Ricardo Rincon pitched in just 125 innings for the Pittsburgh Pirates in his career. Despite just two seasons in relief, Rincon arguably contributed more to the Pittsburgh Pirates over the last decade than any player.
Rincon was traded after the 1998 season for Brian Giles. Giles played four and a half seasons with the Pirates, hitting no worse than .298 in his time here, with 35-39 homers a season.
Giles was traded in 2003 for Jason Bay and Oliver Perez. Perez had an amazing 2004 season, but was inconsistent in his next two years, and ended up getting packaged in 2006 with Roberto Hernandez for Xavier Nady. Jason Bay easily replaced Giles, batting in the .285 range, and hitting for 30 home run power.
In 2008 the Pirates packaged Nady with Damaso Marte, and traded Jason Bay in another deal. In return for the two deals, the Pirates have Andy LaRoche, Brandon Moss, Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens, and Craig Hansen on the major league roster, with prospects Jose Tabata, Bryan Morris, and Daniel McCutchen in the minors.
If there’s any argument to be made in favor of trading for prospects, it’s the above string of events that started with trading Rincon for Giles. Even the Jason Bay trade, arguably the worst deal in that string of events, doesn’t look as bad when you consider the Pirates got LaRoche, Moss, Morris, and Hansen for a year and two months of Bay. Right now it doesn’t look like we got a single talent better than Bay, but I’d take six years of a guy like Andy LaRoche over a year and two months of Bay.
I see a lot of comments when it comes to rebuilding via trading for prospects. The first comment I see regularly is “yeah, we got Bay and Perez for Giles, but we still lost”. This is true, but what’s the reason behind the losing?
The Pirates got Jason Bay and Oliver Perez for Brian Giles, who went on the decline after being traded. They got Jack Wilson for Jason Christiansen. They got Freddy Sanchez for Jeff Suppan and Scott Sauerbeck. It’s impossible to argue that these moves hurt the Pirates. There are two reasons the Pirates lost, despite making these types of trades (well, there are a lot of reasons, but these are the big two).
1. The Pirates didn’t add players from other means. Sure, they brought in guys like Bay, Sanchez, Wilson, and Perez through trades, but who else was added to the team in the early part of the decade? The draft didn’t really produce anyone to complement these players. The Pirates never stumbled on to a bargain free agent that they retained for several years (they did get some bargains, like Reggie Sanders, but only for one season). These moves were good, but without help from the draft or free agency, the moves were useless.
3. The moves were too spread out. Wilson was added in 2001. Bay was added in 2003 and made an immediate impact in the majors. Freddy Sanchez was also added in 2003, but didn’t really make an impact until 2005. Xavier Nady made an impact in 2007, with only two years of control left for Nady and Bay following the season. The 2007 season was the first year that Bay, Nady, Freddy, and Jack were all on the same team together for a full season, despite the fact that they acquired Wilson in 2001, and Bay/Sanchez in 2003.
The major difference between past “rebuilding” efforts, and the current rebuilding effort comes down to the above topics. The Pirates have added some great talent in their recent trades. Jose Tabata, Tim Alderson, Gorkys Hernandez, Jeff Clement, Bryan Morris, and Jeff Locke all have the talent to be effective major leaguers. However, that’s not the only area where the Pirates have added talent.
They’ve added through the draft, with Pedro Alvarez and Tony Sanchez in the last two years, as well as Robbie Grossman, Quinton Miller, Chase d’Arnaud, and hopefully a lot of high school arms this year. They’ve added through the Rule 5 draft, with Evan Meek last year, and Donald Veal this year. They’ve added through minor acquisitions, adding guys like Delwyn Young and Steven Jackson from the waiver wire, and Garrett Jones through free agency.
The most important thing is the time table. Every player on the 40-man roster is under team control through the 2010 season. Only Ramon Vazquez and Tyler Yates are eligible for free agency after the 2010 season, and neither player is essential to the long term success of the Pirates. Zach Duke and Matt Capps are eligible for free agency after the 2011 season, but Brad Lincoln and Tim Alderson should be in the rotation by that point, and Capps can be replaced with a guy like Meek, Hanrahan, or Chavez.
The Pirates should see Alvarez, Tabata, Lincoln, Alderson, Gorkys Hernandez, Tony Sanchez, Daniel McCutchen, Chase d’Arnaud, and Jeff Clement make the major league roster between now and June 2011. An opening day roster estimate for 2011 could easily be:
C – Tony Sanchez
1B – Jeff Clement
2B – Andy LaRoche
SS – Chase d’Arnaud
3B – Pedro Alvarez
LF – Lastings Milledge
CF – Andrew McCutchen
RF – Jose Tabata
SP – Paul Maholm
SP – Zach Duke
SP – Tim Alderson
SP – Brad Lincoln
SP – Charlie Morton
Pretty much every player on this list would be under team control through the 2014 season, giving the Pirates three years to improve with this group. The exceptions are Duke (FA after 2011), Maholm (option year in 2012, FA after 2012), and Andy LaRoche/Lastings Milledge (both FA after 2013).
That brings me to the next frequent comment I see: “Who cares if the trades work out? If Lastings Milledge (or insert any other prospect) does reach his potential he’ll just be traded when he’s close to free agency”.
Most of the time this comment seems like an excuse for people to complain about the deals that leave nothing to complain about. An example would be the Nady trade. Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte have done close to nothing for the Yankees this season. Jose Tabata looks great, and will be part of our future for several years. The only complaint, for those who are compelled to complain about the trades, is the possibility that Tabata could be traded when he’s close to free agency.
I have two things to say to that thought process.
1. Think about the replacements. Let’s say in 2011 the Pirates have Milledge, McCutchen, and Tabata performing well in the majors, with Robbie Grossman and Gorkys Hernandez tearing up AAA. Would it be that bad to trade Milledge, who is only under control through the 2013 season, and bring up a guy like Gorkys or Grossman to replace him, thus keeping a productive outfield together through the 2015 season at the least?
2. We’ve never been a contender.
A lot of speculation is made on what the Pirates will do when they’ve got a team that can contend. Will the Pirates re-sign a guy like Freddy Sanchez when they have no replacements available, or will they trade him and leave a hole at second? If Andrew McCutchen lives up to star status, will the Pirates keep him beyond his arbitration years? These questions have yet to be answered, simply because we haven’t seen a team come close to contending, so we’ve yet to see this situation.
The Pirates have completely blown up the major league roster from the start of the 2008 season. Basically, through a long series of moves, the Pirates have made the following massive swap:
Departing from the 2008 Roster via trade: Adam LaRoche, Freddy Sanchez, Jack Wilson, Jose Bautista, Jason Bay, Nate McLouth, Xavier Nady, Nyjer Morgan, Ronny Paulino, Ian Snell, Tom Gorzelanny, Sean Burnett, John Grabow, and Damaso Marte (14 players total).
Coming Back in Return: Argenis Diaz, Hunter Strickland, Tim Alderson, Jeff Clement, Ronny Cedeno, Nathan Adcock, Brett Lorin, Aaron Pribanic, Robinzon Diaz, Andy LaRoche, Brandon Moss, Bryan Morris, Craig Hansen, Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke, Gorkys Hernandez, Jose Tabata, Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutchen, Lastings Milledge, Joel Hanrahan, Jason Jaramillo, Kevin Hart, Jose Ascanio, and Josh Harrison (26 players total).
Not all of those players will make the majors. Some are already in the majors (Morton, Ohlendorf, Jaramillo), several have a strong chance of making it (Alderson, Tabata, Clement), and any of the guys in the lower levels would be an added bonus (Strickland, Lorin, Pribanic, Harrison).
I don’t know if the Pirates will be successful in their rebuilding process. I do know that they’re going about things the right way. They’re spending a ton to bring in top talents in the draft. They’re speeding up the process by trading major league players with a few years of control, for a ton of minor league players with six years of control. We’ve all heard the “1927 Yankees quote”. That’s 100% on the money.
The 2007 team went 68-94. That same team returned in 2008 to go 48-56 before the first big trade. This year the Pirates were 24-28 before the first trade, but they were also six games out of first place, and fifth place in the Central division. It’s not like the Pirates were contending at any point the past two seasons.
The Pirates aren’t done restocking the farm system, as that’s a continuous process. However, they do have a few people close to the major league level, like Alderson, Lincoln, Daniel McCutchen, Tabata, Alvarez, and Gorkys Hernandez for example. They also have talent in the lower levels as backup plans or potential replacements, like Robbie Grossman, Starling Marte, Chase d’Arnaud, Tony Sanchez, and Rudy Owens.
Trading major league players for prospects can be a winning strategy. It just needs to be combined with good drafting, good planning, and other means of acquiring talent. This time around the Pirates are drafting better, making low key acquisitions, building depth in the minors, and planning the process out to keep the bulk of the team together for several years. From here on out, the only place for the Pirates to go is up, and since they will have the same team over the next few years, with the occasional top prospect added, it seems very likely that they’re finally going to be on their way back to winning over the next few years.