 20 years ago."
Trust was at the center of the talk the three gave. Huntington, Cherington and Antonetti all believe in one another's word, just because of their history. It comes back to prior experiences, and the same goes for dealings with agents as the offseason unfolds.
The guiding principle: Reveal your intentions honestly and faithfully, and trust is earned.
"I think the reality is it's just about the same as dealing with people in your normal life," Huntington said. "You get people that you've earned trust and respect, they've earned your trust and respect, and dealings are pretty straightforward and pretty open when you recognize that there is a mutual benefit being sought."