First Pitch: Maybe No Move Was the Right Move

“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

**Tyler Glasnow is Baseball America’s Top Prospect in the FSL

**Pirates Release Eight Players, Including Matt Curry; Michael Martinez Elects Free Agency

**Pirates Re-Sign Four Minor League Free Agents

First Pitch

  • If the reports are correct in that all these teams wanted Starling Marte in the deadline offers the no move was the CORRECT move. I have said it many times and will say it again, Marte should go nowhere. The Pirates got exactly what a team like them needs, to get a young budding star to sign a team friendly deal. Go look at Marte’s WAR the last 2 years and see what that is worth on the open market. Yet he will make a whopping 1M next year. Finally everyone will see how good he is when he does what he did in the 2nd half for a full year(if healthy) I think he has a huge year next year .300 20HR’s 40 SB’s.
    Oh and the Bucs don’t make the playoffs without what he did the last 2 months.

  • I always appreciate the level-headedness of your outlook. About the trades, though, what still irks me the most is that they didn’t get Fister. I still wonder how badly they went after him and what the Tigers must have wanted.

    • The Tigers reportedly just really really liked Robbie Ray. Who knows.

      • Another guy mentioned the other day that a goal of the off season should be to make a Fister-like trade.

        Reality is that you don’t make Fister-like trades. Fister-like trades fall in your lap and you’re damn grateful for it.

  • One thing I’ve grown quite tired of hearing is the argument is because Bumgarner was on it didn’t matter who we started. IF Cole is matching zeroes with Bumgarner who knows what happens. Of course there is no guarantee that happens but Cole was one of the BEST pitchers in MLB down the stretch. Bumgarner has pitched much worse without good run support this year. So although it’s not likely we win with Cole I like our chances a helluva lot better. The Giants had VERY good careeer #s vs Volquez. I will never view that decision to start Volquez as anything other than poor.

    • the reality of it is that they probably had a 49% chance of winning that game with Volquez starting and a 52% chance of winning if Cole started.

      A lot less of a big deal than it seems

  • I think that many times the discussions about “if only the Pirates had added this player or that player then we would have…” are the intellectual equivalent of missing the forest for the trees. More important than any single transaction is the philosophy the organization establishes about how it is going to win. One of the more fascinating aspects of this post seasons is the contrast that the Orioles and the Royals provides. Baltimore lead MLB in home runs and was dead last in MLB in stolen bases. By contrast KC lead MLB in stolen bases, but was dead last in HR. Baltimore is focused on power, KC is focused on speed both are somewhat average in pitching, with a slight edge to the O’s. Yet both are succeeding in the post season. Obviously there is more than one way to “skin the cat”. More important than the specific deadline additions for the O’s and Royals has been their choosing an area of focus and then excelling in their execution in that area of differential advantage.

    So what is the Pirates area of expertise? A balance of power and speed perhaps? One aspect of their game that is underutilized is team speed. With Marte, Cutch, Polanco, J-Hay, in the future Hanson all capable of stealing bases the best addition the Pirates might make is a base stealing coach that will teach the system how to be more successful at larceny.

    • Royals were dead last in HRs in MLB all year…..and are tied for 3rd most in the postseason and relied on it to win a few games. To me, that proves that the idea of “postseason success” proving the value of a philosophy may be a bit misleading. Royals found a way to make the postseason and are enjoying timely HR totals. Surely they were a quality team regardless, but the uptick in power in a SSS at the right time has helped them big time. As far as the importance of philosophy goes, i place more value in consistently fielding a playoff caliber team above postseason success personally.

      • OK. But to achieve your objective would you design your team to be like the Orioles or the Royals? What would be your priorities regarding developing talent?

  • I love the playoffs, just played 162 games, but disregard all of that information and build model and definitive conclusions on 3-4 game samples, this sound productive.

  • Lee Foo Young
    October 7, 2014 10:45 am

    I agree Tim….keep making the playoffs should be the goal, because anything can happen in a short series. Heck, the Cubs swept the O’s in a 3 game series in (I believe) early September!

    I think only one team in the last 20 years who finished the season with the best record has won the World Series!

  • lonleylibertarian
    October 7, 2014 10:04 am

    I think the more interesting lessons come from the Royals and the O’s. KCMC needed a top of rotation starter and went and got him in “Big Game” James Sheilds. Shields has given them two solid years of 3+ WAR and 220+ innings. They got him by parting with their Polanco – Will Meyers – something the Pirates would never do. BUT the thing the Pirates lacked all season was a true #1 starter. Lots of 2, 3, and 4 type guys. Wonder how the pirate season would have turned out with him starting 30+ games.

    Then consider what that might have lead to…

    With no Polanco would the Bucs have gone after Nelson Cruz who cost the Orioles a draft pick and $8M for one year. 40 home runs sure would have helped and might have won the division.

    Point is, prospects and draft picks are useful assets that Huntington and the Bucs probably over value at the expense of putting a better team on the field.

    • In addition to the Cards having a playoff roster featuring 16 guys making MLB minimum, I’ve become most intrigued by the Freese/Salas for Bourjos/Grichuk trade and the thinking behind it. Because that is a brilliant trade given what the Cards specific needs were. Grichuk will allow them to at least trade Jay, and if Taveras can take off, they can also trade Holliday. Since rebuilding the club into a contender, Neal hasn’t accomplished anything close to that level. McLouth for Morton/Locke/Gorkys(Gaby) would be up there, but I don’t consider that deal an equal as Neal was still blowing up the team he inherited, not dealing from the status of already being a contender.

      IMO, Neal is still undergoing on-the-job training with three years experience as a contender to now work with. He certainly can get to the point where he’s willing to pull the trigger not only on prospects, but on controllable MLB talent. I’d be willing to guess he realizes he should’ve traded Pedro when he had the chance as everyone knows Pedro was likely going to be traded this year anyway.

    • The 89 games that Nelson Cruz was in the DH spot with the Orioles would have made him completely irrelevant in the National League and you know that !

    • Lee Foo Young
      October 7, 2014 10:48 am

      Point is, prospects and draft picks are useful assets that Huntington and the Bucs probably over value at the expense of putting a better team on the field.

      ——————————

      Point is, many pundits have described how NH supposedly put together a nice package of prospects for Price (rumors were Bell/Glasnow at least), yet were turned down because T Bay wanted major league players (such as, arguably, Marte).

      It takes two to tango.

    • like anyone knew Cruz would have this kind of resurgence.

      and yeah i doubt he can play RF very well anymore. Hasn’t had a positive UZR/150 in RF since 2010. And earlier you said the Pirates didnt have good enough defense!

  • No move was not the right move. If Neal Huntington had added pitching help, the Bucs most likely would have won the division and would still be playing. If nothing else, they at least would have been able to start someone other than Edinson Volquez in the Wild Card Game. To say no move was the right move just because they still made the postseason is just flat out wrong. You mention Baltimore adding Miller, a guy I dearly wanted the Pirates to get, had they gotten him I’d bet the Bucs would have won at last 2 more games after the deadline. The bullpen blew a lot of games in that stretch where Miller’s addition could have helped prevent that. Either he could have been used, or the fact he was around would have lessened the wear and tear on Hughes, Watson, and Melancon making them available more often. Also, those times Watson and Melancon had to go multiple innings could have been avoided by adding another reliable pen arm.

    You cite Oakland and Detroit. Well, Oakland’s problem was they couldn’t score enough. Samardzija and Lester did their jobs. Detroit has been poorly constructed for a few years. Their roster is too top heavy. Yes guys like Scherzer, Price, Miggy, Verlander, Porcello, Victor Martinez, and Ian Kinsler are great to have as your core. However, they have no bullpen and the bottom of their order is garbage. That’s what their problem is, and has been for a few years now.

    No move was not the right move. IMO it cost the Pirates the NL Central Division and is the reason they’re not currently battling the Dodgers in the NLDS. Hopefully NH has learned from his mistakes. The Bucs need to be very aggressive this offseason. If not, this team is in a heap of trouble next year. Currently have no catcher, 1B is a question mark, the bullpen needs a lot of help, and, until Morton returns, Cole and Worley are the only reliable starters.

    • No move was not the right move. IMO it cost the Pirates the NL Central Division and is the reason they’re not currently battling the Dodgers in the NLDS.

      _____________________________________________________
      And what if making the right moves just flat out cost too much? Yeah, MAYBE doing nothing cost them the division; but what if making moves cost them top prospects– guys you’re counting on for years to come?

      • They’ve got a deep enough farm system and a good enough young core already in the Majors (Marte, Cutch, Cole, Polanco, Watson, Melancon, etc.) where I’m okay with moving a top prospect or two to put the Pirates in a better position to win the World Series for the next year or two.

        • The market dictates the price, and this year the market was not interested in prospects. Getting a TOR arm would have cost at least 1 quality ML player +a prospect. Waive goodbye to Starling Marte if you want Price, and likely Lester as well. We have the farm system to make these trades and every report had us making solid offers. Teams did not want a deal of mostly prospects, and we are not in a position to like dealing 25 year old OFers that are 3-4 WAR types under control for over 5 more years. The market unfortunately did not favor a team with a loaded farm system willing to deal prospects for ML guys.

        • I don´t think the Pirates have a deep enough farm system. At least not for the short term. Polanco, for all the noise around him, is still not ready. There is no SP knocking down the ML door. Andrew Miller cost the Orioles their #2 or #3 prospect. That is the equivalent of Taillon, Bell or Meadows.
          Only if the Orioles win the World Series with Miller stranding the bases loaded in the ninth, that would be worth the price of any of those prospects.

    • lonleylibertarian
      October 7, 2014 10:19 am

      And they need to take steps to get better defensively. If you want your pitchers pitching to contact as the Bucs do then you better have a solid defense behind them. Right now first and second base and center field are near the bottom in MLB. St. Louis won in part because they added above average defenders at SS and center field and went from the bottom in team defense in 2013 to the top five this year.

      • Two things they can do in house to improve the defense. Switch Marte and McCutchen, and move Neil Walker off of 2B. Sadly, odds are, neither will ever happen.

        • Lee Foo Young
          October 7, 2014 10:49 am

          Marty…agree…maybe switch Walker and JHay along with Marte/Cutch?

          • You know I’m with you on this Foo, but at the sametime you also know the Pirates won’t make those moves. Even though they should.

      • Cutch is adequate enough out there. Marte’s better, but whattaya gonna do.

        Walker looked absolutely horrible. If they DO plan on extending him, he absolutely cannot be the 2b. He has this little range at 28… imagine if they buy out 4 FA years… 34 yr old NW at 2b is not something i want to see in a pirate uniform.

  • I don’t know if “no move was the right move”, but it’s hard to argue with the results.
    ______________________________________________
    Oh, it’s quite easy. Give it a minute and plenty of people will chime in with “If they did what I wanted them to do, they woulda won every game.” Or words to that effect.

    Typically, this is followed up by something like the following: “They didn’t do what I wanted because one or more of the following reasons: (1) Nutting is too cheap; (2) Huntington is incompetent; (3) the organization isn’t committed to winning; (4) Hurdle wanted to play his favorites; (5) the Front Office is too scared to make a real move.” I think that’s most of them.

    • lol. My favorite was when I heard that Peter Gammons was lying about how the Pirates had the more talented offer. Yep he’s totally lying!

    • lonleylibertarian
      October 7, 2014 10:57 am

      The streak I care about is at 35 and counting – this year was an opportunity lost – next year may be the last for a while – the Cubs will be better than they were this year and ready to contend in 2016 – the Cards, Reds and Brewers are all willing to spend $100M or more to win.

      • So the argument is:

        1. You care about the World Series.
        2. The team didn’t make it to the World Series.
        3. Therefore, making no moves was stupid.

        Can’t argue with that, I guess.

      • the age of the Reds and Brewers is coming to an end. I don’t care what they’re willing to spend because they’re just wasting most of it anyway.

        • lonleylibertarian
          October 7, 2014 12:47 pm

          Reds:
          Rookie of the year and great defensive CF.
          Solid young catcher
          Two great starters & Two solid innings eaters
          Lights out closer
          Power hitting third baseman who makes throws to first easily
          Promising young utility guy
          Yes they have a couple of albatross contracts – but those as they say are sunk cost.
          With ANY rebound by Votto and or Bruce the Reds will be back in the running next year.
          2016 is a problem for them Cueto, Latos and Chapman will be free agents – but that also gives them the opportunity fo trade one of them – or maybe two to find a LF bat.

          Brewers:
          Best catcher in BB [sorry folks-Lucroy is as good def. as Martin-will hit better & is 4 yrs younger]
          Great defensive – but very annoying – center fielder.
          Veteran 3rd baseman who makes contact and has some pop
          Solid starters
          Top closer who will be entering his age 33 season
          Expensive but very effective [except vs buds] set up guy
          They are said to be willing to go as high as $15M a year for a bat at 1st base [guess that means they won’t be a partner in a Pedro/Ike trade]
          They need Braun to return to 4+ WAR and no reason they can’t win 90 next year.

          • Too bad there isn’t a 1B worth $15 mil/ out there for them. That’s easy to say when there’s no actual target for them to go after. If only they were willing to go $15 mil/ last year, when 1B was just as much of a problem as it is this year, they could have had Jose Abreu. Oh well, their loss.
            And I don’t think anyone ever said both teams have no talent. Sure you can list 8, 10 maybe even 12 players that have positive attributes. But a MLB roster is 25 players and those teams have no farm system to fill in the remainder. And they’re willing to spend $100 mil? Wow, they’re already doing that and are worse than the Bucs. So they can’t fill in via free agancy unless they’re willing to go to $120 or $130 mil.
            Anywho, both the Reds and Brewers have already peaked, the start losing players this and next year and the big contracts they signed start taking an even bigger toll. But you can go ahead and think they’ll be better than the Bucs because they’re willing to spend more money, even if it’s foolishly.

      • Ahh, why would next year be the last chance? We have the best system in baseball and future top prospects on the way and plenty more years left of our young stars. This team is going to be better next year than this year and even better in 16 than 15 in my opinion.

        • lonleylibertarian
          October 7, 2014 10:21 pm

          I think most experts have the Cubs farm system ahead of the Bucs – the Reds are weak in bats but have a few pretty good arms at AAA and AA. Prospects are just that – unproven and risky. Write down five names you have heard great things about on this site and if ONE of them is a viable major league player in 4 years I would be happy – and so should you. The Rays were slammed for trading a prospect better than Polanco [Will Myers] for James Shields – he did win rookie of the year – but he missed half of this year and turned in a whopping 0.2 WAR – about as useful as the “Long Term Solution to 1st base” – Ike Davis.

  • I think a lot of the Tigers’ and A’s’ problem was that they took too much off of their major league rosters. Yeah you add David Price, but you also lose Austin Jackson and replace him with Ezequiel Carrera. I still respect what the A’s did since i thought their smattering of decent OF could replace Yoenis. Then again…. Yoenis isn’t even that good…

    I still think adding Price would’ve won the Bucs the division this and next year, and I still think the Pirates’ system is deep enough to handle losing 3 great prospects for two playoff runs with an ace, but I’m also fine that the Rays declined it. Just gotta find some pitchers this offseason instead.

    There’s a big difference between splurging for an ace one time and doing it every year until your system is barren.

    Regardless, it’s over and the Pirates are in as good of shape as any team out there as far as probability of long and short term success.

    And yeah… There’s a good chance they couldve still got the wild card, threw Price in it, and lost. Just like the A’s and Tigers.

    • I agree that getting Price or Lester at the trade deadline would have been the difference between clinching the Division than the Wild Card. The last weekend dilemma of having Liriano and Cole pitch against the Reds showed that the Pirates need a third legitimate ace in their rotation. Of that I am sure, that is not the question. The question is if that would have been worth not having the players the Rays or Boston asked in exchange of Price and Lester.
      I would have traded Alvarez for two months of Lester, assuming 2 years of Alvarez=1 year of Cespedes. I am not sure I would have what could equal the package the Rays got for Price, but I don´t think I would have liked the Pirates doing that since maybe that meant giving up Josh Bell and maybe Kingham or Glasnow.

      • From everything Neal has told us, Price would’ve cost MLB-level talent, meaning most likely Marte, along with a top prospect or two.

    • Tetrapharmakos
      October 7, 2014 1:10 pm

      My guess is that the A’s rue the loss of Addison Russell much more, much longer than Cespedes.

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