Pirates’ Neal Huntington in balancing act as trade deadline approaches
Stop if you’ve heard this before.
Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington is walking a tricky line of weighing options with an inconsistent team in the race for the postseason.
Huntington is in his fourth consecutive mid-summer that scenario. His team entered the final day before the All-Star break 3½ games out of first place in the National League Central. But it also was two games under .500 at 43-45. It had won 11 of its past 16 but still sat in fourth place.
Fans and talk-show hosts want to affix one of two labels to the Pirates and Huntington entering the trade deadline in 3½ weeks: buyer or seller. How does the GM balance efforts to improve the 2019 Pirates while considering next season and beyond?
“The club just continues to show amazing resiliency and fight,” Huntington said before Sunday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers. “As the general manager, you want to honor that. We’re 3 1/2 games out of the division lead. We have to climb over some teams to get to the division top, have to climb over some teams to get into the wild card. We don’t take that for granted that you have a chance at the postseason. We absolutely want to honor this group.”
In 2016, ‘17 and ‘18, the Pirates were similarly floating near .500. In 2016 and ‘17, Huntington sold off players such as Mark Melancon and Tony Watson, but the GM also added replacements. Each deal, over the long term, added value to the organization, but there was an immediate price to pay.
“We like the players we got back for the long term a lot,” Huntington said, referring to Felipe Vazquez and Taylor Hearn (for Melancon) and Oneil Cruz (for Watson). “But something to watch and take into consideration this year is the impact that it had on those current major league teams compared to what the future major league teams benefited from those trades.”
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Some of the prime “sell” candidates on the Pirates roster include Melky Cabrera, Corey Dickerson (if healthy), Francisco Liriano and — if the Pirates really want to accelerate a rebuild — Vazquez.
If the Pirates “buy,” they could look to add arms to the rotation or bullpen.
The tightness of the NL Central, which might hurt the chances of an additional team from the division securing a wild-card berth, is another factor in Huntington’s decision. So is a new rule regarding July 31 being a firm trade deadline (no more August waiver trades).
Huntington also acknowledged the human element his deals can have on a clubhouse filled with competitive men who want to win right now.
“You want to respect their resiliency, their hard work and their fire,” he said.
“You honor that by looking to see if there are opportunities to add to (the team),” Huntington also said. “You honor that by respecting where we are and maybe not making a move that might have some future value but takes from your existing club.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .