It’s difficult watching the MLB playoffs as a Pirates fan, or as someone who runs a website dedicated to Pirates prospects.
Three of the four ALDS game winning pitchers so far have been former Pirates prospects. Gerrit Cole was their first round pick in 2011. Tyler Glasnow was taken in the fifth round that year. Blake Taylor, who got the win in relief for the Astros on Monday, was taken in the second round of the 2013 draft. Austin Meadows, who homered for the Rays last night in his first start since his oblique injury, was taken in the first round that year.
The Pirates got Joe Musgrove, Colin Moran, Michael Feliz, and Jason Martin for Cole. They traded Glasnow, Meadows, and Shane Baz for Chris Archer. Taylor barely spent time in the organization, being traded for Ike Davis in 2014.
The odd thing about this is that Neal Huntington didn’t have a horrible track history with trades. This is the General Manager who acquired Francisco Cervelli, A.J. Burnett, Charlie Morton, Joel Hanrahan, Mark Melancon, and more.
Unfortunately, those types of returns didn’t happen in 2018 when he traded Cole and Andrew McCutchen, then later traded for Chris Archer.
Joe Musgrove might end up a solid middle of the rotation starter, but it’s been three seasons since the Cole trade, and that’s not the return you want to see for the best pitcher in baseball.
Bryan Reynolds might end up an average starting outfielder, which isn’t horrible for the final year of Andrew McCutchen on the decline.
Meadows, Glasnow, and Baz will haunt the Pirates for decades, while Chris Archer was added to a team trying for the second Wild Card spot, and ultimately did nothing in his time in Pittsburgh.
We could complain all decade about these trades, but what’s the lesson learned?
The common theme here is that Huntington’s trades didn’t have an overall goal.
The Pirates were on a decline from the end of the 2015 season, with a brief spike above .500 in 2018. They didn’t have a common direction in 2018, trading away their two best players that year, followed by trading three of their best prospects/young players a few months later.
Perhaps the best period the Pirates had under Huntington was in 2012-2013. They acquired A.J. Burnett in a salary dump deal prior to 2012. They added to Burnett by signing Russell Martin and Francisco Liriano, then trading Joel Hanrahan for Mark Melancon. Other trade acquisitions from the 2012-13 period included Travis Snider, Wandy Rodriguez, Gaby Sanchez, and Jeanmar Gomez. At the deadline in 2013, they added Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau.
You can draw some similarities between the 2012 season and the 2018 season. The Pirates, by their record and contending status in July, weren’t far from being a contender.
The key difference is that Huntington refused to trade Starling Marte prior to his debut in 2012. He refused to trade Gerrit Cole prior to 2013. Those guys played huge roles in the 2013 season, and the next two playoff seasons to come.
The Pirates always have been and always will be a team that has to get their impact players from within. There was no better reminder of that than the Chris Archer trade. And Gerrit Cole’s transition to one of the best pitchers in the game after he was traded from Pittsburgh demonstrates the importance of developing that talent.
The lesson learned here is the reaffirmation of the value of prospects, and the importance of development.
If Ben Cherington is going to have a winning team in Pittsburgh, it’s going to come from the value of the prospects coming through the system, along with value additions like Burnett, Melancon, and even smaller deals like J.A. Happ and Ivan Nova, where the Pirates add to their present without sacrificing the future.
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