Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Hurdle Extension and Huntington's Fate

A few days ago, it was announced that Clint Hurdle received an extension for 2014 with an option for 2015.  Hurdle was only under contract for this year, giving the dreaded "lame duck" status.  Upon first hearing of the extension, my first nano-reaction was "Wow, presiding over two straight collapses gets a reward."

But then I realized that for what he is presumably being paid (less than $1M per year, I suppose), if  his performance warrants his dismissal, the Pirates are really only the hook for 1 year of salary.  In exchange, the players have the knowledge that Hurdle is under contract and here for the "long term".  Believe it or not, but this actually matters to players.  You would think they would be perceptive enough to realize that if the team is floundering on July 4th, Hurdle will be canned.  Ditto if they collapse for a third straight year.  But these things matter in the brotherhood of baseball.

Not only is Hurdle on notice, but so is Neal Huntington.  This will be his sixth full season as General Manager.  If the Pirates don't have a winning season this year, there is no way that a 6th losing season can be tolerated.  Baseball is still a results based business of wins and losses.

The terrible part is that if Huntington is fired during 2013, the next GM will be able to reap the benefits of the foundation laid at the major league level and the impending rise of the high impact prospects from the minors.  This week, Baseball America placed 5 Pirate prospects in their Top 100 -- Gerrit Cole at 7, Jameson Taillon at 19, Gregory Polanco at 51, Alen Hanson at 61, and Luis Heredia at 78.  All 5 of those guys would conceivably be up during the tenure of the next potential GM.  If 2 of those 5 are the stars their potential says they will be, that's a major boost to the Pirates.  If 3 or more are stars, that's a potential pennant winning team when added to McCutchen/Walker/Alvarez/hopefully Marte.

I don't think that an 82-80 record will be good enough to save Hurdle or Huntington, either.  The stakes have been raised and for these men to soldier on the Pirates will need to be in the 84-86 win range, with a prolonged stay in the playoff hunt at least.

So Hurdle needs to keep working the folksy charm and learn how to platoon and control the running game on both sides of the equation.  Or else he'll have only 1 winning season in his 11 as a manager and he'll be the catalyst for yet another turnover on Federal Street.

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