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Pirates give Clint Hurdle, Neal Huntington 4-year contract extensions

Rob Biertempfel
| Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, 2:30 p.m.
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington talks with manager Clint Hurdle during the first workout of spring training Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington talks with manager Clint Hurdle during the first workout of spring training Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle talks with owner Bob Nutting in the dugout before a game against the Cubs Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle talks with owner Bob Nutting in the dugout before a game against the Cubs Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, at PNC Park.
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington talks about his contract extension Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington talks about his contract extension Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, at PNC Park.

As he wraps up his 11th season with the Pirates, Neal Huntington already has the second-longest tenure of any general manager in franchise history.

On Tuesday, Huntington signed a four-year contract extension that ties him to the Pirates through the 2021 season.

"If you had laid odds I was going to be here for four years, let alone 10, after my third year, you would've won a lot of bets," Huntington joked.

Manager Clint Hurdle also got a four-year extension. Terms of both deals were not announced.

Huntington, who was hired in September 2007, is half way to matching Joe L. Brown, who was the GM for 22 seasons from 1956-76 and in '85.

Hurdle was named the Pirates' 39th manager in November 2010. He ranks fifth in franchise history with 578 victories, which includes three postseason wins in 2013.

"We want to honor the all-in push from when we first showed up," Hurdle said. "The conviction and commitment level of the people I'm working with has not wavered, nor has mine."

During spring training, chairman Bob Nutting said working out new contracts with the leaders of his management team was not a top priority. Neither Nutting nor president Frank Coonelly spoke with reporters Tuesday.

Huntington said both sides expressed interest in completing a deal.

"I won't say it was one-sided, like if they wanted me back I was coming back," Huntington said. "There were some parameters ... about how we continue to push things forward, what's the belief in how we're doing things and how can we reward the people who have been here and done so much behind the scenes."

Hurdle, who does not have an agent, took a direct approach to his contract talks.

"I said, 'Make me your best offer, and I'll say yes or no,' " Hurdle said with a grin. "I'm not a negotiator. I'm a baseball manager. We got to a point where there was a commitment level on both sides."

Does that commitment level include assurances about spending more on player payroll and acquisitions? While Starling Marte was serving an 80-game suspension, the Pirates — whose $100 million opening-day payroll was the eighth-lowest in the majors — played with only two bona fide major league outfielders on their roster.

"I am confident with what we're doing and how we're doing it," Hurdle said. "I'm confident with the people I'm working with and how we have to put our players in play, get players, our development system and our scouts. We have a good organization."

Huntington stressed that the allocation of dollars is his responsibility.

"We understand what the market size is and what the revenue stream is," Huntington said. "We understand the importance of being balanced roster-wise and payroll-wise.

"We've got the assurances we're going to be able to continue what we've done. The more revenue that's generated, the more we put into the major league club."

Average attendance at PNC Park is down about 21 percent compared to 2015, when the Pirates claimed the last of three consecutive National League wild-card berths. Local television ratings also have sagged this season.

"When we put a winner on the field, the 29th-largest fan base in the industry brought us to just about league average in attendance," Huntington said. "As a result, there were additional revenues."

Hurdle completed the equation.

"Nothing leverages fan attendance like winning games. Nothing," he said.

Management's roster-building strategy remains unchanged: plug homegrown players into key positions and use trades and free agency to acquire a value-priced supporting cast.

Next season, the Pirates will try to compete in the NL Central with a younger, less-experienced team.

"This clubhouse is getting younger, and I think (Hurdle) has related well to those guys and gets the most out of them," shortstop Jordy Mercer said. "He's kind of resurrected this organization, and I think he's found another gear himself now."

Hurdle, 60, decided to extend his hitch after months of conversations with his wife, Karla.

"We got to the point where she said, 'If you want convenience and comfort, retire,' " Hurdle said. "She challenged me across the board about my level of commitment. We kept getting back to our love for his area, the way our kids have bonded here. The relationships are real. There's roots."

Executives around the majors have noticed how Huntington has rebuilt the Pirates' farm system and changed their fortunes. Could he be lured away to a big-money team?

"All I've ever known is small markets," said Huntington, who spent 16 years with the Montreal Expos and Cleveland Indians before coming to Pittsburgh. "I love the challenges. This is what I was raised in. This is what I know. This what I believe in.

"I've been told by some of my friends who've gone on to bigger and better things to be careful what you wish for sometimes. The bottom line here is, we need to do things a little bit differently. That's the part of the challenge that makes it fun."

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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