Kovacevic: Pirates’ front office not ‘all in’
By Dejan Kovacevic
Published: Wednesday, August 1, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Updated: Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Clint Hurdle loves to use the phrase “All in” with the Pirates' coaches and players, and it's been easy all summer to see they've embraced it.
But it's just as easy to see, after Major League Baseball's trading deadline passed with a whimper Tuesday, that the philosophy goes no higher than the manager.
The bold, smart acquisition of Wandy Rodriguez last week looked like it would lead in to a productive deadline, one in which management would address a wish list for not only a starting pitcher but also a reliable bat and bullpen help.
That's not me saying that. Those were the assessments of Hurdle and Neal Huntington.
What they wound up with Tuesday were recently recalled outfielder Travis Snider, .202-batting first baseman Gaby Sanchez and 6.14-ERA reliever Chad Qualls.
That was it.
That's what a team that entered the day 31⁄2 games off the majors' best record did to improve its playoff chances.
Let's take each acquisition in order …
Snider, 24, has promise. He was just coming to life in the minors, and his first nine games with the Blue Jays saw three home runs. He's a good defender, too, and a gamer.
And truth be told, if the Pirates got him in 2011 — or even the coming winter — I'd have applauded. But the team is adding Snider to a corner outfield mix that, with Starling Marte, had played a combined 14 games this season heading into the first pitch at Wrigley Field.
What was the thinking there?
Huntington's assessment of whether the Pirates are better now was, “We'll see over the next two months,” and that's fair. But the fact remains that the team's greatest need in this calendar year has been corner outfield help, and they enter this pennant race by — correctly — going with Marte in left but not complementing him in right with experience.
Sanchez, 28, is a player I've liked a long time. In 2010 and '11 with the Marlins, he batted a consistent .273 and .266 with 19 home runs each season. But injury limited him to 55 games this season, and he plunged to .202 with three home runs.
He'll probably hit again, but he was on the bench in Miami, and he should be on the bench in Pittsburgh.
Qualls, 34, is simply awful. The only place he's pitched in past three seasons where his ERA was lower than 4.50 was the hitter's graveyard in San Diego. This season with the Yankees, opponents were batting .345, roughly what they'd pull off in the indoor cage.
Let's give Huntington the benefit of the doubt on Qualls. He knew there was no place now for Casey McGehee and moved McGehee for a breathing body.
Let's also acknowledge the Pirates didn't give up too much Tuesday. Brad Lincoln was breaking out but still profiled as a reliever. You'll always give that up for an everyday type. Gorkys Hernandez and a post-first-round pick for Sanchez was nothing, especially with how this team's drafts lack depth. And McGehee, again, was out.
But the object at this stage isn't to go 4-0 in trades.
It's to make the playoffs.
These playoffs, not in 2013.
“This year's rentals were very expensive,” Huntington said Tuesday. “We're looking to get years of control in return.”
This year counts more than most. Teams that spend at the Pirates' level don't get many. Nor is the Central Division going to see many more seasons where the Cardinals and the free-spending Cubs are down.
Look at those bios up there.
That look like a playoff push?
Or a gentle, we-did-what-we-could nudge?
No, I don't think the Pirates should have given up the farm. If it's one prospect, I'd have at least listened. Here's guessing Huntington did and found it all distasteful. I can respect that.
But what about a prospect coupled with significant cash, like the Rodriguez trade?
There were no hitters in that mold anywhere?
People will point to players who changed hands Tuesday as evidence that prices were too high. Philadelphia traded two corner outfielders, Shane Victorino to the Dodgers and Hunter Pence to the Giants. Both would have looked terrific in black and gold. And the cost wasn't prohibitive, a reliever and minor league pitcher for Victorino, a spare outfielder and minor league catcher for Pence. Zero elite prospects involved.
Did Huntington go in with a bold enough approach?
Maybe the Pirates worried about money. If so, it would have flown in the face of most of owner Bob Nutting and the front office's moves in recent years, but it's hardly unthinkable.
Victorino is making $9.5 million this season, after which he can be a free agent. Pence is making $10.4 million this season, $13 million the next. The Pirates' two position-player pickups, Snider and Sanchez, each makes less than $500,000, so the only cash added was Rodriguez's $12.2 million.
Money most assuredly should not have been an issue. Not after 19 years. Not after Pittsburgh has been filling PNC Park.
Not after everyone else was all in.
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Thank God NH is running the Pirates and not Dejean. The objective should be to have a contender for the next 8+ years, not to blow up the team by making a desperate trade to improve the team by a miniscule margin. Victorino has become a mediocre OF - no reason to give up any value for him. As for Pence, he is a solid OF but certainly not a great one. And he has been in a bad slump for the past month. The Giants gave up a very good catching prospect who is doing well in AA despite the fact that he just turned 21. Plus they gave up Schierholtz (think Alex Presley) and a possible pitching prospect. All for the right to overpay Pence to the tune of $14 M next year. Add another $14M to the Bucs' payroll next year and it would be impossible to make a run at any player at all - and would be a lot harder to lock up anyone else on the current roster. I like the Snider deal far more than I like the Giants' deal for Pence.
Submitted by: Josh on Wednesday, August 1, 2012
I'm not sure I agree but I get your perspective on this Dejan, and I will say the twitter discussions have really missed your point. Looking at this in lieu of recent history with the front office, I doubt money played a role. I also doubt they were not looking at trying to improve for this year as I'm sure they're thrilled with that possibility. I think we would agree on that. I think the perspective of Huntington would simply be, are these deals better than what we could have done for a Pence / Upton / Victorino. And I think there is a case to be made that Snider may help this year more than those guys, with years of control. I think if I were in Neal's shoes, I would also have a hard time passing up that Snider deal as opposed to the Pence deal. The upside is so much greater and while, to your point, I think it is riskier for this year, I'm not convinced this wasn't the best deal for all years.
Submitted by: Jonathan on Wednesday, August 1, 2012
I usually share the same opinions as you, but I gotta go against you on this one. The fact is we don't know what Philly asked for Pence & Victorino. Unless we can tap Huntington's phone line, we'll never know what Philly wanted, what the Pirates offered (if they offered), and any counter offers. In addition to that, did you ever think that maybe the Pirates made a competitive offer, but the Phillies just liked the SF prospects a bit better? This is MLB small market dealing, and it's a shame. The Pens can go all in because when they take a big risk, they have the economic system to recover. I can bet if MLB had a hard salary cap, the small market teams could go "all in" more often with much less risk.
Submitted by: Michael on Wednesday, August 1, 2012
I feel same as Paul! This is the one time I have not agreed with you. Yes they could have made a bigger move but they didn't give up much and added to an already good team!! It's not like they aren't already contending! The front office to me showed belief in what they have, but also added some intriguing guys in Wandy, Snider ,and Sanchez! I feel like you've given up on this year, look at last night Dejan. This is still a special season!!!! HISTORY WILL BE MADE!! Please don't forget that. Ask Aj if he believes! Again Dejan I love your work... I just can't feel negative about yesterday.
Submitted by: Paul on Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Dejan and I tend to agree on a lot when it comes to baseball but we diverge quite sharply on this. This is the first year in a long time that I feel post trade deadline the Pirates are a better team coming out than going in. Travis Snider is precisely the type of player the Pirates should have been seeking from the outset, instead of the over hyped, light hitting outfielders like VIctorino, Pence and Upton that were rumored to be initial Pirate targets but offered little more than name recognition to the organization and as someone who knows about and appreciates the value of Sabremetrics would have been terrible fits for a team that plays its home games at PNC Park. Criticisms of Snider's acquisition are very reminiscent of those made when the Pirates sent a supposedly too valuable lefty reliever named Ricardo Rincon to Cleveland for a part-time platoon outfielder named Brian Giles, a player who was three years older than Snider is when they were acquired and a much lesser prospect than Travis Snider is. Salaries considerations aside, trading for and signing in the off season players for their name recognition and reputations rather than actual performance has been one of the main stumbling blocks to the Pirates success. One need only look to the 10 million debacle currently playing short stop for the Pirates as yet another example of that failed approach which the acquisition of Snider is a refreshing deviation from. I'll go on record and say by the end of August when Travis Snider is regularly depositing balls over the right field wall at PNC Park, Neal Huntington's approach this season, as opposed to last, will be completely validated and Pirate fans will be saying "who?" when the names Pence and VIctorino come up in conversation.