Back in 2008 and 2009, Neil Huntington and crew dismantled the core group of Pirates players in a series of trades. Trading those players was the right move. There was some outrage from the fan base. But as Huntington noted, he wasn’t breaking up the 1927 Yankees. The hope was that the return would be decent. Has it been decent? Or has this team been taken to the cleaners?
Let’s have a look at the results, starting with the record of the club at the Big League level.
2007 – 68-94
2008 – 67-95
2009 – 62-99
2010 – 57-105
2011 – 72-90
Obviously the 2007-2009 Pirates weren’t very good. But there were some valuable players on those clubs. I don’t think it is unfair to expect a solid return for those players. 17 players (10 hitters, two starters and five relievers) were traded off the Pirates active roster in between December 2007 and November 2009. Did we get fair value in return?
Let’s look at each trade one-by-one. For the sake of this, I’m going to concentrate on players the Pirates traded off their active roster. So, no mention of Todd Redmond for Tyler Yates.
December 7, 2007 – Pirates trade Salomon Torres to Milwaukee for Kevin Roberts and Marino Salas
The rubber armed Torres had clashed with the Pirates (before Neal Huntington arrived) over the usage of baseball academies he had built in the Dominican Republic. He pitched one year for Milwaukee before calling it quits. Kevin Roberts and Marino Salas didn’t last much longer. Roberts is out of organized baseball, with his last season coming in 2008 at AA, which was his peak level. Salas pitched in 13 games for the Pirates in 2008 and played in Mexico in 2009 after leaving the Pirates as a free agent. The Pirates traded a reliever for essentially zero return. It happens, but it happens to the Pirates all too often (see Iwamura, Aki).
July 26, 2008 – Pirates trade Damaso Marte and Xavier Nady to the Yankees for Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutchen, Ross Ohlendorf and Jose Tabata
In the regular season, Marte didn’t pitch all that well for the Bombers, whom he ended his career with in 2010. He did help them win the 2009 World Series with four scoreless appearances in which he whiffed five of the eight men he faced. He stranded every runner he inherited and pitched against the heart of the Phillies order, retiring Ryan Howard four times. The Yankees – if only for those brief appearances – benefited from this trade. Nady was never a regular again after 2008 and he wasn’t a Yankee after an injury plagued 2009, leaving for the Cubs via free agency. His stats continued to diminish and he was cut free by the Nationals in June of this year. Soft tossing Karstens has battled injuries but has been valuable when healthy. I’d argue that he is the best player the Pirates acquired in all of these deals. It’s probably between Karstens and Hanrahan. McCutchen was on the hill during the decisive Jerry Meals call. He was effective last year until a three game stretch in September that saw his ERA rise from 2.96 to 3.97. He has pitched just once in 2012 in the Bigs. Ross Ohlendorf led the club in wins in 2009 with eleven. Since then he has been both injured an ineffective. He was released by the Pirates following the 2011 season and resurfaced this year with San Diego where he has struggled with an ERA approaching 8.00 in nine starts and four relief appearances. Jose Tabata was highly touted, but somewhat troubled with a wife who faked a pregnancy and kidnapped a baby in an attempt to deceive her spouse. That’s the kind of stuff no one could make up. Tabata’s early marks looked pretty good. He had an OPS+ of 103 as a 21 year old. He was about the same in 2011, but he missed some time in July. The club rewarded him with a long term, team friendly contract that was signed in August of 2011. He has been awful this year in all facets of the game – hitting, running, fielding. He appears to be showing little effort. He was demoted due to at least some of the above but was recently called back up. Did I mention there were questions about his actual age? It is fair to say the Pirate won this trade. It is also fair to say that they haven’t won it by much given what Tabata has been doing in 2012. There is still time for this to become a very good trade for Pittsburgh. But it largely depends on Tabata. I’m not a fan of largely depending on him.
July 31, 2008 – Pirates trade Jason Bay in a three team deal that brings Craig Hansen, Andy LaRoche, Bryan Morris and Brandon Moss from the Dodgers and Red Sox.
Bay was a stud for the balance of 2008 and all of 2009. He finished 7th in the AL MVP vote in 2009 and then signed a big contract with the Mets. He has battled injuries and inconsistency since then. He is hitting .148 as I write this in 2012. Hansen pitched 21 games of ineffective relief for the Pirates between 2008 and 2009. He was released in April 2011 and is currently with the Mets in the low minors. LaRoche was awful for the Pirates in 2008. He was okay in 2009 in full time duty (a 94 OPS+) and then awful again in 2010. He was replaced at 3B by Pedro Alvarez in 2010 and left as a free agent following that season. He is currently at Pawtucket and with the Red Sox looking to gut their Major League roster might find himself back in the Bigs. Morris, a righty, was a starter when he was acquired but has pitched only in relief in 2012 at AAA. He has yet to make the Majors, but it’ll likely be this year for him. He ranked #19 in Pirates Prospects pre-season scouting rankings. Moss was perhaps even worse than LaRoche. He didn’t hit for power or average. He also walked as a free agent following 2010. He has since resurfaced in Oakland, where he is trying to pull a Garret Jones. In 184 PAs for the A’s in 2012 he has as many taters (13) as he did for Pittsburgh in 628 plate appearances. He has just one homer since the All-Star break. So, perhaps teams are figuring him out. This was an abomination of a trade. No excuses at all for this one – the best player on the team, the face of the franchise was dealt for players who had no immediate or long term impact on the club (unless Bryan Morris turns into something special).
August 21, 2008 – Pirates trade Jose Bautista to the Blue Jays for Robinzon Diaz
Umm, uh, umm. Let’s look at this for what it was at the time. Bautista was a valuable utility player. It was unlikely that he would be an everyday player in Pittsburgh in 2009 (LaRoche at 3B, Sanchez at 2B and an OF of McLouth, Moss and Morgan). He had made $1.8 million in 2008 and was going to get a raise in arbitration. (The Blue Jays avoided arbitration and signed him for $2.4 million for both 2009 and 2010.) So, the Pirates traded him and then signed Ramon Vasquez, who was more limited in his versatility in the field and also an inferior hitter compared to Bautista. Vasquez was given a two year $3.8 million deal. He was released after the 2009 season as Pittsburgh ate the second year of the deal. Diaz had been a well thought of catching prospect. But an ankle injury limited him in 2008 and, by the time of the trade, he was passed on the minor league depth chart by both J.P. Arencibia and Brian Jeroloman. Diaz got into 43 games with the Pirates, left the club as a free agent and is currently with Texas at AAA (recently released from the Angels AAA team). Forgetting about what Bautista went on to do, here is how this trade looked in 2008 and in its immediate aftermath: The Pirates traded to Toronto a valuable utility player who was due a modest raise for the third best catching prospect in the Blue Jays farm system and then signed a far less capable utility player for a modest savings. There’s one way to describe this: dumb. And I’m not even taking into consideration what Bautista has gone on to do. This was an impossibly stupid move when it happened merely for what it was when it happened. Excuses can be made to say that this was a waiver wire deal and the Pirates had little leverage as a result. Hogwash. The Pirates got a failed prospect in exchange for a solid utility player because they didn’t want to give him a raise and signed a washed up utility guy for nearly the same amount of money. The front office should have a vision of what kind of team they want to put on the field. They clearly didn’t in this case or if they did, their vision was awful.
December 10, 2008 – Pirates trade Ronny Paulino to the Phillies for Jason Jaramillo
Paulino played his way out of Pittsburgh after a strong rookie campaign. All three components of his slash line fell in 2007 and 2008. In spite of that, he has been a somewhat capable part time catcher/back up catcher in 2009, 2010 and 2011. He spent some time with Baltimore in 2012 and is now with their AAA team. While Paulino was getting nearly 900 plate appearances, Jaramillo was struggling to establish himself with Pittsburgh. He played well enough in part time duty in 2009, but then hit less than .150 in a limited roll in 2010 and was squarely out of the mix. He left as a free agent after the 2011 season. He is now in AAA with Oakland. Paulino needed to go. Count me surprised that he has lasted as long as he has and that he has even contributed anything at the Major League level. The Pirates weren’t done with acquiring back up catchers.
June 3, 2009 – Pirates trade Nate McLouth to the Braves for Gorkys Hernandez, Jeff Locke and Charlie Morton
Pittsburgh shocked everyone by pulling the plug on the 2009 season when it was barely two months old. McLouth had his best year with the Pirates in 2008. He was alright in 2009, finishing with numbers just a touch off his career marks in 2008. But he failed to hit in 2010 and 2011. We know what happened in 2012 and he is now contributing in Baltimore. Gorkys Hernandez, #24 in the pre-season Pirates Prospects rankings in 2012, projects to spare part/late inning defensive replacement. He was dealt to Miami in the Gaby Sanchez deal and is hitting less than .200 in August. He has one extra base hit in 75 career PAs. Jeff Locke has been successful enough in the minors as a starter that I don’t believe he has anything left to prove. Yet, other than four starts at the end of 2011 and a brief stint with the big club in relief in 2012, he has not been given much of a chance in the Show. Locke occupied the #11 spot in Pirates Prospects pre-season rankings. A week after the trade, Morton started for the Pirates. He was alright in 2009. He was among the worst starters in the NL in 2010. He showed flashes of excellence in 2011 in finishing 10-10 with an ERA about league average. He was off to a bad start in 2012 and is out with Tommy John surgery. Here’s to hoping he recovers and contributes. If Locke doesn’t do much at the Big League level and if Morton doesn’t recover, this one is a wash. It looked pretty good going into 2012. But Locke, for whatever reason, hasn’t been given an opportunity in spite of the hiccups from the starting staff and Morton was inconsistent before going down with his injury.
June 30, 2009 – Pirates trade Sean Burnett and Nyjer Morgan to the Nationals for Joel Hanrahan and Lastings Milledge
Former first round pick Burnett was converted to a reliever after an injury to his pitching arm. He was in his second season in that role when he was dealt. He has been an effective lefty option for the Nationals since the deal. Tony Plush is an attention hog who has brief flashes of brilliance. He has hit over .300 twice. But when his average is low, his value is too. He was flipped from the Nats to the Brewers for a 23 year old who is repeating A ball in 2012. Hanrahan has been nothing short of stellar, especially after becoming the Pirates closer in 2011. He has made the last two All-Star games. Milledge, like LaRoche and Moss, was highly thought of at one point but didn’t play well and certainly didn’t hit for power. He failed to slug .400 in 651 career plate appearances as a Bucco and was allowed to walk after 2010. He is currently playing in Japan. Closers are overrated. But the Pirates win this one.
June 30, 2009 – Pirates trade Eric Hinske to the Yankees for Casey Erickson and Eric Fryer
As bad as Eric Hinske was, he’s among the best in terms of actual production in Pittsburgh of the aging veteran power guys that Neal Huntington has signed. Even though his power seemingly evaporated when he was with Pittsburgh, he was still drawing walks. His .373 OBP during his brief stay with the Bucs helped lifted his OPS+ to 99. When he left Pittsburgh, his power returned. After a half season with the Bombers, he went to Atlanta and he clubbed 21 dingers in 584 plate appearances as a part time player between 2010 and 2011. Casey Erickson never made it past high A. He was released in 2011 even though he put up respectable numbers – an ERA south of 3.00 and a WHIP of less than 1.300 primarily as a reliever. Fryer is a back-up catcher who is still with the Pirates in Indy. He is hitting near Mendoza for his AAA career in about 300 plate appearances. Prior to the 2012 season, Fryer was ranked #41 on Pirates Prospects list. This was another losing trade for the Pirates. Hinske remained productive for a couple of seasons. Certainly more productive than Ryan Church, Lyle Overbay or Matt Diaz were – and the Pirates got nothing for him that couldn’t have been picked up on the waiver wire.
July 22, 2009 – Pirates trade Adam LaRoche to the Red Sox for Hunter Strickland and Argenis Diaz
Much to the chagrin and dismay of Pirate fans, Adam LaRoche got off to slow starts in both 2007 and 2008. He walked enough and pulled out of the slump enough each year to post good but not great stats – 20 plus homers, and 80 plus RBIs to go along with an OPS in the .800 to .850 range. Other than a terrible, injury plagued 2011, he has continued to play at that level. He is in the middle of such a season right now for Washington. Strickland missed all of 2011 and most of 2010 with an injury to his forearm. He is currently putting up mediocre stats at Altoona as a 23 year old. I’d like to tell you Argenis Diaz was the answer. But in order to do that the question would have to be, “Name yet another failed shortstop the Pirates have acquired.” He didn’t hit in the minors. He didn’t hit in a brief stint in the Majors and left for Detroit as a free agent following 2010. He is currently the Tigers AAA shortstop. The apologists for this trade would point to LaRoche’s pending free agency and how the Pirates had no leverage. I’d point to the fact that LaRoche took a pay cut for a one year deal in Arizona in 2010 and is now only making $8 million a year (a two year $16 million deal) with the Nationals. His salary in 2009? Just above $7 million. To paraphrase the late Cincinnati Reds pitcher and broadcaster Joe Nuxhall, ‘There isn’t a woman alive who is uglier than this trade.’
July 29, 2009 – Pirates trade Ian Snell and Jack Wilson to the Mariners for Nathan Adcock, Ronny Cedeno, Jeff Clement, Brett Lorin and Aaron Pribanic
I really wanted Ian Snell to be good. He seemed to pitch with a chip on his shoulder. In spite of being durable, he wasn’t all that consistent. He made twelve starts in Seattle in 2009 and then just five in 2010 before being let go. Wilson was a classic good glove/no hit shortstop. In his best years with the bat, he was decent. But he quickly went from being the Pirates regular to being a back up in Seattle and then in Atlanta. His hitting continued to decline and he was demoted to AAA by the Braves earlier this year. Adcock was plucked by KC in the Rule 5 draft prior to the 2010 season. He has been so-so with the Royals as a reliever and spot starter. Cedeno was the Pirates regular SS for the rest of 2009 and all of 2010 and 2011. He played about as expected. Which is to say not very well. His OPS numbers were in the mid .600s. He was allowed to leave as a free agent after 2011 as the Pirates set their sights on Clint Barmes, who has played even worse than expected. Clement was a former first round pick of the Mariners. He was given 150 plus PAs in 2010 and posted an OPS+ of 62. He was just promoted after spending all of 2011 and most of 2012 in AAA. Brett Lorin was dealt for Robby Rowland. Lorin has struggled in 2012 at AA. Rowland has been successful at West Virginia this year. He continues to post low strikeout rates, which makes me think he won’t develop into anything special. Hopefully I’m wrong about that. Pribanic has not been a high strikeout guy and has struggled with control in 2012 – 7.7 BB/9 in 23.1 innings. In spite of the low strikeout numbers, he was somewhat effective as a 24 year old in Altoona in 2011, posting a winning record and a sub 4.00 ERA in 27 starts. I’d give a slight nod to the Pirates on this one as Cedeno was clearly better than Wilson would’ve been in a similar role, although having a slightly better shortstop than the incumbent on 90 loss team certainly isn’t all that important. Snell fizzled and Clement might yet get another shot to prove he can hit Major League pitching.
July 29, 2009 – Pirates trade Freddy Sanchez to the Giants for Tim Alderson
Freddy Sanchez won the batting title in 2006. The Pirates probably should’ve traded him then. He has not come within 40 points of that league leading mark ever since. As his average dropped, so did his value as a hitter. Since the trade he has been injured nearly constantly for the Giants. Back surgery has shelved him for 2012 after he missed most of 2011 with a dislocated shoulder. He was the starting 2B for San Fran in 2010 when they won the World Series. Tim Alderson was a 20 year old with a 6-1 record and a 3.47 ERA as a starter in AA when the trade happened. He has not been that effective ever since. He spent some time on the minor league DL this year and remains in AA. This was a gamble by the Front Office – a one for one trade. It hasn’t worked out as Freddy, when healthy, is a steady, known quantity. Mark this trade in the Loss column for the Pirates.
July 30, 2009 – Pirates trade Tom Gorzelanny and John Grabow to the Cubs for Jose Ascanio, Josh Harrison and Kevin Hart
Gorzelanny won 14 games as a 24 year old in 2007. It was down hill from there. He varied from inconsistent to terrible in 2008. He lost his rotation spot in 2009 and was dealt to the Cubs. It would be fair to say that he did not turn his career around with the Wriglies, although he had stretches where he was very good. He was sent to Washington for three minor leaguers and has had a decent 2012 for the Nats pitching out of the bullpen. Grabow was a somewhat effective and very durable lefty. He was not very good in 2010, a little bit better in 2011 and allowed to leave via free agency before 2012. He was picked up by LA but cut before the season began. So far as I can tell, he is out of baseball currently. Ascanio’s career in Pittsburgh consisted of eight appearances, nine innings pitched and seven earned runs. He missed 2010 with a torn labrum. He left for LA as a free agent following 2011. Not sure what he is up to now – not in the Majors and no record of him tossing in the minors or being released by the Flat Bush Refugees. Harrison is a decently effective utility guy. He can play five positions. Not a bad player to have on the team, but certainly not the kind of player you’d go after in a trade. Hart was not very good for the Pirates. A month after the deal, he was placed into the rotation. He went 1-8 in ten starts with the Pirates, posting an ERA near 5.50. Slated for the rotation in 2010, he couldn’t find the strike zone in Spring Training and instead was sent to AAA. He continued to struggle with his control and was diagnosed with a torn labrum. He didn’t pitch anywhere in 2011 and is currently pitching in an independent league. This trade has basically become a starter and a reliever for a utility player. Even though Gorzelanny has not put it all together, this was an awful trade.
November 3, 2009 – Pirates trade Jesse Chavez to the Rays for Aki Iwamura
At some point in 2010, the Pirates decided to convert Neil Walker from 3B to 2B. Pedro Alvarez was behind him and Andy LaRoche was on the Big League roster ahead of him. The Pirates had on their team two players capable of playing second base while they waited to see if Walker would develop – Delwyn Young (53 games at 2B in 2009) and Ramon Vasquez (22 games at 2B in 2009). Young spent the whole year with the Pirates, but was primarily a pinch hitter. Vasquez was released in April without having suited up for a game in 2010. So, in spite of a couple of options, the Pirates traded for Aki Iwamura. He had hit for a decent average, but had no power and struck out a lot. I’m not allowed by law to actually print his numbers for the Pirates. They were awful. He was demoted and eventually released. Chavez never pitched an inning for the Rays. They traded him a month later to Atlanta for Rafael Soriano in what was likely a salary dump by the Braves. Soriano led the AL in saves in 2010, was inked by the Bombers as a free agent and is now filling in for the injured Mariano Rivera in New York. Chavez is still active, but has never been particularly effective. He is with Toronto in 2012 and has actually made a couple of poor starts for them.
The Pirates acquired a total of 31 players from these trades. 16 of them were either released or left as free agents. Two were traded (Gorkys Hernandez and Brett Lorin) and thirteen remain active with the Pirates in some capacity. Of the thirteen remaining active players, only five of them have made any kind of contribution to the team in 2012. Jeff Karstens and Joel Hanrahan have had the most impact. Jose Tabata has been dreadful. Charlie Morton was off to a rocky start before going on the shelf. Josh Harrison is a typical utility player. There are eight players still with the franchise (nine if you include Rowland) that have primarily or exclusively been in the minors this season. Here they are in alphabetical order:
Out of those eight, only Jeff Locke has much of a chance to have an impact at the Major League level. Morris is a reliever. McCutchen is a reliever. Alderson has been both a starter and a reliever in the minors and just returned from the DL. Clement is a failed power prospect who couldn’t even get an at bat with the big club in April and May when the team was having all kinds of trouble scoring runs. Fryer is at best a back up catcher. I wouldn’t bet on either Pribanic or Strickland making the Majors at all, let alone as actual contributors. Rowland is a wild card. Low strikeout rates don’t portend a great future. But he is only 20 and is otherwise having a pretty good year for West Virginia. Only Locke and Morris are in the current Pirates Prospects top 20 prospects.
In 481 at bats, the five players from these trades are posting a meager .227/.392/.343/.636 slash line. They have 61 runs scored and 26 RBI. The majority of at bats have come from Tabata and Harrison. Each of them has an OPS+ of 80. If you throw Gaby Sanchez (acquired for Hernandez) in the mix, it gets a little better as his OPS is shade under .700 in 49 at bats.
Karstens and Morton combined to make 23 starts in 2012. They are 7-9 with an ERA that is right about league average. Good control has put their WHIP at better than league average in spite of being worse than league average in hits per nine innings.
Locke and McCutchen have combined to face 16 hitters in 2012. So, the vast majority of the relief numbers belong to Hanrahan. He has been excellent.
The flurry of trades is nothing short of an abject failure. Forget about what Jose Bautista has done. Let’s just look at what the Pirates got in return in terms of contributors:
A below league average corner outfielder with poor power skills, poor base running skills, poor fielding skills, poor work habits and a questionable age. There is hope for Tabata to become productive. But I’m not banking on it.
A standard, off the shelf utility guy in Josh Harrison. Other than his age, I’d have a hard time finding one advantage he has over Drew Sutton or any number of similar players available throughout the season from waivers.
Joel Hanrahan is a front line closer. He is valuable. But he likely isn’t hard to replace.
Jeff Karstens looks like he is a solid #3/#4 starter. He doesn’t have impressive velocity. But he somehow gets it done.
Jeff Locke projects to a middle of the rotation/back of the rotation starter.
Everyone else is one of the following:
2. A small contributor/non-contributor in 2012
3. At best a small contributor in the future with the best bet being a relief pitcher emerging from the muck
To recap: a below average corner OF, a utility guy, a really good closer, two (or if Morton recovers three) middle of the rotation/back of the rotation pitchers and hopefully one or two average relief pitchers. That’s what this club has to show for all of the trades above. That and some inconsequential contributions to 90+ loss teams between 2009 and 2011 (inconsequential because the team lost 90 or more games with a great closer, the best season of Ross Ohlendorf, below average shortstop, etc) and some savings in salary.
My biggest concern out of all of this is that the 2012 Pirates might be wasting the best season Andrew McCutchen ever has. If he winds up with a .333 batting average and 25+ dingers and an OPS+ of 150 or more, this would almost certainly will be his best season. Since divisional play began, there have been 60 such seasons. Only ten players over that time frame have done it more than once: Barry Bonds, Miguel Cabrera, Jason Giambi, Vladimir Guerrero, Todd Helton, Mike Piazza, Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez, Frank Thomas and Larry Walker. Take away the steroids and the mountain air and you have merely a handful of guys who have done this more than once. It is possible that Andrew McCutchen is one of the 10 or 20 best hitters of the last 40 years. It is more likely that we are witnessing his career season. And this club is faltering in spite of the Front Office unloading 17 players from the roster over the last four years. The lack of return from those trades is frighteningly awful. Hopefully this club will remain in the pennant race and actually make the playoffs in spite of this huge failure.