Neal Huntington's job is anything but safe.
I've now communicated with five sources Wednesday evening regarding the state of the Pirates' front office after Frank Coonelly's forced exit and, although the sources didn't all take precisely the same path -- that seldom happens -- all five concurred with the following conclusions:
• Huntington's job status is tenuous at best.
• His fate will be decided by incoming team president Travis Williams, who unequivocally will have the right to choose his GM, just as Bob Nutting allowed Coonelly to choose Huntington in 2007.
• No firing will occur before Williams is formally introduced at a press conference Monday at PNC Park, and there's no timetable for a decision in one direction or another.
Most of the rest of the information didn't vary much, but for one significant exception: Two of the sources sounded certain that Huntington is on his way out. One of them, a man I've known and trusted for 20 years, described Huntington's exit as imminent in our correspondence. When I pressed if that meant a firing, a resignation or some other departure, it was simply repeated Huntington is on his way out.
Another source described Ogden Nutting, Bob's father, as livid with the state of the franchise. That one threw me a complete curve, as Ogden is now 84 years old, and I hadn't heard his name mentioned in forever. Not sure what to make of that, but it might explain some seeming reversals in recent pronouncements.
All of them, again, agreed that Huntington is either out or could already be on the way out.
This makes sense, of course, and not just because the National League's most tenured general manager has a .470 winning percentage, four winning seasons, three playoff berths and one playoff round victory to show for 12 years on the job. Not to mention some of the worst drafting, worst developing and worst trades across the breadth of Major League Baseball.
It also makes sense because the change at the top of the day-to-day structure, not to mention the firing of Clint Hurdle, offers an unusual opportunity for a completely fresh start. And I don't need to revisit the countless reasons why that's what's needed right now, but to single out just one: It might represent at least a sigh of relief for the public at large, if not necessarily some immediate embrace. That's the impression I got from feedback on our site, on social media and in hosting a live three-hour radio show. "I'm almost ready to pull out my Pirates jersey again," one caller claimed before offering the disclaimer that Huntington's got to go.
It further makes sense in that it's only fair to Williams. This isn't some nobody the Pirates have landed. The Penguins loved having Williams, as I was reminded anew Wednesday by a prominent member of their front office, and they hated losing him 11 months ago to the Islanders. He's a very real, very relatable guy who brings a tireless work ethic, a genuine passion for all things Pittsburgh -- having spent all of his college and adult life here -- and a background with the winning culture of the NHL team across the river.
He's a real W for the Pirates. And it'd be unconscionable if Nutting didn't afford him at least the same authority that Coonelly had regarding his top baseball man, which is why it was uplifting to hear that this will, in fact, be the case.
The next move, thus, will be Williams'. Although it shouldn't take more than a handful of minutes to grasp that he can do better, there are other considerations in the process. One is that his sports background is in hockey, not baseball, so a measure of humility is to be expected. Another is that baseball organizations are the biggest and broadest in sports, encompassing layer upon layer of minor-league levels, scouting and instruction. When a GM goes, that basically pushes the plunger. And the Pirates honestly do have people in that big organization who are worth keeping and Williams wouldn't want to lose. I can see where it'll take time.
I can also see where Williams wouldn't want to anchor himself to a dozen-year failure while opening a tenure that all concerned surely will portray as Nutting did Wednesday in his statement: "This leadership transition gives us the opportunity to refresh our entire operations."
That's right. It does.
Part of Williams' job will be selling the product, and no one anywhere will buy any refreshing scenario in which the team president and field manager get fired, but the baseball operations staff -- by far the biggest culprit in the house -- isn't handled in the same way. That'll look, most unfairly, like Nutting hired himself a sock puppet to do his bidding.
One more to go.
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