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Bucs GM Neal Huntington On the Record

March 5, 2016

search.jpg     The man himself.

The Pirates home broadcaster did their first Spring Training game yesterday and Huntington was in the booth with Greg Brown and Bob Walk for a candid set of Q&A. Summary:

“Weak Contact” is real and as good as a K. OK, it’s not always as good as a K because soft grounders do occasionally seep through. But if it comes early in the count, it’s better than a six-pitch punch-out. This year’s manifestation of the theory is Jon Niese and Ryan Vogelsong.

It’s harder to get those second-tier Free Agent bats now that the Bucs are good. This has taken Huntington by surprise, particularly this winter, but in its own way it makes perfect sense: The Pirates aren’t usually going to be players in long-term free agent deals, which means they’re going to go after guys looking for one- or two-year contracts with AAV under $10 million. The Bucs won 98 last year and you don’t do that without a lot of good every-day players.

This makes Pittsburgh a less attractive destination to players, or at least their agents, who want to do a one-year deal where their guy can get 400-500 AB. Other than 1B, the Pirates’ everyday lineup was pretty much set the day last season ended, and nobody wants to take $3-$5 million for 150-200 AB because that does absolutely nothing for future market value. Second-tier free agents, or at least free agents’ agents, want to target weaker teams where there’s a clear path to playing time or a strong-side platoon.

Pitchers, on the other hand, all want to come to Pittsburgh. “[Pitching Coach] Ray Searage is doing good things there, but it’s gotten to the point where we get so many calls it’s unbelievable. There are other great pitching coaches in baseball too!”

Even with 61 players in camp, barring injury, 23 of the 25 Opening Day roster spots are set. There’s one bullpen job open “and I really hope a lefty wins it”, and one bench job open “and we brought Matt Joyce in to compete and I really hope he wins it”.

Key over/under number: 9. Huntington believes that if the Pirates can use 8 starters or less in 2016, they’ll makes the playoffs comfortably. If they need to use 10 or more, they’ll miss. If it’s 9, “well it’ll come down to quality of the bullpen”. On the bullpen side, Huntington hopes to not have to use more than 13 guys. And he’s counting the fringy swingmen (Nicasio, Lobstein) in both columns.

Tyler Glasnow will get his shot before Jameson Taillon gets his. Glasnow to come up at the All-Star Break, Taillon sometime thereafter.

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