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Huntington wants to add to, ‘honor this group’


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Neal Huntington has no reason to decide yet if he will be a buyer or a seller with the July 31 trade deadline still more than three weeks away.

The Pirates are in fourth place in the National League Central but just 2 ½ games behind the division-leading Chicago Cubs. However, a bad couple of weeks could knock the Pirates out of contention.

Huntington, though, sounded more like a buyer Sunday before the Pirates played the Brewers in the finale of a three-game series at PNC Park — their last game before the All-Star break.

“The club just continues to show amazing resiliency and fight. As the general manager, you want to honor that,” Huntington said. “We’re 3 ½ games (before Sunday’s game) out of the division lead, we have to climb over some teams to get to the division top, have to climb over some teams to get into the wild card. We don’t take that for granted that you have a chance at the postseason.

“We absolutely want to honor this group. We had one of the best starting rotations in baseball the first month. Didn’t really hit all that well. From May 1, we’ve been among the best offenses in the National League. If we could put those two clubs together, we could do some damage.”

Huntington was asked to elaborate on “honoring” the group.

“You honor that by looking to see if there are opportunities to add to it,” he said. “You honor that by respecting where we are and maybe not making a move that might have some future value but takes from your existing club. Just respect their resiliency, their hard work and their fire.”

Huntington is fond of saying the Pirates always need to find a balance between the present and future. Thus, the Pirates could be both buyers and sellers this month.

One problem, though, is that trading veteran players while still in contention can cause clubhouse discord.

“As we looked at the ’16 and ’17 clubs and the additions of (Felipe Vazquez and Taylor Hearn from the Nationals) for two months of Mark Melancon, business-wise, it’s a great move,” Huntington said. “As you look back at the human element of it, it might’ve taken some of the wind out of the sails of that club. We were further out. We didn’t feel as good about that club as we feel about this club.

“Repeated that a year later with Oneil Cruz (from the Dodgers) for Tony Watson. Just need to be cognizant of that. We went back last summer (trading for Chris Archer and Keone Kela). That didn’t work, either. So, I’m 0 for 3 in the last three trade deadlines in terms of providing a boost to the major-league club. That’s the challenge we have — that balance between now, next year and the future.”

Major League Baseball has made July 31 a hard deadline this year. In the past, players could be traded up until Aug. 31 if they passed through waivers.

Huntington believes a one-deadline setup has prompted teams to mention more players in trade talks.

“The names are different,” Huntington said. “Normally this time of year it’s all about the marquee players. This year there’s been more conversations like, ‘We’re looking to add X’ or ‘We’re looking to add Y.’ It could be a little different in that July 31 could be a very busy time because you no longer have the fall back of teams now have to make a call, you no longer have the fallback if you’re a big market to go buy a contract and just take on a contract in August. That now has to be done by July 31.”

When asked what areas of the team he would most like to improve, Huntington did not give a direct answer. However, it is obvious he is looking to bolster a pitching staff whose 4.91 ERA ranks 14th among the 15 NL teams, ahead of only the Rockies (5.16).

“There are some relievers that seem to be turning the corner and adding some depth to the leverage innings and options for (Clint Hurdle),” Huntington said. “If there’s a challenge, we still have got to continue to find a way to get more innings out of our starters. And this has been another stretch of time where very few of our starters have gotten very deep into the game and you tax a bullpen, we had to get creative this weekend to try to get through the innings. Clint has had to use his bullpen because he’s had to, not because [he] wants to, to win games.”

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