Last offseason I did a 15 part preview of the Pirates upcoming seasons focusing on what I expected to see out of various positions at the major league levels, the minor levels, the coaching staff and the front office. The series went over fairly well with my readers so I have decided to bring it back for a second year. I’m not sure how many parts this year’s series will include but I will do my best to cover every key player I can think of.
Considering the fact that my mood with the front office is less than good with the news they are planning on adding Inge to the roster I am going to keep this piece fairly short and try to stay on point.
All in all the current Pirates front office has done a fair job assembling the 2013 Pirates team which currently looks like the most talented group the Pirates have had in recent seasons. Is it enough? No but it is progress. I believe there is a strong possibility the Pirates will clean house after this season both at the manager and front office ranks. The group has helped the Pirates take some nice big strides forward but at this point I don’t believe this group has what it takes to get the team over the hump (and I’m not talking .500 I believe regardless of the front office the streak will end this year or next). The rotation the Pirates are entering the 2013 season with is weak there is no doubt about that and failure to have better alternatives to what is a very injury prone rotation certainly falls at the feet of the front office. There was some depth there but it has been used up. Ideally a team wouldn’t have to enter the season with Jonathan Sanchez in the rotation but in reality an extended 2-3 start tryout likely isn’t going to cost the Pirates much of anything this season. If he performs well great, if not he will (or at least should) be replaced in short order. The construction of the bench is another manner but if the bench players end up having to play significant roles this season things have gone fairly bad.
Neal Huntington and his front office have overseen some very perplexing and irritating strategies during their tenure but in the end their impact on the playing field is probably very minimal. The difference between starting with Sanchez instead of say McPherson in the rotation for 2-3 April starts won’t really have a huge impact on this season nor will Inge being on the roster over a player like Mercer. These moves are annoying and waste a little bit of the precious resources the Pirates have but at the end of the day moves like this do not affect the fate of the season. What does have a substantial impact on how the 2013 season will progress are the recent major additions to the team. The 2013 Pirates and there by Huntington’s fate will be largely determined by the success or failure of Wandy Rodriguez, Fransisco Liriano, Russell Martin, Travis Snider and Gaby Sanchez. Those 5 players have all been added to the Pirates roster within the last 8 months or so and will be playing their first full season with the Pirates. All 5 will be counted on to have significant roles with the Pirates. It is this group that can help Huntington keep his job for at least one more season.
My expectation for Huntington is to see that particular group of 5 players along with his other impactful additions, Clint Barmes, Jose Tabata, Jeff Locke, AJ Burnett, James McDonald, Jason Grill, etc take a major step up as a group. Of course some will fail but if the Pirates have more successes than failures and a lot of big successes and only small failures the 2013 Pirates could potentially be really good. This group of players has the talent to do so and if they do then Huntington and his staff deserves all the credit in the world but should they not step up Huntington and his staff will have rightfully earned themselves a spot in the unemployment line. This is a do or die year for Huntington his major league acquisitions and his draft classes need to show significant improvement or else.
Right now I am at a loss for words. Some how, some way both Jonathan Sanchez and Brandon Inge have made the Pittsburgh Pirates out of Spring Training. Just a few short weeks ago this seemed virtually impossible and yet here we are. Things have gone horribly horribly wrong and now these two players are going to wind up displacing two guys from the Pirates 40 man roster. Considering the other options available this isn’t necessarily a death-blow to the team’s chances in 2013 but what it is is an admission from Huntington that he just doesn’t trust his minor league system. Last week the addition of John McDonald was yet another admission. For some reason Huntington just can’t put any faith into the players he has at the minor league level and I am getting quite tired of it.
Neither is really an acceptable addition but to some extent Sanchez is at least a little understandable. When the Pirates signed him as a minor league free agent Sanchez appeared to be competing with the likes of Jeanmar Gomez, Vin Mazzaro, Chris Leroux and Phillip Irwin to be the Pirates 10th option to pick up starts. The fact that he has apparently won that battle is perfectly fine but the fact that the Pirates 10th option is needed in the rotation to begin the season and the fact that such a possibility wasn’t exactly a difficult one to see is a problem. For those of you wondering where I’m getting 10th option at the Pirates have five fairly established starters in Burnett, Rodriguez, McDonald, Liriano and Karstens and they have two young starters primed to get inning in Locke and McPherson and two players who are primed to help support the rotation by midseason in Morton and Cole. All that adds up to 9 respectable arms ready to man the rotation. That is all well and good but it was a fairly easy thing to predict that 5 of the 9 weren’t going to be ready for Opening Day. It was already a given Morton and Cole weren’t going to be and Liriano was known to be hurt. That means all it took was Karstens injuring his shoulder (an issue he has for the past few years) and McPherson showing he isn’t ready (something his 3 career AAA starts should have told us).
Yes it is a little bad luck the Pirates are down to their 10th starting option to begin the season but it was at least possible to foresee this situation playing out. Sanchez does have some upside though and has looked fairly respectable in camp so it is hard to fault the Pirates completely on him. Inge (and McDonald) are entirely different stories. First let me say that Inge appears likely to start on the DL and probably won’t be part of the Opening Day roster but in reality that just makes the fact he has made the team even more inexcusable. These two players provide nothing the Pirates internal options like Mercer, Harrison and De Jesus could not provide. Yes Inge has some power but his injury zaps that all away and he has been declining rapidly over the last few years anyway. The younger players on the Pirates roster also come with some upside and still could potentially develop into more useful players so choosing Inge and McDonald over them makes absolutely no sense. Those three are better options and hell they are even cheaper. This is simply a matter of poor roster management.
Again at the end of the day these mistakes by the front office aren’t likely to cost the Pirates a lot. The difference between Inge and McDonald and the younger players is probably going to be fairly irrelevant and having to go with Sanchez in the rotation is a case of improper planning but at the end of the day is at least somewhat understandable. These moves aren’t going to derail the Pirates season they simply aren’t important enough to do so but they are aggravating and highlight some poor qualities in Huntington and Hurdle. A team like the Pirates is going to have to get lucky with some of their own young players. That is a two-step process: 1) Getting young players in the system with some potential and 2) Getting lucky by giving them a chance to prove themselves. Huntington has done a fair job with the first part of the equation but has displayed an unwillingness to even try the second part of the equation.
Presented without commentary below are the 61 trades I have recorded that Neal Huntington has made during his tenure as the Pirates GM. I’m not going to give an opinion on them but rather I figured I’d share my records, see if there is anything I missed that someone wants to share with me and let everyone else form their own opinions. A few notes first though. Some of these deals in addition to the players listed also included cash but I have not bothered to list cash given or received by the Pirates in any deal. The term NA appears pretty frequently and it essentially means Not Available or Not Announced. Basically that half of the trade is unknown to me and in most cases it was likely just a small amount of cash. The trades are roughly ordered according to the order they were made but may not be exact as I only use the month and the year to keep track of them. Apologies for the format not looking the best but its the best I could do.
|Salomon Torres||for||Marino Salas, Kevin Roberts|
|Todd Redmond||for||Tyler Yates|
|Kyle Pearson||for||Denny Bautista|
|Jason Bay||for||Andy LaRoche, Bryan Morris, Brandon Moss, Craig Hansen|
|Xavier Nady, Damaso Marte||for||Jose Tabata, Jeff Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf, Daniel McCutchen|
|Jose Bautista||for||Robinson Diaz|
|Ronnie Paulino||for||Jason Jaramillo|
|Erik Krebs||for||Delwyn Young|
|Romulo Sanchez||for||Eric Hacker|
|Eric Hinske||for||Eric Fryer, Casey Erickson|
|Nate McLouth||for||Jeff Locke, Gorkys Hernandez, Charlie Morton|
|Nyjer Morgan, Sean Burnett||for||Lastings Milledge, Joel Hanrahan|
|Adam LaRoche||for||Argenis Diaz, Hunter Strickland|
|Freddy Sanchez||for||Tim Alderson|
|Tom Gorzelanny, John Grabow||for||Kevin Hart, Jose Ascanio, Josh Harrison|
|Jack Wilson, Ian Snell||for||Jeff Clement, Ronny Cedeno, Nathan Adcock, Brett Lorin, Aaron Pribanic|
|Jesse Chavez||for||Akinori Iwamura|
|Brian Bixler||for||Jesus Brito|
|Ronald Uviedo||for||Dana Eveland|
|Luke Carlin||for||Adam Davis|
|Javier Lopez||for||John Bowker, Joe Martinez|
|Bobby Crosby, Ryan Church, DJ Carrasco||for||Chris Snyder, Pedro Ciriaco|
|Octavio Dotel||for||James McDonald, Andrew Lambo|
|Zach Duke||for||Cesar Valdez|
|Jim Negrych||for||Carlos Paulino|
|Aaron Baker||for||Derek Lee|
|Matt Diaz||for||Eliecer Cardenas|
|Brooks Pounders, Diego Goris||for||Yamaico Navarro|
|Diego Moreno, Exicardo Cayones||for||AJ Burnett|
|Robbie Grossman, Rudy Owens, Colton Cain||for||Wandy Rodriguez|
|Brad Lincoln||for||Travis Snider|
|Gorkys Hernandez, Comp Pick||for||Gaby Sanchez, Kyle Kaminska|
|Casey McGehee||for||Chad Qualls|
|Kyle Kaminska||for||Zach Stewart|
|Luis Rico, Luis Santos||for||Clint Robinson, Vin Mazzaro|
|Chris Resop||for||Zach Thorton|
|Yamaico Navarro||for||Jhonadeli Medina|
|Ramon Cabrera||for||Andrew Oliver|
|Joel Hanrahan, Brock Holt||for||Mark Melancon, Jerry Sands, Stolmy Pimetel, Ivan De Jesus|
|Quincy Latimore||for||Jeanmar Gomez|
When it comes to evaluating how well a draft worked out for a franchise be it baseball, football, hockey, basketball or really any other sport I am one who always feels that 5 years is a fairly reasonable time frame. Of course in baseball and to some extent hockey the evaluations have to be done a little differently because not everyone from those drafts are going to be established players but for the most part we should have a fairly good idea as to what kind of player they are. Typically speaking I think the 5th professional year for a draft class, particularly and MLB one is a huge year. The quick risers are likely in their 3rd pro season or so, the slow risers are likely entering their first full season or just ready to contribute and the wildcards are likely on their final chance. Its been five years since Neal Huntington’s first draft class and of course 2013 will be that class’s 5th full year of professional baseball experience. So according to my rule of thumb it should be a big year for them and indeed it is. To my research there are twelve players who still have at least some level of significance to the Pirates franchise, I have broken down those 12 into 6 different categories and will discuss what the 2013 season holds for them. Think of this as a primer for what to look for out of the 2008 draft class this season.
Organizational Players: Benjamin Gonzalez, Jeremy Farrell, Zachary Foster
Essentially this group has no expectations for the 2013 season. The three above players were drafted and signed in 2008 but have evolved into organizational filler; they will likely serve as bench depth or bullpen arms for one or multiple levels in 2013. They aren’t expected to contribute to the major league team and at this point really have no discernible prospect value. +
Wildcards: Jarek Cunningham, Quinton Miller
Cunningham and Miller are not that far from bien organizational players but both remain in the system and unlike the three organizational players I have listed do have somewhat of a ceiling. Cunningham is capable of playing 2B and has plus power for the position and Miller was a fairly highly regarded prep pitcher at the time he was drafted. Both of them face uphill climbs to ever make the majors let alone become a significant contributor there but each of them have enough upside that they will have essentially one last chance to rebound in 2013 and show they have some value. Miller is likely to work out of the bullpen at A+, a level he’ll be playing at for a 3rd season and at 23 years old is pushing the high side for a prospect at that level. If he shows signs of progress the Pirates may opt to send him to AA early on to give him one last chace but that appears highly unlikely. Cunningham is a little farther along than Miller as he will likely repeat AA this season and should be the starting 2B. At 23 years old he isn’t a terrible age for the AA level but another failed year could prove costly to the little prospect status he has remaining. There is a little more hope for Cunningham than Miller as he showed progress last season with his plate discipline, if he can manage to build off that, refind his power and stay healthy (something that has been a struggle for him) there is a chance he could regain his prospect status. Cunningham is facing an uphill climb but it appears he at least has a fighting chance.
Major League Depth: Matt Hague, Michael Colla
Not much to say about these two. Hague and Colla are essentially organizational players but they have advanced far enough along that either one could be potential non horrible at the major league level meaning they will serve as depth in 2013. Hague is well known by Pirates fans because of his hot spring training last year and the fact he subsequently made the Pirates bench. He struggled with his chances with the big club though and spent most of 2012 in AAA. Hague doesn’t really profile to hit for much power so his ceiling at the major league level is limited. Hague will almost certainly start the 2013 season off in AAA but this year he won’t have a starting position and will be forced into a utility role. The utility role could be a good thing for Hague though as his best chance of making it back to the majors is probably as a utility player who can make decent contact. Colla has spent the last two years in the AA rotation. His numbers over that time are actually fairly decent. In reality he doesn’t profile as a starter and unless he returns to AA for another season will not be one in 2013 but as a reliever he has a chance to become a decent depth middle reliever who could fill in at the major league level when injuries or ineffectiveness occurs. Colla and Hague don’t come with much upside and aren’t really players that will determine if the 2008 draft was a success or failure but 2013 will be a pivotal year in determining whether either one can carve out some sort of a major league career.
Slow Movers: Justin Wilson, Jordy Mercer, Chase d’Arnaud
Wilson, Mercer and d’Arnaud are ultimately going to play a large role in determining how well the 2008 draft worked for the Pirates. A good rule of thumb is that a good draft should give you 3 solid major league contributors. Well the Pirates have one who we will discuss later and have one more who could pay some dividends for them at the major league level but if they are to get any additional help from this class it is going to have to come from these three players. Wilson undoubtedly has the highest upside of the bunch as if he were able to find some control he has the stuff to be a top of the rotation arm. Mercer and d’Arnaud look like their ceiling is likely a major league average shortstop and that may be pushing it. At the end of the day three solid major league contributors doesn’t mean three superstars essentially if the team is able to draft one very good regular, a solid back end reliever and a good bench option it has had a decent year. None of these three except maybe Wilson look like they will develop into a solid regular but they all look like potential secondary pieces. Each player has two options remaining meaning they could in theory be brought back next season if they fail to establish themselves but in reality this is a big year for all three. Should any of them not establish themselves as at least a serviceable major league player they will be in great risk of being removed from the roster after the season and unless claimed by another team that usually severely hurts a player’s chances of having a good major league career.
Traded: Robbie Grossman (Wandy Rodriguez)
The importance of Robbie Grossman who was the key piece in the Wandy Rodriguez deal might often get overlooked when discussing the success or failure of the 2013 draft but it shouldn’t be. Grossman may no longer be in the system but the reason teams have prospects is not for only developing them for their own use but for using them to acquire major league talent through trades, in short they are assets. How Grossman performs this season is largely irrelevant to how the Pirates 2008 draft should be viewed but how his return, Wandy Rodriguez, performs is in my mind a critical part of it. Rodriguez is an established major league and a good performances by him in 2013 will help push up the value the Pirates were able to get out of the 2008 draft. As I stated this will be often overlooked but in my mind the return for Robbie Grossman may very well end up being the 2nd most important aspect of the 2008 draft.
Fast Movers: Pedro Alvarez
At the end of the day the performance of the other 11 players I’ve discussed mean very little compared to the draft 1st round pick. The success or failure of that draft will forever be linked to how Alvarez performs in his career as a Pirate. Last season saw some encouraging progress from Alvarez at the major league level but the strike out rate was too high. Alvarez at this point is an established major league player and looks like he has a strong chance of developing into a regular however his upside is so much more. He possess the power needed to develop into a true impact bat. This upcoming 2013 season will be crucial to his development. If he is able to build off his success in 2012 Alvarez begins looking like a cornerstone player but if he struggles like he did in 2011 he will once again look like a big bust. As his fortunes go so will the fate of the 2008 draft. Even in an optimist scenario where Wilson develops into a solid middle of the rotation arm, Mercer is able to be a decent place holder at the shortstop position for a year or two, d’Arnaud starts to hit and becomes a good spark plug off the bench, Cunningham regains his prospect value and Hague or Colla carves out a major league niche for themselves the 2008 draft will still feel light on talent if Alvarez fails to produce. In order for him to be a success and by extension the 2008 draft Alvarez doesn’t have to perform all that much better than his 2012 numbers going forward but he has to prove that he can that type of player and not be subject to wild down seasons like 2011; building off of 2012 and taking another step, even a small step forward would go a long way in proving just that.
As those of you who have been on this blog a while may know I keep a list of Neal Huntington’s trades. I try my best to keep it fairly complete with any trades of note. Well today I added the Hanrahan deal and also a few of the minor ones this offseason. It is now up to a total of 57 trades. I estimate about half of them to be of insignificant quality (ie both Drew Sutton trades this past season).
Anyway as is my normal way I took a brief glance and wanted to see how many trades I could say had definitely been won or lost by the Pirates. With just a quick glance I came up with 29 trades of insignificant value, some could probably be considered a slight loss, some a slight win but really they weren’t deals of any note. Ten of the remaining 28 I considered to be incomplete right now. Those are the 3 important trades at this past deadline, the 6 this offseason and the newly revived from the L column Adam LaRoche trade (Strickland was added to the 40 man so I’m not ready to call it quite yet). Of the trades made this offseason the only 2 that look of much significance right now are the Ramon Cabrera and Hanrahan deals.
That leaves me with 18. Of those 18 I consider 10 of them to be wins and 8 of them losses. Again this is really subjective. I mean how much of a loss is Jesse Chavez for Akinori Iwamura? How much of a win was Snyder and Ciriaco for Church, Crosby and Carrasco? Probably nearly insignificant either way.
In truth when you get down to it NH trading history and how he is currently viewed is shaped by only 7 deals. They are probably best known as the Bay, Sanchez, Bautista, Nady, McLouth, Dotel and Burnett trades. For a recap of those 7 deals:
Pirates Dealt: Jason Bay, Freddy Sanchez, Jose Bautista, Xavier Nady, Damaso Marte, Nate McLouth, Octavio Dotel, Exicardo Cayones and Diego Moreno
Pirates Received: Andy LaRoche, Bryan Morris, Brandon Moss, Craig Hansen, Tim Alderson, Robinson Diaz, Jose Tabata, Jeff Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf, Daniel McCutchen, Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke, Gorkys Hernandez, James McDonald, Andrew Lambo and AJ Burnett
Like it or not when we look at Huntington’s trade record that is essentially what we are dealing with. It may be unfair to lump Bautista in there as his deal at the time it was made was a minor one but it certainly effects the perception of Neal Huntington.
This is only part of how a GM should be evaluated. His drafting, free agent signings and many other aspects also need to be evaluated but when assessing Huntington’s track record on trades there are a bunch of data points one can use but in reality only 7 of them are important to the discussion. How did Huntington fare in those 7 trades? Probably not as well as he should have but not as poorly as a lot of people seem to think. One more thing to keep in mind is that this is incomplete evaluation the 3 trades made at this past deadline and even possibly the Joel Hanrahan trade could sway his record widely in either direction.
So far this offseason I am unsure as to whether or not Neal Huntington has a plan. Let’s take away the minor trades involving the likes of Chris Resop and Clint Robinson as those are your typical minor moves. So far the Pirates have made three moves of any real substance and I am struggling to see how they fit together and due to that I am struggling to even get a basic understanding of what Huntington must see as this team’s strengths and weaknesses. The Pirates three big moves so far have been signing Russell Martin, DFAing Jeff Karstens and resigning Charlie Morton for two million dollars. Let’s discuss these three in a little bit of detail.
I’ve been over why I think this is a bad signing but lets put that aside for a moment and consider why Huntington would feel compelled to do it and what signing him means for the rest of the team. By signing Martin to a fairly larger contract Huntington must fell this team is close to competing. Spending significant dollars on a marginal upgrade at the catcher position makes no sense unless you believe it is one of maybe two or three missing pieces from the team being a playoff caliber team. The other possibility is a lack of confidence in the catchers currently on the roster. The final point is of course not with out merit but then again if the Pirates feel there was no hope for the catching position in the short term future why would they add two catching prospects to the 40 man roster? The fact both Sanchez and Cabrera were added to the 40 man roster shows the Pirates are intrigued by what they have in the upper minors at catcher which brings us back to the point that Huntington has to think this team is close.
By DFAing Karstens Huntington is saying one of two things. Either he is saying the Pirates have a lot of pitching depth so going with a middle of the rotation starter who is oft injured would be a waste of resources or he believes that this team is still a step away from contention and the starts Karstens would receive is better off going to young players so he can properly evaluate them. The Martin signing would indicate that Huntington doesn’t believe the second half of that possibility so by process of elimination he must believe the first.
Again there are two possibilities with signing Morton either Huntington is so concerned with the pitching depth that he is desperate enough to bring back a guy who won’t be ready for at least two months or he believes Morton is much more than a back of the rotation arm and that half a season of him is worth more than a full season of Karstens. Obviously if Huntington was concerned about pitching depth Karstens would have been tendered a contract so what we are left with is that Huntington must believe that the possibility of maybe having Morton for half a season (for which he’d probably be rushed back since he will only be able to spend 30 days in the minors) is somehow better than having Karstens for a full season. Could Huntington really believe that? At this point I don’t think we have any choice but to say he believes that because the other alternative is that he is completely incompetent and doesn’t have a plan.
If we are to extrapolate Huntington’s thinking out we shouldn’t see any starting pitcher depth brought in and what we should see is him act aggressively to fill the final one or two holes he sees in the Pirates roster, whatever those might be. If he fails to do this then I seriously have to question what in the world he is thinking because right now it doesn’t look like he has much of a plan.
Up until yesterday I was a very cautious but definite Neal Huntington supporter but the last two days have really tested my faith in him. I just see no semblance of a plan coming from him. Signing Martin signals that he believes the team is ready to win now so the proper way to follow that up is to start casting off your starting pitching depth. How does that make any logical sense. He gives Martin a guy we are hoping will be an average catcher for the next two seasons 17 million dollars but when we have a chance to retain an average starting pitcher for 4 million dollars no thats the breaking point.
I would just like to know what Huntington is doing. Is he planning for the future or trying to win now. You can of course do both but these moves are at extreme opposites of one another. By signing Martin he is essentially saying we are only a piece or two away from competing but by non-tendering Karstens he is essentially saying we need to evaluate our young pitchers next season so we have an idea of what they bring to the table moving forward. That is not trying to maintain a delicate balance between trying to win now and not mortgaging the present. In fact the exact opposite does that. Tendering Karstens and deciding to see what you have in Sanchez this season is an attempt to do that.
On top of this there are reports the Pirates are considering a trade with the Dodgers that would swap Hanrahan for Capuano. So wait a minute we DFA Karstens presumably because we have the pitching depth to do so and then we turn around 5 minutes late and decide oh no we were mistaken we need more starting pitching. Then we decided to offer up one of most realistic and best trade chips for a pitcher who we would be lucky if he outproduced Karstens and who will earn 2 million more than him in 2013. Quite simply there is no plan here at all Huntington appears to be just doing stuff with no real finished product in mind. He is or at least should be squarely on the hot seat and it should be prudent that he does something that shows he is on it. I know the popular phrase is go down swinging but in Huntington’s case he at least should open his eyes and look to see what he is swinging at.