Neal Huntington faced a giant undertaking. He had to turn the small-market Pittsburgh Pirates, riding a 15-year losing streak and boasting an abysmal minor league system, into a legitimate playoff contender. The new general manager had a couple of interesting pieces left over from the Dave Littlefield administration like outfielder Andrew McCutchen and catcher turned third baseman turned second baseman Neil Walker. But otherwise, Huntington was working with an empty canvas.
But as the 2014 non-waiver trade deadline approaches July 31, he’s built a contender. With a deep farm system Huntington has built through seven years of trades, drafts, and signings, Pittsburgh boasts plenty of enticing pieces to make big deals, and the Pirates have been tabbed as a potential landing spot for Boston Red Sox ace John Lester. History shows Huntington isn’t weary of pulling the trigger at the trade deadline, but would he gamble the future for a playoff chase?
- Traded OF Jason Bay to the Boston Red Sox, who traded Manny Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers, for LHP Bryan Morris, 3B Andy Laroche, OF Brandon Moss and RHP Craig Hansen.
- Traded OF Xavier Nady and LHP Damaso Marte to the New York Yankees for OF Jose Tabata, RHP Jeff Karstens, LHP Ross Ohlendorf, and RHP Daniel McCutchen.
Bay played fantastic baseball for the Red Sox in their 2008 pennant chase and the 2009 season, boasting a 5.2 WAR in the latter. In return for giving up their star at the time, the Pirates got two years of disappointing pitching from Hansen, three mediocre years from promising prospect Laroche, and three underwhelming years from Moss—who since matured into a 20-homerun batter with the Oakland Athletics. Morris joined the bullpen in 2012 and pitched 81.0 innings in parts of three seasons with the Buccos before getting traded to the Miami Marlins in 2014 for a compensatory pick.
While the prospects gained from the Red Sox/Dodgers deal didn’t quite reach expectations, the return in the Yankees deal was a steal. Nady’s batting average plummeted from .330 to .268 with New York, and Marte pitched 18.1 innings and saw his ERA balloon to 5.40. But all four of the Pirates additions reached the major league roster with some—albeit short—success. The shining star of the deal was Tabata, who batted .299 in his 2010 rookie season at age 21.
- Traded Freddy Sanchez to the San Francisco Giants for RHP Tim Alderson.
- Moved RHP Ian Snell and SS Jack Wilson to the Seattle Mariners for five players.
- Sent LHP Tom Gorzelanny and LHP John Grabow to the Chicago Cubs for 2B Josh Harrison, RHP Kevin Hart, and RHP Jose Ascanio.
Huntington turned five players into nine, but in the process he moved two everyday days starters in Sanchez and Wilson. It’d been three years since Sanchez won the NL Batting Title, but he continued to be one of the top hitters in the lineup with a .296 average. The Pirates needed to sell high, but the return was seriously lacking in hindsight. Alderson was ranked a top-50 prospect in 2009, though, so it’s surprising he hasn’t reach the major league yet.
With Wilson in a contract year and worth 3.2 wins, he was another great trade chip for the Pirates, who coupled the shortstop with the disgruntled—and struggling—Snell. The Pirates acquired power-hitting first base prospect Jeff Clement in the deal, but his .343 slugging percentage in two seasons with the Pirates left plenty to be desired. Ronny Cedeno became the new starting shortstop for the Bucs in place of Wilson, but the other three acquisitions never made the major league team.
Harrison is having a career year in 2014, earning an All-Star Game nod with his exciting play and 2.1 WAR. Much less thrilling, Hart finished the 2009 campaign with a 1-8 record. That was his last major league season. Gorzelanny and Grabow excelled for the Cubs for the rest of the year, but both struggled after. Gorzelanny has since found some success as a reliever, though.