The draft and international signings are an organization's roots; the trades, FA's and to a lesser extent, waiver and Rule 5 claims, fill in the puzzle at the MLB level.
For a variety of reasons, the MLB product hasn't had much help from the marketplace. Primarily, that's the blowback from exploding the team and running an audition camp for prospects; the FO didn't want to block guys like Andy LaRoche, Brandon Moss, Lastings Milledge, etc. until they had proven themselves one way or another.
And players like Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, and Garrett Jones have shown that some guys were ready for the big city lights.
But the Pirates have done a pretty poor job of evaluating the FAs they have signed, showing a better eye for relievers than for bench players or rotation help. That could be because of supply and demand, or just a function of evaluation - and in some cases, desperation.
They have done a good job with Rule 5 and the waiver wires; any success from those sources is a rarity, and Pittsburgh has had a couple of success stories.
Here's the current FO history:
RHP Octavio Dotel (1/21/10)
RHP Brendan Donnelly (1/18/10)
RHP D.J. Carrasco (1/16/10)
RF Ryan Church (1/13/10)
RHP Brian Bass (1/12/10)
LHP Brian Burres (1/4/10)
LHP Jack Taschner (1/4/10)
LHP Javier Lopez (12/18/09)
1B Bobby Crosby (12/10/09)
LHP Wilfredo Ledezma (11/30/09)
The Pirates did OK in 2010, improving their product before the deadline, then turning over the rental players for some young guys. They rebuilt their bullpen, and then tore it down to get James McDonald, John Bowker, Pedro Ciriaco, Andrew Lambo and Joe Martinez. But they had no eye for bench players; they were eventually traded away and replaced by pups.
OF Eric Hinske (1/30/09)
OF Craig Monroe (1/13/09)
1B Garrett Jones (12/22/08)
INF Ramon Vazquez (12/12/08)
A pretty poor class here; Hinske was traded, Monroe DFA'ed, and Vazquez cut with a year remaining on his contract. The silver lining was the signing of minor league free agent Garrett Jones.
INF/OF Craig Wilson (4/8/08)
1B Doug Mientkiewicz (2/11/08)
2B Luis Rivas (2/1/08)
RHP T.J. Beam (1/11/08)
C Raul Chavez (1/11/08)
INF Chris Gomez (12/12/07)
Dirt Dog Doug and Raul Chavez are probably the best pair of non-pitching FA's the Pirates have signed in the Huntington era, for what that's worth. But the Pirates couldn't turn these guys into July prospects.
2009 - John Raynor (returned)
2008 - Donnie Veal (kept, on DL)
2007 - Evan Meek (returned and reacquired, on roster)
Good eye for the first pair; Raynor was a garden variety OF whose speed was his calling card.
RHP Chris Resop off waivers from Atlanta Braves (8/4/10)
RHP Chan Ho Park off waivers from New York Yankees (8/4/10)
RHP Sean Gallagher from San Diego Padres for cash (was DFA'ed 7/7/10)
RHP Hayden Penn off waivers from Florida Marlins (3/29/10)
RHP Chris Jakubauskas off waivers from Seattle Mariners (11/20/09)
LHP Justin Thomas off waivers from Seattle Mariners (10/29/09)
Resop is a keeper; Park will probably play out his free agency, and the rest provided varying degrees of depth except for Penn, who ended up in Japan. What's scary is that more waiver players dressed for Pittsburgh in 2010 than in 2008-09 combined.
RHP Steven Jackson off waivers from New York Yankees (5/18/09)
RHP Virgil Vasquez off waivers from the San Diego Padres (1/26/09)
Jackson has been up and down, and Vasquez is with a different organization.
INF Josh Wilson off waivers from Tampa Bay (12/3/07)
RHP Ty Taubenheim off waivers from Toronto (12/3/07)
RHP Jimmy Barthmaier off waivers from the Houston Astros (11/7/07)
Organizational depth, but it showed the new FO was aware that there was no help in the upper levels of the farm.