Friday, August 1, 2008

Win, Lose, or Draw?

Some thoughts about the Buc's wheelin' and dealin' from the gurus:

Jaso Starks, ESPN:
No seller made two bigger trades in the past week than the Pirates. Up the Monongahela went Nady, Marte and Bay. Down the river came eight young players of varying age, experience and reputation.

We found people in baseball who love the upside of 21-year-old right-hander Bryan Morris, the one-time No. 1 pick the Pirates got from the Dodgers in the Bay trade. We found others who love the stuff of Ross Ohlendorf and the makeup of Daniel McCutchen (both of whom arrived in the Marte/Nady deal). And the three older players they got in the Bay trade (Andy LaRoche, Craig Hansen and Brandon Moss) are all big-league-ready.

But the word we heard used most to describe the Pirates' return in these two trades was "quantity." Which isn't always a compliment.

"Did the Pirates get one young impact player back in any deal?" wondered an executive of one team. "My answer is no. Did they get an Evan Longoria-type they could drop in the middle of their order? Did they get a No. 1 starter? I don't see that. To me, they went for numbers. … Yeah, they built depth in their system. But they just traded Jason Bay, Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte. That's three awfully big chips. And I'm looking for that one slam-dunk guy -- a guy who can make an impact on a lineup or on a pitching staff. And I just can't find one."

Then again, in fairness to the Pirates, you can also argue that no team was able to trade for an impact player like that, because there just wasn't one to be had. And we'll say this for the Pirates: It wasn't for lack of trying. It seemed as if they asked for every young impact player in the minor leagues at some point or another. So it's telling that they didn't get even one guy like that back. But hey, here's the best part of all:

At least this year went a heck of a lot better than last year's Deadline Day (when they swooped in to trade for the disaster that was Matt Morris, who will be collecting the last two months of the $13 million the Pirates owed him on a beach someplace).

Jon Heyman, Sports Illustrated "Inside Baseball":
They did the right thing by moving Nady, Marte and Bay, and they deserve applause for the guts to do what was necessary. But unfortunately for them, even in this supposed sellers' market, no one wanted to surrender a top prospect.

If you'll notice, the only premium prospect traded this summer was slugger Matt LaPorta, (and to get him from the Brewers, the Indians had to trade the great Sabathia). So the Pirates couldn't get Hellickson, Niemann or Brignac from the Rays, or Fernando Martinez or Jon Niese from the Mets. They appeared to do fine in the Bay deal, but in the deal for Marte, a guy the Yankees absolutely had to have, they came up a little short. "They got nothing,'' one GM said. "The only one we like is (Ross) Ohlendorf, and he's average.''

The Pirates apparently like talented and immature outfielder Jose Tabata more than most others, including the Yankees, who had given up on the idea that he was ever going to be a star.

Ken Rosentahl, Fox Sports:
The Pirates, too, made the right call, trading Bay when his value was at its peak, rather than last offseason, after it had plummeted. True, none of the players they acquired looks like a future star. But in this trade and the much-maligned Xavier Nady/Damaso Marte deal, the Pirates added eight young players. Some are bound to succeed.

LaRoche should be a solid major-league third baseman. Moss, in the Red Sox's own opinion, could start for many clubs. Hansen hasn't shown he can throw consistent strikes, but he might thrive outside of Boston, where he faced the pressure of being a former No. 1 pick. Morris already has had his Tommy John surgery — a good thing these days — and joins former Yankees Ross Ohlendorf and Daniel McCutchen as potential members of the Pirates' future rotation.

Pirates president Frank Coonelly and GM Neal Huntington already have taken a markedly different approach than their predecessors, demonstrating a willingness to make tough decisions and big deals. Whether Huntington chose the right players remains to be seen, but at least the Pirates were in there swinging with the Yankees and Red Sox.

Gene Collier, Post Gazette:
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington, in his first summer at one of the worst jobs in baseball, has traded two-thirds of one of the most productive outfields in baseball (Xavier Nady and Bay) plus one of the top situational bullpen lefties in the game (Damaso Marte) for eight prospects on the theory that virtually all baseball life within Pittsburgh's minor league system has been wiped out by the Comet Littlefield.

If that's the situation -- and I'm not suggesting for a second that it isn't -- what good does it do to have Andy LaRoche, outfielder Brandon Moss, and pitchers Craig Hansen, Jeff Karstens, and soon Ross Ohlendorf on the major league roster? How is that strengthening a foundation of rubble?

Huntington and CEO Frank Coonelly will tell you they are adding depth, and the plain fact is, anyone who still cares has to take it on faith that they're right. Not only strategically, but in their ongoing evaluations. Results are due in 2010 or 2011.

Maybe Andy LaRoche, rated the Dodgers' second-best prospect before this season by Baseball America, will turn into the kind of corner infielder who is consistently productive, a player that is, you know, unlike his brother. Maybe Hansen, a former first-round pick with high-grade gas will turn into reliable power pitcher instead of just another Pirate lugging around a major league earned run average that's north of six. Maybe Brandon Moss and Jose Tabata will turn into outfielders with greater upsides than Nady and Bay. Maybe Jeff Karstens, who joins the rotation this afternoon, will get the consistent outs that eluded him as a Yankee. Maybe Bryan Morris, just 21, will emerge in two years as a top-of-the-rotation horse.

That's a lot of maybein'.

Joe Starkey, Tribune Review:
The verdict on this trade cannot fairly be rendered for at least a few years.

Maybe longer, considering the player with the highest upside might be 21-year-old power pitcher Bryan Morris, who has recovered from Tommy John surgery and is throwing well in Class A. He is a "top-shelf prospect," according to Baseball America.

The others - third baseman Andy LaRoche, outfielder Brandon Moss and right-handed reliever Craig Hansen - all have been considered top prospects at one time or another but have yet to make a mark in the major leagues.

Now, they'll get their chance.

After the Nady trade, I asked general manager Neal Huntington if his plan to build with young talent could be correlated in any way to what the Penguins have done.

"We feel we're moving in that direction," he said. "Obviously, Sidney Crosby and other young players you put into the system are going right into the NHL, so it's a lot easier to have that dramatic turnaround.

"In baseball, it's not quite that easy. That's where depth becomes important. You have to have multiple options and can't be relying on just one or two key pieces."

The next step better be to sign first-round draft pick Pedro Alvarez, no matter the cost, by the Aug. 15 deadline.

At that point, the Pirates can point to Nate McLouth, Ryan Doumit, Alvarez, Andrew McCutchen and whoever emerges from the bevy of recent draft picks and recently acquired prospects as tangible signs of a better future.

Nothing is guaranteed, of course. Huntington might prove every bit as unskilled as his predecessors. Owner Bob Nutting might never spend enough money to field a legitimate contender.

But I'm willing to give this thing a chance.

There wasn't anything touching on Pittsburgh in the Boston or LA papers, which understandably were having a field day with Manny-mania.

The only noteworthy items were that the Bucs tried to pry some elite arms from LA with Morris being the top gun they were willing to deal, and that Boston hung on to Moss till the deadline because he was Plan B if Manny left or was cut without another OF coming aboard.

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