Kovacevic: Are Pirates stupid? Insane? No, just sensible
It took 14 full minutes for Neal Huntington to answer the many questions of the assembled media at PNC Park, all essentially wondering why the Pirates had gotten nothing done by the 4 p.m. Wednesday trade deadline. And it's a shame, really, because the whole thing could have been condensed to one simple quote: “We were willing to do something stupid. We just didn't want to do something insane.”
It won't suit everyone, I'm sure, but I loved it.
Thought the GM offered a pitch-perfect summary of how and why the team that owns both Major League Baseball's best record and its worst offensive right fielders had come away without, you know, a better right fielder.
Only two problems:
1. Still need a right fielder.
2. How do we know what qualified as stupid or insane?
Let's take that second one first since the easy answer is that we'll never know. The number of people involved in trade talks tends to be exactly two, meaning the GMs. Only Huntington can know if Nate Schierholtz, Alex Rios, Hunter Pence, and others had truly prohibitive price tags. Only Huntington can know if pipe-dream types such as Giancarlo Stanton and Mark Trumbo were ever on the table.
I happen to have faith in Huntington in this instance. I believed him when he said the Pirates “forced the issue” and that he made offers to counterparts “that made me incredibly nervous.”
Maybe that's because on this date last year I was made privy to a complete list of the top players the Pirates had been trying to acquire as well as the corresponding asking price for each. And those prices were … well, beyond insane.
Unless, of course, you think one-plus season of Shin-Soo Choo would have been a great get from the Indians for Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon.
It takes significant toughness to stick by your top prospects, especially in this setting, and Huntington deserves to be praised for that, not panned.
Look, I've been as hard on the guy as anyone through his tenure, but it's clear in the sixth year under this management that the Pirates' plan of keeping their top prospects — one that's stressed by Bob Nutting — is working. Those players aren't just names in the Baseball America rankings anymore. They're real. They're here. They're Cole, Pedro Alvarez, Justin Wilson and Jordy Mercer, among others.
That doesn't mean you keep prospects all costs. But you don't give them up for nothing. You don't get hosed.
I asked Huntington if this summer, like last summer, he was asked for his very best prospects, meaning Taillon and outfielder Gregory Polanco.
“We had conversations like that, yes,” Huntington replied.
Borrowing Huntington's own adjectives, I'd say Polanco would have been “stupid” to give up, Taillon “insane.” Spoke with baseball men two weeks ago at the Futures Game in New York who compared Polanco to Dave Parker. Taillon is valued even higher and should be in light of how hard it is to acquire elite young starting pitching from the outside.
Of course, absolutely, I would rather have seen a new right fielder. Still would if something can be worked out through waivers over the next month. But if that fails, the Pirates need to take a look at Andrew Lambo, a 24-year-old, 28-home run first baseman/outfielder with Triple-A Indianapolis. Asked Huntington about that, too, and he hinted it was a possibility. Great. Jose Tabata, Travis Snider and Alex Presley have whiffed. Time for the next in line.
Hey, imagine if it works and the prospects were kept.
Know what else I liked about Huntington's work Wednesday?
At this time last year, he was outwardly defensive that he hadn't gotten more than he did by that deadline, and that only multiplied when the clubhouse began moaning. He came across as unsure of himself.
But on Wednesday, he was cool as they come, smiling, joking, the whole happy deal. It was night and day, really, and maybe another visible step of his maturation as an executive.
And don't overthink why: This isn't last summer.
That team needed a lot of help. This one doesn't. Check the standings.
That team had players who wanted a lot of help. This one doesn't. Huntington and Clint Hurdle have kept close touch with the veterans.
Listen to Clint Barmes' reaction late Wednesday night after the astounding 25th comeback victory of the season, 5-4 over the Cardinals in what had been billed as the biggest series here in three decades and now could be a five-game sweep of all ridiculous things: “I think it says a lot about how management feels about us, what we keep doing with games like this. I'll tell you this: You go through any locker in this clubhouse, and there isn't any guy in here we don't trust on the mound and at the plate.”
Right. And as I wrote in this space a month ago, who wants to mess with that on some wholesale basis?
What the Pirates and Huntington did — or didn't do — Wednesday was neither stupid nor insane. Rather, it's the exact methodology that's allowing this to be a meaningful topic on the first of August.