Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Barter System Is Alive and Well, Thank You

As I get settled into a thrice-weekly blogging pattern, I figured I should weigh in with my impressions on the Thursday afternoon (4 p.m.) Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline, and specifically how it affects Our Buccos.

I touched upon the Nady+Marte to Yankees deal in the previous post, and upon reading/hearing some more perspectives on it over the last 48 hours, I’m convinced it was the proper move to make, even if a top-class pitching talent didn’t come over to the Pirates’ galleon. After all, for all the talk on how effective and exciting the Pittsburgh offense has been (and I’m one of its proponents, if you search this blog), it hasn’t been enough to push the club over the .500 mark.

This is not an indictment of the hitters, rather it’s a statement in favor of evening the talent balance, both on the big club as well as the minor-league system. Run prevention must take precedence over run production as this point in the franchise’s history, and this trade is a solid, if unspectacular first step.

Also, on a purely emotional level, this deal barely registered a jump in my heart rate for one reason: I never got attached to Xavier or Damaso. Of course they are talented players, but they came around at the wrong time in the team’s development. Considering their ages (in their primes or just beyond them) especially, it is obvious that Nady and Marte are better fits on teams who already have multiple championship-caliber pieces in place. While the Bucs have a few potential cornerstones on the current 40-man roster – Ryan Doumit, Nate McLouth, Jason Bay, Paul Maholm, Andrew McCutcheon, Pedro Alvarez, assuming he signs – they are simply not yet in a position to compete for at least a division title, so they had to get whatever assets they could in exchange for the two newest Yankees.

Moving on, here are some current Buccos that would merit trade consideration if I were in GM Neal Huntington’s shoes this week:

1. SS Jack Wilson – Jumpin’ Jack Flash was rumored to be headed for Detroit last year at this time for current major league pitcher Jair Jurrjens. Instead, then-Pirates GM Dave Littlefield flinched in the final moments and watched as the Atlanta Braves flipped SS Edgar Renteria to the Tigers for Jurrjens, who has impressed this season with his electrifying stuff. Considering the current condition of the Pirates’ pitching staff, the non-deal looks like the final crescendo of Littlefield’s misguided reign.

At the same time, Wilson has been a valuable member of the Pirates for the past several years. He plays efficient-to-outstanding defense at a premium position for glovework, can be counted on to contribute a .260-to-.280 average with good awareness in bunting/sacrifice situations, is a vocal hardworking leader and does a great deal of charity work in the Tri-State area. In short, Jack is just about everything one can ask for in a shortstop. When he went on the disabled list for an extended time to begin this season, the infield defense was a travesty, giving most Pirates fans a new appreciation for the Flash.

In my mind, the only way I trade Jack is if I can get a premier talent, preferably on the mound, in return. The Dodgers have leaked to the Los Angeles media that they are interested, and if Huntington can get a young asset or two from either the Dodgers or another desperate contender (like last year’s Tigers), he would be foolhardy to pass on that exchange.

2. OF Jason Bay – I know what you’re thinking. “He’s finally getting back to his All-Star form! His knees are truly healthy! He looks as good as ever!” I know you’re thinking these thoughts because I’ve had them too whenever I hear rumors about Bay being shopped.

Well, being in his late-20s, Jason SHOULD be enjoying his best play ever right now. And, like his former-outfieldmate Nady, Bay is at his highest trade value at this present moment, and since he is not a pending free agent, he looks even more delectable for teams currently in need of an instant offensive supplement. (Hello, Tampa and Arizona!)

Even though Bay is not technically a Pirates product (he came over with Oliver Perez in the deal that sent Brian Giles to San Diego in 2003), trading the 2004 NL Rookie of the Year would likely create a tremendous public relations backlash, as Bay is the player that usually comes to mind first when bringing up the Pirates. But if Huntington and team president Frank Coonelly are truly sold on the idea of selling high and buying low, they would have to seriously weigh any offers for Bay in the upcoming hectic hours. If the Rays come calling and dangle last year’s No. 1 overall pick David Price, perhaps baseball’s best pitching prospect, for a package including Bay, I think Huntington would have to pull the trigger.

3. LHP John Grabow – As we saw in the Marte trade, effective relievers, especially the lefthanded variety, are perhaps as valued a commodity as any for a team trying to add that mythical “last piece of the puzzle” prior to October. Grabow is probably a level below that of Marte or the Rockies’ Brian Fuentes, but he is still largely dependable and is definitely not untouchable.

The effect on the Pirates pitching staff if Grabow is dealt would be essentially negligible. Waiver-pickup Denny Bautista looks to be embracing the increased workload of recent weeks, and while manager John Russell wouldn’t have an immediate replacement for Grabow in certain late-game situations, it’s not like the Bucs are competing for anything beyond respectability in the season’s final two months. This is a time to find out who might be able to be a contributor on the next winning Pirates team, not charge single-mindedly toward the ever-elusive 82-win milestone.

If the club manages to end The Streak while evaluating talent, that’s just fine, but it can’t be the ultimate goal. Judging by the regular talking points delivered by Huntington and Coonelly, achieving a winning season in 2008 is properly taking a back seat toward constructing a championship club. That’s why Grabow, or anybody of value to the other 29 teams, should be on the trade market as I write this.

New podcast tomorrow. Until then, hit ‘em straight folks.

1 comment:

Brian said...

Latest rumor I read was a three way with Boston, Florida and Pittsburgh.

Pirates wouldn't get Manny, they would get Jeremy Hermida from the Marlins (.256, 15 homers) and about three or four prospects from both teams combined.

Not thrilled about it. The Bucs would have to get great pitching prospects. Also, I wouldn't mind to see McCutchen get a call up for the outfield if Bay is dealt.