New captain, new crew

It’s far too early to tell whether the rebuilding effort under the new regime in Pittsburgh will be a success. The Pirates are unlikely to contend in 2010, and given the ages of the most promising players under team control, it will be a few years before the current core group reaches its potential.

Regardless of long-term success, what amazes me is the thoroughness with which the front office has recycled the old for the new. I happened to glance at the batting order for the Pirates’ Opening Day game against the Braves on March 31, 2008, and you might be as amazed as I was:

  1. Nate McLouth – CF
    Traded June 3, 2009 for Gorkys Hernandez and Charlie Morton
  2. Freddy Sanchez – 2B
    Traded July 30, 2009 for Tim Alderson
  3. Jason Bay – LF
    Traded July 31, 2008 in a three-way deal that returned Craig Hansen, Brandon Moss, Bryan Morris and Andy LaRoche
  4. Adam LaRoche – 1B
    Traded July 22, 2009 for Argenis Diaz and Hunter Strickland
  5. Xavier Nady – RF
    Traded July 26, 2008 for Daniel McCutchen, Jeff Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf and Jose Tabata
  6. Ryan Doumit – C
    Still a Pirate (at press time, anyway)
  7. Jose Bautista – 3B
    Traded Aug. 21, 2008 for Robinzon Diaz
  8. Jack Wilson – SS
    Traded July 29, 2009 (with Ian Snell) for Ronny Cedeno, Jeff Clement and three minor leaguers.
  9. Ian Snell – P
    Traded July 29, 2009 with Wilson.

Also appearing for the Bucs that day:

All told, 17 players entered the game for Pittsburgh that day. Eleven of them were traded away before Aug. 1, 2009. If Doumit had come out of the game, it would’ve been 12 for 18—backup catcher Ronny Paulino was sent to the Phillies on Dec. 10, 2008 for Jason Jaramillo. As it is, Doumit is the only Pirate who appeared in the game—less than two years ago!—who is still on the 40-man roster.

Pirate booty

When Pirates fans look back five years from now, a lot of these deals will already be forgotten. Some of the new Buccos have appeared at the top of the prospect lists of their former teams, but every single one of them has lost some luster since then. After all, Pittsburgh wasn’t exactly trading away Johan Santana to get them.

But GM Neal Huntington and his crew recognized what they had to work with. The 2008 Pirates won 67 games, and maybe, if they had kept Bay and Nady around, they would’ve made a run for the low 70s. We’re looking at good, not great, players, many of whom were nearing the end of their arbitration years.

Essentially, the Bucs bought in bulk. A-minus and A prospects are rarely available except through the draft, but if you pick up enough B prospects, you’re bound to strike gold occasionally. Pittsburgh replenished a minor league system that desperately needed some potential—particularly potential that wouldn’t flame out at Triple-A after a series of shoulder surgeries. And now, with a few bona fide homegrown prospects on the way (hello, Pedro Alvarez!), they can enter the next phase of the project: Figuring out what the booty is worth.

If you weren’t already amazed by the dispatch with which the front office parted with the 2008 Opening Day roster, how about this: The players received in those trades make up 16 of the players currently on the 40-man roster. This year’s Opening Day 25 could easily feature 10 or 11 of those players.

Some of these trade acquisitions will fizzle out. Prospects like Alderson and Tabata are loaded with raw talent but are ultimately gambles for any club that targets them. But one thing is certain: This is a completely new approach to running the Pittsburgh Pirates, and whether or not you’re a Bucs fan, it’s one heck of an exciting young team to watch.


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Bob Rittner
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Bob Rittner
I think your view is exactly right. Unfortunately many fans will obsess over the many “prospects” who will fail. But that is not the point. In any rebuilding, few of those acquired in trades will pan out, but the system has to be replenished in the hope that some will contribute. To take an analogous example, consider the Rays circa 2005-6. Friedman and company are rightfully considered very intelligent for the rebuilding (really building) job they did, but look at the players they received in trades for more established ones like Huff, Lugo, Baez, Hendrickson and others: Pedroza, Joel Guzman,… Read more »
Bob Rittner
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Bob Rittner
No, this is nothing like the previous administrations. In the past, the front office signed mediocre players to appear to be trying to win and showed little patience with their young players who struggled on first exposure to the big leagues. It was a futile effort without a plan. Huntington is dealing mediocre players to replenish the farm system. Not one player he has dealt was likely to be a part of the next winning Pirates team. Their only value was what they could bring back to the Pirates in terms of young talent. I can’t say whether he could… Read more »
Brian
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Brian

Finally someone who knows what they are talking abut!  This is a good article and people need to realize that what the Bucs are doing is good and they have a decent chance at being competitive in ‘11 or ‘12.

bothstillplaying
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bothstillplaying
Contrary to the comments that “as soon as guys start costing some money, out the door they go”, most of the players highlighted by Jeff were dealt in their walk years (Sanchez, LaRoche, Wilson, Marte, Grabow) or with a season-plus left (Bay and Nady)…..and you cannot overstate how really bad the Pirates’ organization was when the current group took over, this coming from someone who was too close to what was happening….and I’m not talking about the level of on-field talent, but elements that reasonable people would expect to be there—like competent medical and training staff! Neal Huntington has had… Read more »
Warren
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Warren

Neil is on the right track!

As a concrete example of the immediate impact; last year’s starting pitching ranked #7 in Quality Starts with 87.  By mid-season we had three rookies in the starting rotation: Ollendrof and Karstens (traded by the Yanks in Nady deal) and Morton (from Braves in McLouth deal).

It’s early; but both Ohlie and Morton appear to be studs.  Along with Duke and Maholm, I can see more than 100 Quality Starts this year.  IF they progress as expected, with Joe Kerrigan as the pitching coach.

Greg
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Greg
Absolutely great article. As much as I tend to feel bad for some of the guys like Douhmit and Maholm to see their buddies and mentors get traded; it’s not like this team was going to contend by resigning Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez and keeping Nate McClouth as your starting CF. Furthermore, Capps doesn’t really seems very irreplacable especially with Hannaran and other cheaper alternatives out there (McDougal). I doubt the difference will in closers will really be seen in 10 and 11. I’d rather see them model themselves after the Marlins, Twins, Rays, etc and role the dice. I… Read more »
Ed Cummings
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Ed Cummings
Pirate fans seem to fall into 3 schools of thought School 1 is the anti Huntington/Nuttings camp.  The basic argument is that we need to win immediately to stop the 17 year streak.  These folks don’t don’t see how trading the best players (and Jack Wilson) make the team better and they believe that the ownership is putting profitability ahead of competitiveness.  John Lease is from this school.  School 2 sees that the Front Office (FO) is making the organization better from roots up.  Better drafting, flipping major leaguers for minor leaguers, and increasing the presence in international scouting.  It’ll… Read more »
Bob Plumskey
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Bob Plumskey

Sorry, folks, but the answer is simple.

Nutting bought into the Pirates to make $$$.

He is making it. He is NOT spending it.

END OF STORY,

“Plum, da Bum”

Ed Cummings
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Ed Cummings

So?

The movie theater I saw Avatar in last week made a profit on me, but that didn’t make the movie less entertaining.

George Steinbrenner makes a profit every year, but that fact is irrelevant.  Only thing that matters is if the team is entertaining, and in most peoples minds entertaining is the same as competitive.  The 2010 team should be more competitive than the 09 team, and the 09 team was more competitive than the 08 team.

That seems like a trend in the right direction.  So once again light… tunnel…

DonCoburleone
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DonCoburleone
The Pirates I think are headed in the right direction.  The one thing I think they need is that stud pitching prospect in the upper minors. Alderson was there in the low minors but his “star” has fallen a little since then.  I do enjoy what the Pirates are trying to do here, I love the “small market” aspect of baseball.  It creates much more exciting/interesting offseasons and trade deadlines.  I mean, put a salary cap in baseball and all trading would come to a stop in a hurry.  It would turn into the NBA, where there is a big… Read more »
John Lease
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John Lease

Jeff, I guess I can tell you aren’t a Pirate fan.  Watching another 100 loss team isn’t exciting to me.  Nor is this a new way of running the Pirates.  As soon as guys start costing some money, out the door they go.  This was a little different in that just about everyone has gone at the same time, but the core concept is the same.

The release of Matt Capps for nothing is an ominous sign to this Pirate fan that nothing has changed fundamentally.

Steve
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Steve
It really is amazing to see the “purge” facts presented by the author.  Obviously acquiring quantity/quality is the goal when trading established MLB players, but I think there is another aspect, one which was somewhat alluded to in the comments. The Pirates were a lousy organization from top to bottom—competitiveness at the major league level & and issues with attitude/moral in the clubhouse (according to those with access), scouting & development, and according to some, with the basic infrastructure needed to run an organization (eg, bothstillplaying mentions medical & training). The half-hearted “rebuilding efforts” featuring washed up vets or reclamation… Read more »
bothstillplaying
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bothstillplaying
The following article details how the Pirates are reinvesting long-term their recent-years’ operating profits, plus increasing their debt levels somewhat: Sunday, January 3, 2010 Rob Biertempfel is the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Pirates beat writer. He can be reached at 412-320-7811 or via e-mail. At a time when some major-league clubs are trimming budgets, the Pirates have increased their spending in several key areas. The Pirates have not ramped up their player payroll, the most obvious expenditure in the eyes of most fans. Instead, they spent more for facilities, scouting and player development the past two years. According to data provided by… Read more »
bothstillplaying
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bothstillplaying
One final comment from Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus——- Saturday, August 25, 2007 12:10 AM From: <bothstillplaying@yahoo.com> To: Indianapolis Indians <mguay@indyindians.com> “It’s almost too easy to pick on the Pirates, but this amazing story from BP’s John Perrotto is devastating. I can’t tell you anything about Clayton Hamilton or his injury, but I can tell you that this situation is a strong indication of just how broken the systems are within the Pirates organization. Any medical staff can miss things, but the good ones have systems that minimize those misses through checks, balances, and most importantly communication. The Pirates’ new… Read more »
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