“No move was the right move.”
That’s a quote that was destined to be tossed around by message board critics from the moment it was spoken. Neal Huntington issued the quote after talking about how they explored the market, how they missed out on a few players because other teams were looking for MLB players and not prospects, and how anything else wouldn’t have made sense.
The quote was thrown around after every loss, or every bad turn of events in the final two months of the season. It was even brought up as a reason why the Pirates lost the Wild Card game, although the only way that makes sense is if they would have acquired Madison Bumgarner, since getting him away from the Giants is the only way they would have won that game.
Every year I hate the talk that comes out around the trade deadline. There is always pressure on contending teams to add players, regardless of whether they actually need those players. If you add a player, you’re a winner. If you don’t add a player, you’re a loser. The contender that adds the best player ends up being the new favorite to win it all. It’s the most basic analysis you can find, and somehow it dominates the trade deadline year after year.
And yet here we are, nearing the end of the division series. The Detroit Tigers made a huge splash in adding David Price. They were swept by the Baltimore Orioles, who added lefty reliever Andrew Miller as their big move. Something tells me that Miller wasn’t the reason Baltimore went from 1.5 games up in the division at the deadline to 12 games up at the end of the year. Meanwhile, I don’t think we can blame Price for the Tigers going from 4 games up at the deadline to clinging on to the division title by one game at the end of the year. His eight inning, two run performance also isn’t to blame for the Tigers being swept.
Then there’s the Oakland Athletics. They made the first big splash, giving up Addison Russell to get Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Later in July, they added Jon Lester, sending Yoenis Cespedes in return. The Athletics were 3.5 games up in the division when they made their first trade. They were two games up in the division when they added Lester. They finished 10 games back in the division, clinging to the second Wild Card spot. Then they lost the Wild Card game to the Kansas City Royals, who added Jason Frasor in July, and Josh Willingham in August. The Athletics added two of the best pitchers in the league. The Royals added a good reliever and a good bench bat.
It’s almost like the moves you make at the trade deadline don’t really have a massive impact on what happens in the post-season. It’s as if we completely forget that anything can happen in a short series, even if that series takes place in the post-season.
The Pirates have been on both sides of this. They made a big addition last year when they brought in Marlon Byrd to boost the offense. The team played the exact same before the addition as they did after the addition. This year they didn’t make a move, and responded by having a decent month of August (slowed down early by a lot of injuries at the same time) and an amazing month of September. And yet both years they lost in the playoffs. This time around, they lost because the offense — one of the best in the game this year, and an offense that no one was calling to be upgraded in July — couldn’t hit Madison Bumgarner.
I don’t know if “no move was the right move”, but it’s hard to argue with the results. The Pirates improved their record in the final two months, surging to take the top NL Wild Card spot. The upgrades they needed at the deadline were all on the pitching side. Their pitching improved over the final two months, with help from people who were already in the system on July 31st.
True, the Pirates didn’t win the Wild Card game. But neither did the Athletics. And the Tigers didn’t win any of their three playoff games. This isn’t to say that the Athletics and Tigers were wrong to add players. I don’t think you can make a blanket statement either way about adding or not adding players. That would be counter to what is always said about how adding a player automatically makes you a deadline winner, and not adding anyone makes you a deadline loser.
What I think we can take away from all of this is that each team has a different situation, and that situation can’t be evaluated with one sized fits all analysis. Even if a team makes the right move — whether that’s no move, or adding the best player possible — it might not matter. The playoffs are so random that making the best move possible might get you nowhere. If you struggle for one game, or in a three game series, then you’re out.
This is why the goal should be making the playoffs as much as possible, rather than going all-in for one year. The playoffs are too random to say that a specific year offers a better chance than any other season. Anything can happen in the playoffs. That hasn’t worked in the Pirates’ favor. But if they make the post season often enough, eventually it will work out in their favor.
Links and Notes
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.