The word conviction repeatedly was referenced by the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday when talking about pitching, and especially when talking about trading pitchers.
Tyler Glasnow lacked it. Chris Archer possessed it and Neal Huntington used it to make a trade-deadline deal that was celebrated last July and now is being widely criticized.
“The day of the trade, we thought we were getting a top-of-the-rotation starter to pair with Jameson (Taillon) for three-plus years,” Huntington said Sunday, when asked about sending Glasnow, outfielder Austin Meadows and pitching prospect Shane Baz to Tampa Bay for Archer.
“We felt like we were getting a competitor and a good man that was going to add to the community, that was going to add to the clubhouse and was going to add to our win total. We still are thrilled that we have Chris Archer.”
The Rays are more thrilled to have Glasnow, who won American League Pitcher of the Month honors last week after starting the season with a major league-best 6-0 record, an AL-best 1.47 ERA with an 0.860 WHIP.
I don’t know what’s worse, that the 25-year-old right-hander finally is living up to his enormous potential elsewhere or that Archer struggled last August, started 1-2 with a 4.31 ERA this season and is on the injured list with right thumb inflammation.
Maybe it’s that the Pirates included Meadows, a former first-round pick who was batting .351 with six home runs and 19 RBIs through the first 20 games before spraining his thumb. Maybe it’s that Meadows was doing damage while the Pirates were fielding a patchwork outfield while dealing with injuries to starters Gregory Polanco, Corey Dickerson and Starling Marte.
All are sources of frustration for the Pirates and their fans — even though Huntington made the kind of prospects-for-veteran trade the club was often ridiculed for refusing to attempt, even as they shed pre-arbitration contracts for an $8.25 million salary.
Huntington noted the “dozen-plus pitchers that we’ve acquired from organizations have either bounced back or have had career bests here.” That could have been in his own defense of trades for All-Star closers Mark Melancon and Felipe Vazquez or an acquittal of Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage, who helped resurrect the careers of starting pitchers A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Edinson Volquez and J.A. Happ.
It’s too soon to judge the trade, though the early returns clearly favor the Rays. It certainly hasn’t worked out as Huntington had hoped, though he was at a loss to explain Glasnow’s overnight transformation from struggling fifth starter to dominant ace.
“We knew we were giving up three really talented prospects for Chris Archer,” Huntington said. “We felt Chris Archer was going to help push this club ahead earlier. We knew that those guys had ceilings, and we knew there was a chance they would reach them. Give Tampa Bay credit. Give these young men credit. They’ve reached their ceilings quicker than we certainly anticipated.”
The difference is Glasnow is pitching with confidence and conviction, both of which were missing when he was 3-11 with a 5.79 ERA and 1.705 WHIP in 17 starts over three seasons with the Pirates. They tried to get Glasnow going, from inserting him into the starting rotation to sending him to Triple-A Indianapolis in 2017 to moving him to the bullpen last season.
Where some suggest Glasnow simply needed a change of scenery, he told the Tampa Bay Times the difference is he has finally learned to pitch with confidence.
“I’d say every big-leaguer needs to realize that at some point,” Glasnow said. “Just the feeling of knowing you belong and the feeling of just believing in your stuff.”
Glasnow’s talent was unmistakable. Problem is, the Pirates believed in his stuff more than they believed Glasnow would figure out how to become a top-of-the-rotation starter.
Nobody would have loved that more than Taillon, who said on the day of the trade he wouldn’t be surprised if Glasnow found a way to flourish with the Rays.
Now, the Pirates are counting on the Archer they traded for. His addition has paid dividends in the community and the clubhouse, where Archer brought a veteran voice, leadership and professionalism to a young pitching staff.
But the Pirates paid a steep price for that.
“We were elated when we got Arch,” Taillon said. “We pushed our chips in.”
At the moment, the trade is lopsided in the Rays’ favor.
With Taillon likely out for most of the next two months, the Pirates need Archer to be their ace. And it wouldn’t hurt their cause if Glasnow came crashing back down to earth.