Is Neal Huntington The New Dayton Moore?

PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh Pirates GM Neal Huntington talks to reporters prior to the game against the Cincinnati Reds at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

The old timeline for GMs:

  • Get hired
  • Acquire good players
  • Win
  • Get a new contract

With the extension of the Pittsburgh Pirates' Neal Huntington, and previously the Kansas City Royals' Dayton Moore, the timeline shifted a bit.

  • Get hired
  • Acquire bad players
  • Lose
  • Get a new contract.

At least, that's what it might seem like. For the second time in the past two years, a GM for a struggling team has received a premature extension. There's additional context, sure, but it's not like the context includes a lot of winning. And while it might not be fair to make an apples-to-apples comparison between Huntington and Moore, the overall comparison fits: both GMs were hired by beleaguered franchises several years ago. Both franchises are still very much beleaguered. All efforts at getting them leaguered have failed. The forecast is for more leaguering.

Huntington's extension was modeled after Moore's in a way, though. Both of the extensions were a little bit of a surprise -- it's hard to imagine that there were a lot of Operation Get Dayton dossiers thrown away after the extension -- and they both had to do with the promise of a better future. If the Pirates and Royals are competitive in the near future, it will be because of the acquisition and development of amateur talent. The powers-that-be must have been satisfied with the foundation of prospects in both cases. Moore is locked up through 2014; Huntington's new contract takes him through 2014 as well, with a team option for 2015.

Here's the difference between the two: we're pretty sure we know Dayton Moore's strengths and weaknesses by now. His strength is facilitating the growth of a good farm system. He might not be the one cross-checking the high-school kids across the country, but he's at least hiring and listening to the right people. Moore's weaknesses are minor hurdles for a GM, such as identifying good major-league players. You know, the little things.

Just to give you a sense of scale, when Moore took over the Royals, Forbes estimated their value at $286 million. In Moore's first year-and-a-half on the job, he committed around $100 million to Gil Meche, Jose Guillen, and Yasuhiko Yabuta. The little things.

The Moore extension was jaw-dropping -- it looks better now that the prospects he's collected are flooding the Royals, but at the time it was unconscionable. The Huntington contract is slightly curious because, well, so is Huntington. It's really hard to evaluate him as a GM just yet. He sure seems to be doing the right things -- he's not wholly relying on veteran stopgaps, he's willing to trade proven-but-replaceable players for pre-arbitration raffle tickets, and he's constantly taking chances on reclamation projects who used to be among the best prospects in baseball. None of it's really worked out, though. And no one really knows what evil (or good!) lurks in his free-agent heart just yet.

Charlie Wilmoth of Bucs Dugout says it well:

... the best word to describe Huntington's talents relative to his peers - based on what we know so far - is "average." And again, that's not an insult. I honestly think that today, over half the GMs in baseball are operating at a high enough level that even judging them against each other is pretty hard, given all the variables involved. That's one reason it takes time to evaluate them.

There was never a way to reverse the fortunes of the Pirates in a single season or two. But so far, Huntington's had four offseasons, four amateur drafts, and four trading deadlines to acquire talent. The results are still pretty ambiguous, at least where the Pirates' long-term future is concerned. And that's the only way to describe this extension: ambiguous. It's the kind of deal that makes you furrow your brow and say,"Hrrrmmm" for several minutes before giving up and seeing what's for lunch.

It's not like Huntington is a new GM, but he's still a complete unknown in a lot of ways. The one thing we think we know for sure is that Huntington isn't Cam Bonifay or Dave Littlefield. And to answer the question posed in the headline, we're not even sure what Dayton Moore is quite yet. There's more to general managing than a quick tally of trades and free agents, especially for a team on a budget. 

It might be tempting to latch onto worst-to-first stories like the 2011 Diamondbacks, but rebuilding usually takes a long time.  The Pirates didn't want to switch GMs mid-stream, and there's some wisdom in that. Let's just hope they know what they're doing.

You know, the Pirates. Let's just hope the Pirates know what they're doing.

...

Well, when you put it like that ....

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