PLC Myth-Smashers: “The Pirates are just a Triple-A team for the Yankees!”

New York Yankees Spring Training in Tampa
Xavier Nady at spring training last year - UPI Photo/Kevin Dietsch

Last week, I set out to disprove a common misconception about the Pirates. Many fans believe the team waits for a player to develop into a star, then immediately trades that player for prospects. It simply isn’t true. I started by going through FanGraphs and pulling out every player that produced a season above 3 WAR while in a Pirate uniform. Essentially, at least an above average season. After about 1,000 words of analysis, I paused, decided to scrap the whole article and moved on to the Five-Year Plan series. FanGraphs’ WAR data only goes back to 2002, and I felt that just was not enough information to come to any meaningful conclusion.

After reading Charlie’s article on locking up stars, I decided to revisit the idea.

Except with Ramirez–which was, again, a debacle–the Pirates’ problem has not been an unwillingness to pony up for free agency seasons, or to keep their core players around more generally. The problem has been the fact that most of their core players weren’t very good to begin with, and were even worse by the time they amassed six years of major league service, which is the point after which a player becomes eligible for free agency.

I switched to Rally’s WAR database, in order to go back to 1992. The list of players is below. Seasons spent with the Pirates are in bold. An asterisk indicates a season split between the Pirates and another team.

Position Players

Andrew McCutchen
2009 – 3.1 WAR

Ryan Doumit
2008 – 3.5 WAR

Nate McLouth
2008 – 4.6 WAR
Traded June 3, 2009 for Charlie Morton, Gorkys Hernandez and Jeff Locke

Xavier Nady
2008 – 3.1 WAR *
Traded July 25, 2008 with Damaso Marte for Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutchen and Jose Tabata

Jason Bay
2005 – 4.5 WAR
2006 – 4.1 WAR

2009 – 5.2 WAR
Traded July 31, 2008 for Andy LaRoche, Bryan Morris, Brandon Moss and Craig Hansen

Freddy Sanchez
2006 – 5.5 WAR
Traded July 29, 2009 for Tim Alderson

Jack Wilson
2004 – 4.4 WAR
Traded July 29, 2009 with Ian Snell for Ronny Cedeno, Jeff Clement, Brett Lorin, Nathan Adcock and Aaron Pribanic

Jason Kendall
1997 – 4.5 WAR
1998 – 5.7 WAR
1999 – 4.2 WAR
2000 – 4.7 WAR
2003 – 3.5 WAR
2004 – 4.9 WAR

2006 – 3.0 WAR
Traded November 27, 2004 for Mark Redman and Arthur Rhodes

Brian Giles
1998 – 3.8 WAR
1999 – 6.7 WAR
2000 – 6.4 WAR
2001 – 5.6 WAR
2002 – 5.3 WAR
2003 – 4.0 WAR *

2004 – 3.0 WAR
2005 – 4.3 WAR
2008 – 3.9 WAR
Traded August 26, 2003 for Jason Bay, Oliver Perez and Corey Stewart

Aramis Ramirez
2001 – 4.2 WAR
2004 – 4.6 WAR
2007 – 4.3 WAR
2008 – 4.5 WAR
Traded July 23, 2003 with Kenny Lofton for Bobby Hill, Jose Hernandez and Matt Bruback

Kevin Young
1997 – 3.0 WAR
1999 – 5.4 WAR

Released June 29, 2003

Orlando Merced
1993 – 3.2 WAR
1995 – 3.8 WAR

Traded November 14, 1996 with Carlos Garcia and Dan Plesac for Craig Wilson, Abraham Nunez, Jose Silva, Brandon Cromer, Jose Pett and Mike Halperin

Jeff King
1996 – 3.3 WAR
1997 – 3.5 WAR
Traded December 13, 1996 with Jay Bell for Joe Randa, Jeff Wallace, Jeff Granger and Jeff Martin

Jay Bell
1991 – 3.4 WAR
1992 – 3.9 WAR
1993 – 5.5 WAR
1994 – 3.3 WAR

1997 – 5.3 WAR
1998 – 3.6 WAR
1999 – 5.3 WAR
Traded December 13, 1996 with Jeff King for Joe Randa, Jeff Wallace, Jeff Granger and Jeff Martin

Pitchers

Paul Maholm
2008 – 3.7 WAR

Ian Snell
2007 – 3.5 WAR
Traded July 29, 2009 with Jack Wilson for Ronny Cedeno, Jeff Clement, Brett Lorin, Nathan Adcock and Aaron Pribanic

Zach Duke
2005 – 3.1 WAR

Oliver Perez
2004 – 5.1 WAR
Traded July 31, 2006 with Roberto Hernandez for Xavier Nady

Francisco Cordova
1997 – 4.1 WAR
1998 – 4.8 WAR
Released after 2001 season

Jason Schmidt
1998 – 3.2 WAR
2003 – 5.9 WAR
2004 – 5.4 WAR
2006 – 3.9 WAR
Traded July 30, 2001 with John Vander Wal for Armando Rios and Ryan Vogelsong

Denny Neagle
1995 – 4.5 WAR
1996 – 5.1 WAR *

1997 – 4.1 WAR
Traded August 28, 1996 for Jason Schmidt, Ron Wright and Corey Pointer

Right off the bat, it is clear how little impact talent has been with the team during the streak of losing. In 17 years, there have only been seven players with three or more above average major league seasons. Bay has been the only one since Kendall was traded in 2004. The majority of the players on this list had their most productive seasons while members of the Pirates.

Schmidt was thirty before he developed into an elite pitcher. Bell suddenly found a power stroke in his early thirties. Giles was a star in Pittsburgh and continued to perform in San Diego, but the Pirates adequately replaced his production with the less expensive Bay. It is difficult to place too much blame on the Pirates for making these moves. The Ramirez situation, on the other hand, was a mess in its entirety, and not just the salary-shedding trade in 2003. That fiasco began all the way back in 1997. I won’t rehash all of the details, other than to reiterate that the Pirates deserve tremendous amounts of blame for the Ramirez trade. But other than those couple of players, the Pirates simply have not had much talent on the team. It is interesting that the majority of traded players on this list were either traded in 1996 or 2008-2009. Outside of those two periods, the Pirates have rarely traded above average players.

The Pirates do not deserve to be called a “Triple-A team for the rest of the league.” They have not produced enough talent.

Menu