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12/17/09 4:51 PM EST

Q&A with Neal Huntington

Bucs GM discusses pitching, prospects and more

General manager Neal Huntington participated in an exclusive online chat with fans on Thursday. During the chat, Huntington answered questions about the starting rotation and bullpen, Pittsburgh's top prospects, his decision-making process and more. The complete chat transcript follows.

Huntington: Thanks, everybody, for joining me here today and for your questions. Let's get started.

noodle99: How is the bullpen situation going to be this coming season? We could use a quality veteran to help the young talent we have.

Huntington: The bullpen of a Major League team is the most difficult component to build and to predict. Teams that have spent millions of dollars on free-agent relievers have, much more often than not, been disappointed in the results. As a result we are looking to efficiently build our bullpen by giving ourselves options and depth. We have some solid internal options, are working to sign some candidates to Minor League contracts with invitations to Spring Training and will continue to pursue some Major League free-agent relievers. Our plan is to give ourselves a number of options with a varying pitch repertoire, arm slots and stuff to give [manager John Russell] and [pitching coach Joe Kerrigan] options to help win games.

otisstash: Hi, Neal. I just want to say I think you're doing a great job. My question is, why not let Garrett Jones play first base from the start to avoid moving him from right field later in the year, when Jose Tabata gets called to Pittsburgh?

Huntington: Thank you for the kind words. We continue to work every day to build the quality of the talent pool that will allow us to bring a winning team back to Pittsburgh and allow us to play meaningful games as frequently as possible into September and October. Garrett had a quality rookie season, and we believe he is positioned to have a solid sophomore campaign. We continue to explore the free-agent market for a potential corner bat that makes us better, but we are very intrigued by Jeff Clement, Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata as corner options for us either out of Spring Training or in the future. Garrett's versatility and ability to play both allows us to be open to more options and/or go with Clement at first base if he shows he is ready.

jm_bucsfan: Can you explain the decision to non-tender Matt Capps?

Huntington: The decision to not tender Matt Capps was a difficult decision. While it is obvious Matt's 2009 performance was not his best, we did feel there were indicators that he would have a better season in 2010. The arbitration process aggressively rewards saves, home runs and wins while not always properly accounting for the metrics behind those numbers. Despite wanting to retain Matt and making an aggressive offer that we believed would be at or near his free-agent value prior to the tender deadline, we felt that the risk of an arbitration award at a substantially higher amount was not a good business decision for us. We may be right or wrong on Matt's free-agent value (and his 2010 performance), and we may be right or wrong on the performance of the pitcher(s) and/or player(s) we re-allocate the money toward, but we felt that it was the right move for us. Obviously, we would have preferred to get something of value in trade for Matt, but given his track record beginning in the second half of 2008, his trade value was limited throughout the summer and again this offseason. We wish the best for Matt and are certainly open to retaining him if we are able to find a common ground with his agent.

radar5000: Pitching is an important aspect of any ballclub. Do you feel that the farm club has adequate top-notch pitching talent coming up through the organization? What else is being done or needs to be done to assure a continued flow of pitchers in the future?

Huntington: The game begins and ends with pitching. While it is true you cannot win a game without scoring a run, it is also much more difficult to win games if you cannot stop the opposition from scoring. I am stealing a line from a colleague, but pitching is a game of attrition due to injuries, lack of development, etc. As a result we have attempted to flood the system with as many good arms as possible and then turn our talented pitching instructors loose to systematically maximize each pitcher's potential. As we look back to June 1 of this year, we have added approximately 25 pitching prospects to our system. We are working through the projected A-ball rosters for next year, and we are going to have to use a modified role-sharing system because we have eight or nine pitchers at each level that we believe should be developed as starting pitchers to fill the five starting rotation spots. Admittedly, we may not have a Josh Beckett or CC Sabathia high-profile stud at the present time, but we have a much larger number of pitchers that have the attributes to pitch in the Major Leagues than most other organizations in baseball. In response to part two of your question, Radar5000, we added a lot of pitchers via trade, the Draft and the international free-agent market, and we will continue to be aggressive in the Draft and international markets to keep our system deep with arms, because an organization can never have enough pitching.

kentucky21: Since the Pirates are going to be awfully young this coming season, who is going to provide some "senior" leadership in the clubhouse? Are you looking for that good starting player who can fill that critical void?

Huntington: You are correct that we are going to be a young team this year. It is our expectation that players like Ryan Doumit, Paul Maholm, Zach Duke and others will step up as they advance in their Major League career. We have some experience on our bench in [Ramon] Vazquez and [Bobby] Crosby that will be able to help our young players develop. Additionally, our coaching staff will have to continue to provide leadership as well. We have a group of young players that are talented, are good people and are very passionate about the game of baseball. They were thrown together as a group last year from different organizations with different backgrounds and faced adversity but worked through it fine. We are looking forward to working through Spring Training with them and having them grow as individuals and as a team.

bucsin09: Will there be much Hot Stove activity for the Buccos the rest of December?

Huntington: We will continue to explore opportunities to make this club and organization better. We remain in contact with a multitude of free agents and continue to have multiple trade discussions, but it is tough to predict if we will make five more moves, three more moves or no more moves. While we will continue to look for ways to upgrade this team, we have a nucleus of young players that we are looking to build with and give opportunities to let them grow and develop.

pirateexecutive: Will Alvarez and Tabata be here in July?

Huntington: We are very pleased with the development and progression of Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata and believe they will be very good Major League players. Similarly to Andrew McCutchen from a year ago, both Pedro and Jose have remaining development required for them to be prepared to play at the Major League level, and their growth and development will show us when they are ready to be called up. A year ago we felt Andrew would likely be ready toward the second half of the season (perhaps even September), but Andrew went about his work with intensity and desire and began to quickly accomplish the challenges we believed he needed to overcome to be ready to play at the Major League level. We will continue to work with Andrew to help him fulfill his potential, but the way he attacked the challenges we presented to him last year is the reason why he was able to reach the Major Leagues more quickly than we anticipated and have an immediate impact. Pedro and Jose have a great opportunity before them, and how they work to get better will provide the answer as to when they are ready.

blzr409: Mr. Huntington, with all the attention given to the offseason need to build a bullpen, is there any chance some lower-level relievers, such as Ronald Uviedo, Ramon Aguero, Jean Machi or Tom Boleska will make the Major League roster out of Spring Training?

Huntington: We will certainly give consideration to our internal candidates beyond the pitchers that were at the Major League level a year ago. Machi has thrown very well in winter ball and will be given every chance to make the club. Uviedo continues to develop and is an interesting arm. Aguero has thrown the ball great in winter ball and is continuing to open eyes. Boleska is an interesting arm, but we feel there is more development remaining with him before he is quite in this mix. A strong showing in season by him, or others and guys can open some doors! There are other internal candidates, but I am impressed with the names you have listed! Thanks for your interest.

wrv21: Neal, do you anticipate signing a left-handed reliever to help out in the bullpen or does lefty/righty not matter as much as getting people out?

Huntington: Simply stated, we are looking for relievers that can get Major League hitters out. Some of those relievers are left-handed and some are right-handed. The bullpen composition will be based on the relievers ability to get out Major League hitters, but we will certainly give consideration to a mild split difference (a pitcher that is better against left-handed hitter or right-handed hitter) but we are not likely to carry a strict match up type reliever. Ideally, we will have a left-handed reliever or two but our strong preference is to find seven pitchers that can get out left- and right-handed hitters.

fllpbc: How will Daniel McCutchen be used this coming year?

Huntington: Daniel McCutchen will be in competition to make our Major League team as a starting pitcher. We see him as a starting pitcher in the long term but will evaluate the best path for him if he is unable to secure a spot in our rotation out of Spring Training. If he is beaten out in the rotation, we will give him consideration in the Major League bullpen. If we believe the best move for us as an organization is to continue to keep Daniel as a starting option, then he will be in the rotation in Indianapolis.

gdbillyjoe: Is there another Miguel Sano-type prospect in Latin America this year that the Pirates will pursue and hopefully sign?

Huntington: While it is early in the process, we have not identified a talent similar to Miguel Sano at this point. While we were not able to sign Miguel, we have been able to sign several players in Latin America this fall that have quality tools and talent. While we would have loved to have added Miguel to the organization, he has moved on, we have moved on and we wish him well. History shows us that just because a player gets a huge signing bonus, it does not guarantee he will even make the Major Leagues. A quick review of All-Star Game rosters shows that while there is a good percentage of high-profile amateur players, there is nearly as many low-profile amateur players that have turned into All-Stars.

jvwill: I am sure finding a closer can be a tough thing. To be a closer how much is having the right physical tools and right stuff on the mound compared to how much do you look for someone having the right mental attitude?

Huntington: Closing is a balance of physical tools and mental wherewithal. Some setup men have dominant stuff but struggle to get the final outs. Some closers may not have dominant stuff but find a way to get the final outs. Unlike front-line starters or quality everyday positions players, closers come from many different places and it is tough to predict success with most closers. Similar to other relievers and kickers in football, closers tend to have a limited shelf life. History has not been kind to teams in markets like Pittsburgh that have invested heavily in a closer. As a result, we will build depth, give ourselves options and see who steps up to take the ball and get the final outs in our close wins.

dewars: How is Pedro Alvarez progressing with the Pirates' conditioning program?

Huntington: Pedro is putting in quality work and is making solid progress. He is in probably the best shape he has been in as a Pirate, but work still remains.

fllpbc: With Donnie Veal's performance this past winter, what impact do you expect him to have in 2010?

Huntington: Donnie Veal's performance in Arizona was very encouraging. He showed better velocity than he did in his Major League outings this past year, his breaking ball was sharper and more consistent, and most importantly, he threw quality strikes. Our current plan is to have Donnie begin the season in a Minor League rotation to make up for some lost development time last year. However, Donnie will be given every consideration to make the club should he continue to pitch as well as he did in Arizona. Thanks again, everyone, for joining me. Last question for this session.

showwn: How difficult is it to make moves/decisions you know will be unpopular with fans while believing wholeheartedly that they will eventually benefit them and the franchise?

Huntington: Making a move that we believe will benefit the organization despite that move likely being unpopular is actually not that tough, because it is the right thing to do. I did not come to Pittsburgh to be popular; I came to Pittsburgh to build a consistent championship caliber organization and to give the fans of Pittsburgh what they deserve -- a winning baseball team in one of the best ballparks in the world. Thank you all for your questions today, and Spring Training will be here before we know it! Happy Holidays to you all.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.