The goal of Neal Huntington’s trades

Pittsburgh News - February 26, 2010
Jeff Clement - Peter Diana/Post-Gazette


It is 2:30 AM and I am just getting around to reading Dejan Kovacevic’s Q&A from Thursday afternoon. Dejan does an excellent job answering this question, covering several different angles in a single post, but I wanted to add one thing that I think is often missed. So please allow me some late-night rambling. This is a section of the question that Dejan responded to:

Baseball America does not list one Pirates prospect in the top 100 who was acquired in a trade.

Of the numerous trades made by Neal Huntington, only three Pirates who left the team have ever had multiple above-average seasons. I am defining an “above-average season” as 3+ WAR, according to FanGraphs.

Nate McLouth – 2008, 2009
Jason Bay – 2005, 2006, 2009 (2.9 WAR in 2008)
Freddy Sanchez – 2005, 2006, 2007

In addition, the majority of players were in the 28-31 age range, within a year or two of free agency. The core that the Pirates traded away was essentially mediocre to average, past its prime, with limited years of contractual control. Many people have said it, but it is worth repeating that these players were not very valuable in the trade market. Outside of a few players, such as Bay and McLouth, teams simply were not going to give up anything resembling young impact talent.

Huntington’s goal was to take this aging, average group of players and turn it into a younger, average group of players. He did that, by acquiring Andy LaRoche, Jeff Clement, Lastings Milledge, Charlie Morton, Ross Ohlendorf, Ronny Cedeno, etc. He also added a few higher upside prospects in Jose Tabata and Tim Alderson, and a load of minor league depth (see the Double-A and High-A starting rotations). These players are not stars (although a few, such as Milledge and Morton, have the potential to improve a great amount) and alone, they would never have turned the team into a winner. The team will need pieces acquired through other means, such as the amateur draft (Pedro Alvarez, Tony Sanchez, Chase D’Arnaud), the Rule 5 Draft (Evan Meek, Donald Veal, John Raynor), the scrap heap (Garrett Jones), and the mostly barren farm system left to Huntington (Andrew McCutchen, Brad Lincoln).

When Huntington was hired, there was speculation that it would take seven to ten years to turn things around in Pittsburgh. The major league team was in its prime, but very mediocre. The farm system was useless. The only way to repair the franchise was through the draft and through international signings, which would take many years.

Huntington took his aging, average core group, waved his magic wand and made it five years younger. Because of this, the Pirates should be competitive once the first wave of drafted talent (Alvarez, Sanchez, D’Arnaud) begins arriving, when it should have taken three or four waves of Huntington-developed players to build a competitive team. Fans seem to think that the trades of 2008 and 2009 delayed the team’s chances for winning. In reality, it sped up the process dramatically. It is remarkable that there are any reasons for optimism when we look ahead to 2011 and 2012, as the Pirates should not have had any chance to win until at least 2014 or 2015.

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keith hart

A technical aside: the PLC link on the P-G blog website is wrong. Contains a “.wordpress” reference. Thought you’d like to know….

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