BRADENTON (93-7 The Fan) – Pittsburgh Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington sat down with "The Fan Morning Show" at Spring Training on Tuesday to chat about the team's offseason and what fans can look forward to this season.
Here is some of what he had to say:
On whether or not the Pirates are better than they were when they finished last season:
"We believe so. We'll see how it plays out, but we got to twenty-some games over .500 in the early part of August and then strengthened that club. Starling Marte was hurt and trying to get back and never really got 100 percent last year. Jose [Tabata] was kind of an undervalued guy for us, maybe even internally with what he did in August. [He] kept us afloat until [Marlon] Byrd came on board and then Marte came back out. Obviously, we've got Gregory Polanco on the horizon, that we're really excited about. Andrew Lambo is as good defensively as we'd expect he could be right now. You get Charlie Morton for a whole season, you get Gerrit Cole for a whole season, Francisco Liriano for a whole season, some of the other young arms coming, we feel that we've got a club that's capable of competing for a playoff spot, and as we need to, and as we can, we'll look to add to it."
On First Baseman Andrew Lambo's development:
"The biggest question was the defense. This was a guy that was a good high school first baseman that was moved to the outfield, and you watch him play first base and he doesn't look like a guy that's learning the position. Now, the intricacies of it, the timing of it, the speed of the game will be an adjustment for him, but he's made that adjustment pretty well."
On potentially signing a free agent like Kendrys Morales or Stephen Drew that has draft pick compensation attached to them:
"So much has been made of the draft pick, the draft pick. When we find the right guy, with the right contract, and the right terms, and the right impact on this club, we'll forfeit that draft pick. We just haven't found that right guy for the right contract yet.
On the Pirates not using all of their payroll space potentially leaving room to sign their current players to contract extensions:
"Just because we have more money on the 2014 payroll doesn't mean that we can just dump it into somebody's lap because you're still talking about contract structure. Just because we have some money available to us this year it doesn't mean that we're going to be able to overpay somebody in 2018 or 2017. So, they're independent entities."
On prospects performing well in Spring Training only to be sent back down:
"Spring Training is the worst time to evaluate a player, because he may face a major leaguer that's just working on a fastball that day; trying to go fastball in, and he leaves one out to AA hitter because he doesn't really know who he is, and he lashes it into the gap. I was with a club where we rushed a prospect because he hit .370 in Spring Training, but we missed the fact that he hit .370, [but] he didn't get a hit off a big-league pitcher, a pitcher that was in the big-leagues the year before, he didn't get a hit to the opposite side, he didn't get a hit in anything other than a fastball count, and he didn't get a hit against anything except a fastball. Well, that's four recipes for disaster in the big-leagues."
On the goals for those prospects:
"Our goal is to have them come up and thrive, and not come up and survive. Because we're a playoff-caliber team, we don't have the luxury of a learning curve at the major-league level."
On when last year's success really hit him:
"Probably after the final out of the Wild Card game. My mom and dad were there. My wife and our three children were there. To get the opportunity to share that with them was truly special."
On where things went from there:
"Well, we weren't done yet, and we're not done yet, and I think my dad reminded me of that- you still have 11 games to win - hugged me, told me he was proud of me, and I think we talked about we still have 11 games to win. So, we weren't done yet, we're not done yet. Again, [I'm] so proud of what we accomplished last year. This player group should be so proud, but before the finish of last season we had already started preparing for 2014. We're 0-0. People are going to come hunt us down this year. We were a nice story a year ago. They don't want us to be a nice story again this year."
On the criticism from fans and the media that he finds most unfair:
"Our job is to put a winning team on the field. That's our singular focus. And maybe those that question that- our commitment to putting a winning team on the field- we are. We're in that process, and we are doing that. There's decisions that, that on paper, that in a vacuum, make all the sense in the world, but in our environment, for the reasons we believe, they didn't make sense, or they weren't possible. I guess that would be the one, but what's amazing about our fan base is the passion, and we don't ever want to lose that. We said coming in that that was once of the biggest assets we had was this passionate fan base, and sometimes that passion came out in anger and venom, but it was still passion. "
The interview can be heard here:
Neal Huntington 3-4
The Fan Morning Show will be broadcasting live from Pirates spring training in Bradenton every day this week. Listen to them live 5:40-10 a.m. and visit 937thefan.com to get interview summaries and audio after the show.
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