So who's your pick? Liriano? Locke? The Shark Tank collective? Martin? Cutch? Starling? Searage? Hurdle? All good choices, but we have to go with GM Neal Huntington.
Yah, yah, he's the guy Pittsburgh loves to hate, right after Bob Nutting. But guess what? His plan to make the Pirate competitive is finally bearing fruit.
He started last year when he finally realized that he couldn't land a free agent, the top flight out of his price range and the second tier guys looking for a team that, you know, could maybe win more games than they lost. So he brought in AJ Burnett for a few beads early in the year, and added Wandy Rodriguez, Gaby Sanchez and Travis Snider at the deadline for some of the depth he had accumulated.
The core of the 2012 team still had David Littlefield's fingerprints all over it - Cutch, The Pittsburgh Kid, Starling Marte, etc. But Huntington's guys began at long last to step in. Pedro, Jordy Mercer, Gerrit Cole and Justin Wilson became key components while trades along the road added Jeff Locke, Charlie Morton, Mark Melancon, Bryan Morris, Jeanmar Gomez and Vin Mazzaro to the staff. Some last-chance tickets hit, too, in the form of Garrett Jones and Jason Grilli.
He signed Francisco Liriano and Russell Martin as FA's, his best class ever, and now it's pretty much Huntington's team. There's no guarantee that the club is going to do anything than give us fifteen good minutes this year, but Huntington has built a squad that's deeper in pitching along with a lineup that's not a Murderer's Row, but not Little Bo Peep anymore (usually). We think the dog days will be worth watching this season.
We're like everyone else - we threw our stones when Huntington broke up the team he inherited; we thought he could have backed off the accelerator a bit. But it ended up that Jay Bay, Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez were pretty much at the end of their effective shelf life, even if the return was minimal. We didn't mind him breaking up the pitching staff so much.
GW fretted when he kept going for high upside, high risk high school kids in the draft when there were safer college guys who could help the cause sooner rather than later. But we've now come to accept that as a given for the small revenue clubs, even if the return is sometimes spotty and always a longer process from minors to the show.
We painfully remember living through Akinori Iwamura, Rod Barajas, Andy LaRoche, Delwyn Young, Brandon Moss, Lastings Milledge, Ronny Cedeno, John McDonald, Bobby Crosby, Ryan Church, Lyle Overbay, Ramon Vazquez, Craig Monroe, Brandon Wood, Luis Rivas, John Bowker, Josh Rodriguez and the gang, plus all those waiver wire pitchers. His bad.
But that's yesterday. Now we're looking ahead to Tony Sanchez, Kyle McPherson, Jameson Taillon, Gregory Polanco, Vic Black, Alen Henson, Josh Bell, Dilson Herrera, Luis Heredia, Nick Kingham, Max Moroff, Tyler Glasnow, Phil Irwin, Austin Meadows and the other pups looking to pull on a Bucco jersey.
Huntington is probably right about on schedule now for where he'd like the team (most back of envelop calculators say its a 5-7 year process to tear down & rebuild a club), and more importantly, the organization, to be. And after all the years of abuse, it's time to recognize that sometimes the tortoise wins the race. Make no mistake; it was a slow, slow slog, but the Bucs are finally nearing the finish line.