Yesterday's story from Bradenton was the old "vote of confidence" interview with Prez Frank Coonelly over the future of GM Neal Huntington, whose contract is up at the end of the year.
Coonelly said all the right things about his GM, as to be expected. But the bottom line, no matter what is said in the spring, is that another 100 loss season is quite likely to usher Huntington out the door. He needs the team to show progress and his draft picks to start showing up at PNC.
His trade record for prospects has been hit-and-miss. That's probably to be expected; Huntington era deals stress upside in the return. Instead of getting guys who are projected as steady, mid-level players, he rolled the dice on talented but underperforming players, hoping to hit the jackpot.
It worked for Jose Tabata, Joel Hanrahan and James McDonald; not so for Lastings Milledge and Jeff Clement. Minor league talent evaluations are admittedly a crapshoot, but guys the FO counted on as being big leaguers and cornerstones, like Andy LaRoche and Brandon Moss, didn't pan out.
That's to be expected; after all, the baseball scenery is littered with guys who couldn't take that last step. But for a rebuilding team, the results have delayed the original timetable for fielding a competitive squad in a city impatient for some baseball success.
His history of bringing in free agents is equally spotty. Huntington didn't want to block his young players, nor did he have the financial resources ala Washington to overpay and bring in big ticket performers.
Throw in the undeniable fact that players tend to gravitate toward teams that can at least sniff the playoffs, and his signings are what they are. Still, he 's had some success, like Octavio Dotel and Javier Lopez who he flipped into young talent; we'd toss Rule 5 keeper Evan Meek into that mix, too.
Last year, Huntington made his first effort at bringing in an undisputed starter from outside the organization with Aki Iwamura. That fizzled, and time will tell if Lyle Overbay and Matt Diaz will help hold the fort until the minor league troops ride into Pittsburgh any better than Eric Hinske or Bobby Crosby did.
The minors is where he shines. For the first time, Indy will be stocked with mostly his players. Huntington's brought in a handful of potential difference-makers, like Pedro Alvarez, Jameson Taillon and Luis Heredia. There's no denying that the organizational pitching is as strong and deep as its ever been. And he's loosened the leash on Rene Gayo in Latin America.
But building through the minors is a painfully slow process. So the question is whether he'll have time to see the process through. Remember, Branch Rickey's teams were the worst in Pirate history, but Joe Brown rode his roster and some wheelin' and dealin' to a World Series championship.
What has yet to be seen is if Huntington can construct a contending MLB team from the toolkit once enough pieces are in place, just like Brown did.
There's no question that Huntington has rebuilt the Pirate system to at least respectability. How, and more importantly, when, that translates into a successful major league product is the key to his future in Pittsburgh.