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Kovacevic: Pirates do what winning teams do

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By Dejan Kovacevic
Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, 11:09 p.m.
 

This is what winning teams do.

No, there wasn't anything singularly spectacular about the Pirates' acquisitions Tuesday of Marlon Byrd and John Buck from the Mets in exchange for prospect Dilson Herrera and a player to be named later. No big names, no blaring headlines, no attaboys for some heist of the century. It wasn't the splash some had sought, nor the standing pat some had feared.

But, then, this situation didn't call for a splash, just as it didn't call for standing pat.

It called for smart.

It called for …

Correctly identifying all positional needs

So long as the Pirates were winning big — and 23 games over .500 through July is pretty big — there shouldn't have been any mega-urgency to address needs. But it's been a blah 11-13 August, including the 7-6 loss to the Brewers by nightfall at PNC Park, and it can be blamed almost wholly on the bone-dry bats.

The urgency changed.

Look, I wasn't wild about how long this took, and I suspect neither was the fan base. All concerned would have been better off skipping Garrett Jones' 7-for-58 slog this month. But I applauded the team's prudence at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, and I'll still applaud Huntington and Clint Hurdle for giving Jones and Jose Tabata a chance. Jones fizzled, but he was coming off a 27-home run season and was worth waiting on. Tabata actually justified the patience by producing.

Saturday will bring the waiver trade deadline. Huntington pushed it to the edge, but he also pulled it off.

• Finding the right help

There's not much to dislike about Byrd, a 12-year vet who can take right field right away, who'll cost the Pirates just $130,000 total, and who's having the season of his life: .285 average, 21 home runs, 71 RBI.

Can he keep it up at age 36?

Who really cares, so long as he keeps it up into October?

The only real doubts relate to Byrd's 50-game suspension last year for use of tamoxifen, a banned substance. And those doubts remain justified, given that the season of one's life tends to come, you know, a lot earlier in most lives.

Byrd's been strikingly forthright on the topic all summer, including this to the Daily News last month: “Why wouldn't anybody question it? Last year, I hit .210 with a home run and nine RBI in conjunction with testing positive. But I can take that and absorb that. Doesn't bother me at all.”

He maintained innocence then — claiming tamoxifen was taken for a chronic swelling of the chest — and still does.

Whatever the case, it's impossible to imagine the Pirates wouldn't have checked this out before putting themselves in position to hang out to dry. And as such, Byrd should fit well.

Same for Buck, a workmanlike backup catcher. All due respect to Tony Sanchez here, but a one-month rookie can't be your fail-safe.

• Meeting the price

I got to know Herrera a bit during the All-Star Futures Game in New York last month and loved his backstory: Orlando Covo, the Pirates' lead scout in Colombia, works by day as, of all things, the president of a bank. He moonlights because of a passion for baseball and for the Pirates, who hired him under Latin American scouting director Rene Gayo a half-decade ago.

Colombia is no baseball hotbed, but Covo and Gayo invest disproportionate energy into making it work. In the case of the prized Herrera, Covo pushed so hard that, as the kid told me, “I was wearing a Pirates cap when I was 12.”

Herrera's a quality second baseman with a live bat. As Huntington put it, “The Mets did well” to get him. But the Pirates also did well to have him.

• Respecting chemistry

Can't laugh this one off after Epic Collapses I and II.

And there is an impact, even when the trade is right.

Huntington, via Hurdle, communicated with team leaders to ensure there wouldn't be the same dissension over not doing enough or not being aware of the clubhouse environment. That doesn't mean they ran trade proposals past the players. They didn't. But it does mean there was an awareness of the impact.

When Neil Walker was asked Tuesday by a group of reporters if he was happy about the trade, he balked: “Happy? I can't say I'm happy because they'll be replacing two current players.”

Predictably, some on social media misinterpreted that as Walker being upset. Which is totally off base.

As he explained to me later, “You have to respect your teammates.”

That, too, is what winning teams do.

Now, about Justin Morneau …

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