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Biertempfel: Huntington won't lose sight of big picture before trade deadline

| Saturday, July 20, 2013, 10:57 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Wandy Rodriguez warms his hand on the mound during the seventh inning Wednesday, April 3, 2013, against the Cubs at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
The Pirates' Derrek Lee homers during the eighth inning against the Cubs on Monday, Aug. 1, 2011, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
The Pirates' Ryan Ludwick bats against the Cubs during the second inning Monday, Aug. 1, 2011, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
The Pirates' Gaby Sanchez strikes out with Andrew McCutchen at second base during the seventh inning against the Cubs on Thursday, April 4, 2013, at PNC Park.

On the eve of the All-Star break, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington tried hard to project a ho-hum attitude about the upcoming non-waiver trade deadline.

“This is a very good club that's done some very good things,” Huntington said. “Our focus is (deciding) what's the best way to add to it. We may make no moves, we may make one move, we may make multiple moves. The market will dictate some of it and (how well) our club plays will dictate some of it. Sometimes, your area of weakness turns out to be stronger than you think and your area of strength turns out to be weaker than you think.”

That last part is easy to figure out. Offense, weak. Pitching, strong. It's why Huntington dispatched a scout to Chicago before the break to scope out outfielders Alex Rios of the White Sox and Nate Schierholtz of the Cubs. It's why first basemen Kendrys Morales and Justin Morneau, a couple of decent sluggers, are repeatedly mentioned in Pirates trade scenarios. It's why a call went out to the Marlins a few weeks ago, wondering what it might take to pry Giancarlo Stanton out of Miami.

Every team's GM makes what must seem like a million phone calls to other clubs this time of year. Much of that is fact-gathering, as GMs try to construct the best possible deal. But, sometimes, it is merely doing due diligence, making sure an opportunity doesn't pass by unnoticed.

If government agents are snooping on Huntington's cell phone records, like they are with the rest of us, what would they think the Pirates will do at the July 31 trade deadline? Huntington considered the question for a moment, then more or less invoked the Fifth Amendment.

“There are areas where we're looking to improve, but it's not a desperation where we've got to do whatever we have to do,” Huntington said. “We've got some guys who we believe are going to have stronger second halves offensively. We've got some guys in the system who can help us. It's not a situation where we don't have any weaknesses. We just don't have a desperate weakness, in our minds.”

Huntington doesn't want to fall into the trap of worrying so much about this season that he loses sight of the big picture — owner Bob Nutting's demand for a steady upflow of talent from the minors to maintain a consistent and low-cost contender. Yet, it can't be easy to preach a stay-the-course sermon when the Pirates have a real chance to snap that onerous, 20-year losing streak.

“There are many examples of clubs that have pushed too hard for today at the expense of tomorrow,” Huntington said. “At the same time, today really means a lot. This is a club we believe in and we want to do what we can to help it take that next step. We want to reward this fan base, which has really been patient. It's been a long time, and we're definitely cognizant of that.”

Two years ago, the Pirates picked up Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick without giving up even a second-tier prospect. Lee was productive, but spent much of his time in Pittsburgh on the disabled list. Ludwick didn't do much with the Pirates, but had a great 2012 season after signing with the Reds.

Last year, the Pirates got Wandy Rodriguez, Travis Snider and Gaby Sanchez by giving up a mix that included a few mid-level prospects (such as Robbie Grossman, who flopped in a big league tryout this year with the Astros), reliever Brad Lincoln (who's pitched in only 37 games in the majors since the deal) and a draft pick. Rodriguez has pitched well, but is out for at least another month with a sore elbow. Neither Snider nor Sanchez has performed well, which is why the Pirates have hitters on their trade radar.

“You learn from past experiences, but I don't know that what we've done in the past will impact what we're looking to do this year,” Huntington said.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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