The trade deadline in baseball has come and gone and the Pirates have made some moves. While many expected the Pirates to be quite active on July 31, the team was quiet for most of the day and only ended up making two official moves. The Pirates started by dealing away longtime closer and set-up man Tony Watson and ended with the acquisition of veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit. With these two moves having been made, here is some analysis on the deals that the Bucs were able to swing and some thoughts on the deadline day as a whole.
Starting off with the Tony Watson trade, the team was able to net two minor league prospects from the Los Angeles Dodgers. This was a victory in itself, as many experts didn’t expect the Pirates to get much for the struggling lefty that will be a rental arm for the Dodgers. And while the prospects are nothing to jump for joy over, the Pirates did get some interesting guys, especially Oneil Cruz. Cruz was ranked as the Dodgers 23rd best prospect heading into the season but has impressed. Only 18 years old, Cruz is a massive 6’6 but only weighs in at 175 lbs. While he plays shortstop right now, Cruz is destined to be a third baseman due to his size, a position lacking depth in the Pirates organization. That size also brings raw power potential on the left side of the plate that Cruz will discover as he fills out his frame. Cruz now slots in as the Pirates 16th best prospect with potential to climb up the list as he ages. His potential seems to be that of what Gregory Polanco is now. Polanco, as we all know, has unlimited potential to be a superstar. The other part of the deal sends the Pirates pitcher Angel German. German isn’t a marquee prospect.
The other part of the deal sends the Pirates pitcher Angel German. German isn’t a marquee prospect by any means, as he is already 21 years old and hasn’t moved up from low-A. His time at that level started off rocky but he has found his groove as of late coming out of the bullpen, giving him an ERA below 2.00 and a K/9 rate of over 10. Still, German likely will not make it to the majors in any significant role. Overall, this trade is a win for the Pirates. Cruz has the potential to be a regular player if everything comes together for him at a position that the Pirates had little depth. He also could hit the majors at a young age, as he is still 18 and playing in low-A. Adding German is just icing on the cake for a pitcher that the Pirates would have let walk in just a few months.
Moving on to the other deal the Pirates were able to make, the team added veteran relief pitcher Joaquin Benoit to the bullpen. Benoit, 40, has been a steady reliever his entire career and the numbers are there again this season. Benoit has an ERA of 4.07 and is averaging a strikeout per inning. The one problem that Benoit has run into is a low groundball rate, inflating his home run numbers so that will be something to watch. Benoit is also a rental and looks to simply stabilize the Pirates bullpen, taking Watson’s spot. To acquire him, the Pirates only had to send 23-year old closer Seth McGarry to the Phillies. McGarry is simply organizational depth, similar to Angel German. The only difference is that McGarry plays at high-A instead of low-A. Giving him up for a relief pitcher that can be just as effective as Watson would have been for the rest of the year isn’t a bad move and won’t make any significant difference for the current team or the future.
Those were the only two moves that the Pirates made this year and while there is nothing wrong about the trades at all, they’re actually both wins for the Pirates, the team’s deadline strategy has me scratching my head. It seems like Neal Huntington couldn’t decide if he wanted to buy or sell at this deadline and it caught him by surprise. We can never know what a GM actually came close to doing inside the front office but the moves themselves are just odd. If you are willing to trade Tony Watson for a fair return, why not also move Juan Nicasio for a similar package? Or try to move out someone like John Jaso or David Freese? And if you’re willing to sell Watson, why add a rental 40-year old reliever? Why not just see what the young guys have to offer for the rest of the season so they are better prepared for 2018? Or if you are going to add someone, why not add someone who will help the club next year as well? Or, if you were legitimately trying to improve the club with minor additions, why stop with a relief pitcher? Why not go out and add a bench bat so we don’t have to watch Max Moroff and Jordan Luplow struggle?
These questions and unknown direction have to be placed at the feet of Neal Huntington. Early in the year, he said the team would be able to add to the club thanks to the salary they saved from Jung-Ho Kang and Starling Marte but that money never showed up. Huntington has also promised that the team is building to compete in the future. In the Huntington era, the future has always been the talk of the front office. When will that future finally become the present though? The Pirates have had so many opportunities to go for a title without blowing up their future but Huntington has been too timid and reluctant to capitalize on those opportunities. And with Andrew McCutchen only in Pittsburgh for one more year, barring an extension, of course, 2018 may be the last crack open on their window for a World Series Title with the McCutchen nucleus. And I’m not sure I want Neal Huntington leading the team for that last hurrah.
Just because the Pirates are a small market team, that doesn’t mean that they can’t make a big splash to help their team in the present. The Royals and Indians have shown that it can be done. And I believe that Neal Huntington is just too timid to make those necessary moves. Huntington was the perfect GM to rebuild a poor Pirates team but he has shown he isn’t the GM the team needs to create success. He has proven that he isn’t capable of doing what needs to be done when the Pirates are contenders and that is why I would suggest that the team does not renew Huntington’s contract and let new blood lead the team’s last year with Cutch and then take the club in a new direction that isn’t based solely on building for the future that may never come. But this is a topic for a whole other article.
As far as this trade deadline is concerned, none of the moves the Pirates made were bad but the inactivity seems to have a larger impact. All we can do now is wait and see if the Pirates will make any other moves before the waiver trade deadline at the end of August.