Dunlap: I love Neal Huntington's plan, but...

Newman and Kramer need to be very good, very quickly

Colin Dunlap
August 01, 2018 - 1:29 pm

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Three cheers for Pirates general manager Neal Huntington. Heck -- four, five, 10, 20, 50 cheers for Pirates general manager Neal Huntington. 

What he did in the hours leading up to the trade deadline on Tuesday was not only (in my estimation) marvelous, but it was a vast escape from the standard operating procedure with which he has carried himself for about a decade. Huntington and his staff didn't just acquire highly-sought-after bullpen help in Keone Kela and a top-end starter in Chris Archer, but they did so in a way they loathed to do in the past. They used prospects. They traded away young talent. Oh yes, that really happened. 

In the past they held a vice-grip lock on players such as Taylor Hearn, Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow --- but for some reason as July-turned-to-August in 2018, Huntington decided such players were OK to use as trade bait. What a 180. And what a 180 for the better. 

I love it. I love it more than I could put into words. 

I also love the fact --- and maybe more than anything --- that Kela and Archer have years of control. These aren't rental or short-term guys, but these are players who stand to help the Pittsburgh Pirates in the next wave of that window being open. In all honesty, I think the Pirates have a steep uphill climb to grab the Wild Card this season and I'm skeptical of their real chances, so that's why I'm excited about the prospects that Archer and Kela will be part of the 2019 and 2020 teams --- squads that I feel have a legitimate chance in the up and down wave of 162 games, to earn a Wild Card berth or maybe even better.

There is one question about this plan that I will get to. Stay tuned ... 

But first, the biggest positive in all of this is that virtually all the contracts run in lockstep. From Kela to Archer and Taillon, Bell, Vasquez, Moran, Marte, Polanco, Nova, Diaz, Musgrove, Cervelli and what seems like 15 guys in the bullpen. All of them are locked up for at least a couple of seasons, making contract worries or defections pretty much a non-factor. On top of that, it would be best for the Pirates to pay whatever Corey Dickerson's arbitration number is for next season, solidifying his place in left field for the 2019 campaign. If they want to come to terms with him on a longer term deal, that too would be fine. But you see what I'm getting at --- a large portion of the core of this Pirates team is under years of control, thrusting that window to win wide open for 2019 and 2020. 

Now to the question ... 

What about the middle infield? You know, from the time we are 6 all the way to the big leagues, we have it beat into our heads about how vital it is to have strength up the middle. That's the lone part of the plan that worries me just a tad. It would appear on the surface the Pirates probably don't have much of an interest picking up Josh Harrison's $10.5M option for 2019 or that $11M for 2020. If I'm guessing, they would rather buy him out after this season. On top of that, Jordy Mercer --- who has been solid for a long time for this franchise --- has an expiring contract. 

So are the plans to turn to the middle infield combination of Kevin Kramer and Kevin Newman for next season? I'm OK with that, but here's the bottom line: They better be good. They better be ready. They better be good and they better be ready from the very beginning.

If the plan is to let Mercer walk and to buy Harrison out, Neal Huntington's plan doesn't totally hinge on a pair of rookie middle infielders being very good right away, but it comes pretty damn close to it needing to happen for it to be a success. 

Perhaps an idea would be to insulate yourself and offer Mercer a one-year deal and see if he would jump at it. I don't know if he would or wouldn't, but it might make some sense to keep him around in a step-down year for him and transition year at the shortstop position. That's only if Mercer doesn't feel like he can secure a starting job somewhere else. 

If the Pirates stay in this Wild Card push for the duration oif the 2018 season, there won't be a chance --- even if they are September call-ups --- for Newman and Kramer to get time on the Major League diamond. It just wouldn't make sense to throw them into games of such consequence. 

All that said, if the plan is for Newman and Kramer to be folded in as Opening Day guys in 2019 with a roster pretty much made up of players the Pirates have built this winning window around, those two in the middle of the infield better be really good from the very beginning. Huntington's plan seems to be counting on as much.