Neal Huntington, you might have finally outsmarted yourself.
Let me start by saying Huntington has done his share of wonders as general manager for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Taking them from a perennial loser with a barren farm system and making them a contender year-in-and-year-out with a loaded system was no small task. He has pulled off some absolute steals, and he should not be pushed out the door after a down year of transactions – assuming his latest round doesn’t work.
But will they, though?
This year’s trade deadline is very similar to last year’s in that the Pirates acquired players with low value. Difference being, they gave up nothing of consequence last year. That might make the deals they made tougher to be considered a win.
This time, it looks like Huntington is trying too hard to pull a rabbit out of a hat, trying say “look at what I just pulled off!”
Closer Mark Melancon to the Washington Nationals for relief pitcher Felipe Rivero and left-handed pitching prospect Taylor Hearn.
The reason behind trading Melancon was simple: The Pirates are a fringe playoff team and he would walk for nothing. If this was last year’s club, who were World Series contenders, you don’t make this deal. But this year would it really have been worth passing on a nice return for him in exchange for a team that might not even make the Wild Card game?
It’s hard not to wonder if the Pirates got enough for Melancon considering the New York Yankees’ hauls for Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman, though. Heck you can even argue the Los Angeles Angels return for Joe Smith was better. Hearn is talented, yet far from a finished product, and it’s questionable if the Pirates valued him because he is a hard-throwing left-hander. Rivero is the more understandable piece. The Pirates wanted a reliever to offset losing Melancon, and Rivero has had past success.
Best-case scenario: Rivero is the next in the Hanrahan/Grilli/Melancon line and is a solid closer for years to come. This is probably the most likely thing of all to happen. Last season he was 2-1 with a 2.79 ERA and eight strikeouts per nine innings, and is starting to find his way after some hiccups in June. Very easily could be the team’s closer in a few years. Now for Hearns, he’s essentially a left-handed version of Tyler Glasnow: Great fastball and slider, changeup needs work and control issues. Best case for him is he does reach his All-Star ceiling. But the likelihood is another question. His control issues could result in him flaming out, or being an average pitcher. For the risk involved with him, it is again worth repeating, was this the best the Pirates could do?
Pitcher Jon Niese to the New York Mets for relief pitcher Antonio Bastardo
The best thing the Pirates could have done with this trade was to move Niese. He was a failure from the start after not adapting to the changes the coaches wanted and getting anything for him is a win. Bastardo has struggled this season with a 4.76 ERA, 5.06 FIP and bloated walk and home run rates. Still, he comes back to the Pirates a year after going 4-1 with a 2.98 ERA and 3.33 FIP.
Best-case scenario: Outside of Niese being gone, the best case for the Pirates here is Bastardo reverts back to the player he was in 2015. Put him back with pitching coach Ray Searage in an environment he succeeded in and it is entirely possible. At the least, he makes the Neil Walker-for-Niese swap look like less of a disaster.
Two players to be named later to the New York Yankees for pitcher Ivan Nova
This might be the hardest trade to figure out. On the one hand, he could be the next Pirates’ reclamation starter, and the two players to be named later could be inconsequential. But on the other hand, wasn’t the point of trading Melancon to get something for an impending free agent in a down year? Granted, the return for Nova could end making this worth the gamble, but it’s still a head-scratching move right now. Still, even if he does do they keep him long term?
Best-case scenario: Nova bounces back with the Pirates like many before him, and they re-up him to a fair deal. He does not have the peripherals A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano or Edinson Volquez had, but then again neither did J.A. Happ. Given the Pirates track record with bounce-back pitchers, you have to give this at least a decent chance of happening; especially if Nova is receptive to the changes coaches might make, which Niese reportedly was not. But signing him to a fair deal? It would first off depend how he does down the stretch before figuring out what would be a fair deal, but the odds he pitches well and re-signs is average at best. They did not keep Happ or Volquez in favor of the young arms and no reason to think Nova is an exception. It is definitely mind-boggling they gave up assets for a rental, especially after dealing Melancon so he wouldn’t walk for nothing.
Catching prospect Reese McGuire, outfield prospect Harold Ramirez and pitcher Francisco Liriano to the Toronto Blue Jays for pitcher Drew Hutchison
As a recently graduated college student, I can say how bad things turned in last minute are. They’re rushed. Little thought it put into it. You do it just to get it done and care little for the results. That is kind of how this literal last-minute deal feels. The Pirates wanted to get rid of Liriano’s contract, and they really liked Hutchison, so they killed two birds with one stone.
Regardless of how much they like Hutchison, this was also giving up prospects to shed salary. Hutchison is not worth one top 10 prospect at this point, let alone two. He was once a good prospect, but his growth was stunted when he was rushed to the majors. Pittsburgh almost certainly had to throw in McGuire and Ramirez to get them to take Liriano’s salary. Liriano was statically one of baseball’s worst pitchers this year, and it didn’t sound like the Pirates thought he would ever get back on track.
Best-case scenario: Hutchison gets things worked out in Triple-A Indianapolis and in Pittsburgh with Ray Searage and becomes a good No. 3 starter. He has talent, and he is under team control for a few more years so the upside to getting him is clearly there. We can even peg it as a decent chance he will, again considering the team’s past with pitchers. But, that alone doesn’t justify this deal, and how the prospects given away and their replacements do plays into that.
Ramirez was likely overrated a prospect and more of a Jose Tabata-like third/fourth outfielder completely blocked from ever starting in Pittsburgh. Him for Hutchison straight up might have been an overpayment, but one the Pirates could afford. McGuire feels like the last-minute desperation. His value has slipped some since being drafted in 2013, but he still projected as the catcher of the future in Pittsburgh. Without any top catching prospects behind him, they better hope Francisco Cervelli lives up to the three-year deal he signed, or that Elias Diaz is indeed the future at the position. Now, throw in that they were able to trade Liriano’s salary. We heard rumblings their plan all along for this season was to gear up for 2017, which is why they were not active in free agency.
Now it is time to put up or shut up. It is much easier to stomach giving up two top 10 prospects for salary relief if that salary is re-invested elsewhere, whether it is re-signing pitcher Gerrit Cole or taking it on via trade or free agency. It does not mean going crazy and overspending, but still doing more than what they did last off-season, where the Niese trade was the big move.
Chances Hutchison works out, Cervelli/Diaz holds the position long term and the salary from Liriano is wisely spent elsewhere all making this worthwhile? Definitely not good.
Photo credit: Grantland