PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) – Pirates GM Neal Huntington joined “The Fan Morning Show” on Wednesday to address a number of issues that he will have to deal with during this offseason, which will be a crucial one.

One of the biggest questions entering this offseason has been whether the Pirates will retain Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, and Mark Melancon. All are entering their final year of arbitration and are due to become free agents after the 2016 season.

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Huntington said the Pirates can afford to retain all three of those players next season if they want to.

“We have the ability to bring all of those guys back, if we decide that for 2016 and beyond that that’s our best club,” Huntington said. “Now, the challenge becomes, how do we build around those guys, and how do we supplement the rest of the club?…It’s always a balancing act. It’s a balancing act every year in every market, but in particular, the small ones.”

The Pirates could fill a couple big holes by calling up Tyler Glasnow and Josh Bell for Opening Day, but Huntington doesn’t expect to bring those guys up that soon.

“As we’ve done in the past, and as we’ve said in the past, our belief is the gap between Triple-A and the major leagues continues to grow and has never been wider,” Huntington said. “In short stints, we saw some really good things from both of those guys in Triple-A. Josh’s stint was longer. But, we also saw reminders that they have extra work to do…they could have great offseasons and come in ahead of where we expect them to be, but time and again, history tells us that we’re better to be patient than we are to push those guys.”

Huntington cautioned everybody against assuming that Walker’s future with the club is tied to the recovery timetable of Jung Ho Kang.

“They’re somewhat related, but I think people have tied them more closely together than maybe we will tie them together,” Huntington said. “If we thought that Kang would be back in August, it’s a completely different situation. But, with the fact that our hope is that he’ll be back sometime early in the season if not before, it’s not as interdependent as it may seem on the surface.”

Huntington also said that Alvarez’s defense at first base left a lot to be desired.

“It was certainly a harder transition than we anticipated it being,” Huntington said. “While it’s not an easy position, we anticipated that, like many, he would go make a successful transition, and it was much more challenging than we anticipated.”

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When asked to name the most disappointing individual performances from the team’s 2014 campaign, Huntington went right to Alvarez.

“I think the easy one is Pedro at first base,” Huntington said. “We anticipated some bounce-back with the bat, obviously did a nice job with power. The first base was much more difficult than we anticipated.”

Another question Huntington was asked was whether or not he was optimistic about working out a deal with free agent J.A. Happ. Huntington said that while they’re interested in re-signing Happ, don’t expect a deal to be done just yet.

“In baseball, from the club’s perspective, the early deals tend to be the worst deals,” Huntington said. “From the player’s perspective, they tend to be the best deals. You get clubs that are hungry, and they get out aggressively after players, and by nature of the game, any time you sign a free agent, you’ve overspent. You’ve overspent everybody else in the industry. Ninety-five percent of the time, the highest bidder gets the player, and by definition, that club outspent everyone else, and may or may not have made a good financial decision. We’ve done that a handful of times. We look forward to the opportunity to do it a handful of times.”

Nevertheless, Huntington hopes to be able to bring Happ back at some point.

“We would like to continue to have J.A. Happ be in a Pirates uniform. The work that he did, the man that he is, the upside that we still see, despite [him being] a veteran pitcher,” Huntington said. “We would like to retain J.A. He has earned the ability to venture into free agency, and is listening to what the other clubs might have for him, and we’re doing the same thing. We’re walking down pathways with other pitchers that we feel are comparable, maybe a little better, maybe a little bit more of a reclamation project that will allow us to reallocate dollars elsewhere on the club. Our hope is to come to an agreement, but if he finds a better opportunity, we’ll do everything in our power to backfill and move forward.”

Finally, Huntington was asked about whether or not the Pirates would feel confident about having Tony Watson take over as closer, should they opt to trade current closer Mark Melancon.

“We do,” Huntington said. “We do agree that those last three outs are different. We are not of the mindset of some in the game that anybody can close. We definitively do not believe that. At the same time, we’re fortunate, in that we have a guy that we believe could step in, much like we believed Melancon could step in for [Jason] Grilli, and Grilli could step in for [Joel] Hanrahan.”

The interview can be heard here:

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