Amherst's Huntington runner-up to Cherington
PITTSBURGH — Constructing the team that ended the Pirates' 20-season losing streak and advanced to within a game of the National League Championship Series was not enough to earn general manager Neal Huntington MLB Executive of the Year honors Monday.
Huntington, a native of Amherst, N.H., finished as runner-up to fellow Granite Stater Ben Cherington, the Red Sox GM, who was named The Sporting News MLB Executive of the Year.
Cherington, who grew up in the Plainfield, N.H., village of Meriden, helped the Red Sox to a worst-to-first turnaround and World Series title by shedding payroll, hiring John Farrell as manager, and eschewing big-ticket free agent purchases in favor of mid-level signings like reliever Koji Uehara and outfielder Shane Victorino.
Thirty-one major league executives voted on the award. Cherington received 15 votes, Huntington nine.
Huntington and the Pirates front office authored their own remarkable year of player acquisitions, which contributed to a 15-win improvement from 2012.
The Pirates won 94 regular season games with a $66 million Opening Day payroll, ranking 27th in baseball. The Red Sox won 97 regular season games with a $154 million payroll.
Two under-valued free agent signings executed by Huntington were particularly effective.
The Pirates signed Francisco Liriano out of the free-agent bargain bin last offseason and Liriano delivered an ace-caliber season, going 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA. Liriano also won each of his two postseason starts. Liriano made $4.75 million in 2013, well below market value.
The front office also identified catcher Russell Martin as an undervalued player. Martin led the National League in runners caught stealing and was praised for his worth in sequencing and framing pitches.
The moves were perhaps key in maintaining front office stability. The Pirates leadership entered the season embattled after back-to-back, second-half collapses.
"(I'm) very grateful, very thankful, that we had the opportunity to see the 2013 season to its fruition," Huntington told the Tribune-Review earlier this week. "My hope is that all it has done is reinforce that commitment and that bond, because we've got a lot of talented people doing a lot of good things."
Huntington also traded Joel Hanrahan to Boston last offseason in a package that included reliever Mark Melancon, who became one of the best late-inning relievers in baseball. Huntington also added middle-of-the-order bats in Justin Morneau and Marlon Byrd after the non-waiver trade deadline.
A graduate of Milford High School, Huntington was named the Pirates' GM after the 2007 season. He was attempting to become the first Pirate to win the award since Cam Bonifay in 1997.