Yesterday, Jose Bautista hit three home runs, bringing his total to 16 on the season, and giving him an incredible 70 on the year.  As we know, the Pirates traded Bautista in August 2008, receiving Robinzon Diaz in return.  If we didn’t know that already, Dejan Kovacevic reminds us this morning.

I don’t really have a lot to say about the Bautista trade for a few reasons.  First, Charlie at Bucs Dugout and Pat at WHYGAVS have already done a good job covering the topic.  Second, I talked about Bautista yesterday in an interview with David Todd of Extra Innings (the interview will air this week).  That said, I do have a few things to add that weren’t mentioned by Charlie and Pat.  Most of this is a repeat of what I said in the upcoming interview, and if you follow me on Twitter, you might have already heard this.

First of all, here is a comparison between two players:

Player A: 27 years old, .241/.329/.403 in 1314 AB

Player B: 25 years old, .269/.328/.394 in 1496 AB

Who do you take?

It doesn’t take much to realize that Bautista is Player A.  After all, this post is about Bautista.  For that reason, it’s hard to remove the hindsight factor from this comparison.  The numbers cited were Bautista’s numbers with the Pirates.  Simply put, he wasn’t good.  An OPS of .732 is what you’d expect from a middle infield bench player.  The fact that Bautista was 27 suggests that this is what he was, and that improvements were unlikely.  Player B was in a similar situation as Bautista, although he was 25 years old, giving him a somewhat better chance of reviving his career.

Player B was Lastings Milledge.

The fact is, Bautista wasn’t good in his time with the Pirates.  That’s contrary to what Dejan writes today:

The Bautista that the Pirates had was fine.

His average was down in the .250 range over his three full seasons here, along with about 15 home runs and a .330 on-base percentage. He always had a propensity to strike out, but he also drew a lot of walks, which is why his OBP was always a healthy uptick over his average.

He also was good enough defensively at third and in the outfield — including center — that he could have been a super-utility type, if not a starter.

Bautista’s yearly average with the Pirates, in his three years as a starter, was .235 in 2006, .254 in 2007, and .242 in 2008, prior to the trade.  His on-base percentage was .335, .339, and .325.  At third base he had a UZR/150 of -33.1, -12.2 and -6.7 in those three years.  At best, he was a super utility player, but he was not a starter.

Dejan also mentions this:

But the old Bautista was worth far more than a third-string catcher who would get released a few months after the trade.

That’s the point.

Really?  That’s why we’re having this discussion?  Because they didn’t get a better return for a bench player?  Bautista was a bench player at best at the time.  Pat pointed out that all of the NL teams, and half of the AL teams passed over him.  He wasn’t even a guarantee to remain on the Toronto roster, prior to his breakout in September 2009.  What kind of trade value does a guy like that have, especially when he’s due for a raise over his $1.8 M deal through arbitration?

Furthermore, if the Pirates would have gotten equal value (a bench player with similar numbers to Bautista), are we to assume that we wouldn’t have this conversation now?  We’d still be having it, but the goal posts would be moved to asking why we only got a bench player.

The fact is that these things happen in baseball.  A player never lives up to his potential, then makes an adjustment and something clicks.  Sometimes that happens while the player is with his original team.  Sometimes that happens with a new team.  The Pirates haven’t had any success stories like Bautista, although those stories are rare.  However, it’s not like they haven’t found capable major league players that other teams have written off.  Garrett Jones was signed as a minor league free agent.  Evan Meek was acquired in the Rule 5 draft.  Chris Resop was claimed off of waivers.  If we include trades, the James McDonald trade is looking like a steal, considering they got him for two months of a relief pitcher.

There’s also the stories that get overlooked on this topic.  We want to blame the Pirates because they didn’t make the change with Bautista while he was here.  However, we don’t consider all of the changes that are made with players in the system.  Neil Walker looked like a future super utility player heading in to the 2010 season.  His AAA numbers were horrible heading in to the season.  However, Walker made an adjustment, it worked out, and he’s now arguably one of the best second basemen in the league.

The situation with Bautista is very unfortunate, but at the same time, it’s unavoidable.  Look at every team in the majors, and you’ll find a player that they gave up on that went on to become a star.  Off the top of my head, the Minnesota Twins got very little for David Ortiz.  The Baltimore Orioles once traded Curt Schilling for a little less than three years of Glenn Davis.  The New York Yankees are even involved, trading Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps.  Bautista’s situation is extreme, as you’re not going to find many players who go from a bench player to one of the best hitters in the league.  But that doesn’t mean the Pirates are any different than every other major league team that has gotten rid of a guy who went on to become a star.  It’s unavoidable.

With that said, Dejan also brought up something that I’ve talked about before:

Moreover, the Pirates were concerned about the money Bautista could make as a bench guy in arbitration that fall. I’m not guessing at that. I know that. In that context — and that context alone — the team decided it was not worth, say, $2 million or so, to pay for someone who could be a starter and, at worse, would be a superutility guy. That’s about what they’re paying Matt Diaz for a whole lot less right now.

Money played a role in this.

Money played a role in Bautista’s deal, although it was a smart financial decision.  A team like the Pirates, with a small payroll, shouldn’t be giving $2.4 M to bench players.  The decision to get rid of Bautista, rather than paying him $2.4 M to do a job that could be done by a guy making the league minimum was just being financially responsible.  The problem is that the Pirates weren’t financially responsible.  Instead of going with a young player, they added Ramon Vazquez and Eric Hinske the following year.  Vazquez signed for $4 M over two years.  Hinske signed for $1.5 M.

That’s been a trend with the Pirates every year, and one that I’ve never liked.  In 2008 they signed Chris Gomez for $1 M.  Last year it was Ryan Church for $1.5 M and Bobby Crosby for $1 M.  Diaz is a bit of a different situation this year, as they brought him in to be a platoon player rather than strictly a bench player, although they already had a few platoon options, such as Lastings Milledge and Steve Pearce, who could fill the same role as Diaz for a lot less.

If the Pirates are going to spend money on bench players, I’d rather they go with guys like Milledge, Andy LaRoche, or Bautista.  No, the players haven’t proven to be more than bench players, and probably aren’t worth the money.  However, bringing in guys who only have the upside of bench players, like Church or Crosby, for pretty much the same price, seems like a worse decision, by comparison.

As an example, take Diaz and Milledge.  Coming in to the year, Diaz had good platoon splits, but was 33, and had some concerns that he was on the downside of his career.  Milledge had the same platoon splits, but was 26 years old, meaning he was more likely to pull a “Bautista” and revive his career.  There’s no upside with Diaz.  There might have been some upside with Milledge.  This also isn’t hindsight, based on how Diaz has played.  I said this the day Diaz was signed:

Diaz is a strong bench player, and a platoon option against left handers that the Pirates can pair with Garrett Jones or John Bowker.  However, he’s not really an upgrade over what they had in Lastings Milledge.  In fact, I’d argue that it would be better to have Milledge.  Diaz turns 33 in March, and he’s not going to improve from his current status as a platoon player.  Milledge hasn’t lived up to his potential so far, but he turns 26 in April.

Diaz has been historically better against left handers, and Milledge has only started to have success in that area during the last two seasons, which is why Diaz has the better career numbers.  It’s likely that Diaz and Milledge will provide the same output in 2011, as both will be bench players and platoon options against left handers.  But if there’s one player who has a chance to break out of the bench/platoon role, and have a surprise season, I’d bank on Milledge.  As I said, Diaz isn’t getting better at the age of 33.  Milledge is still young enough that he could finally realize his top prospect status.  There’s also the concern that Diaz is on the decline in his career, as he’s coming off a year where he hit for a .250/.302/.438 line in 224 at-bats for the Braves.  No financial terms have been announced, but I can’t imagine Diaz will make less than what Milledge would have made in his first year of arbitration.  Personally I would have rather stuck with Milledge.

Going back to Bautista, I don’t think it was a bad decision at the time to let him go.  He was a bench player, due to make a raise over his $1.8 M salary.  However, if the Pirates were going to spend money on bench players (and they pretty much had to with the lack of depth at the upper levels), I would have rather seen Bautista getting two years and $4 M, instead of Ramon Vazquez.  Of course, nothing guarantees that Bautista would have broken out during the 2010 season with the Pirates.  In fact, he probably would have been released if he put up numbers similar to his .235/.349/.408 line in 2009 with Toronto, especially with Pedro Alvarez on the way in 2010.

As I said before, every team is going to have “the one that got away”.  In hindsight, this deal looks bad, but that’s not saying it was a bad decision at the time.  It’s hard to look back at the deal without using the benefit of hindsight.  If you look at what was known at the time, there were no indications that Bautista would have been anything more than what he was: a poor starter, or a decent bench player.  For that reason, any complaints about the trade are done with complete hindsight, and in this case, it’s hard to blame the Pirates for not seeing this outcome, especially when no one could have predicted the outcome.

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34 COMMENTS

  1. The only time I will ever criticize the Bautista trade, is when someone says how bad jason bay has been. If you are going to praise the pirates for trading him, slam them for the bautista trade. 

    it just shows how funny sports are

  2. The Bautista trade is going down as the worst trade in history next to Babe Ruth being sold to Yankees so Red Sox owner could put on the play No No Nanette…

    Face it the Pirates nothing back and he is the best hitter in the game.

    The Pirates rarely get anything back in there trades

  3. YOUR ALL STUPID, NOBODY COULD HAVE OR SHOULD HAVE SEEN THAT HE WOULD EVENTUALLY HIT 50 HR’S BASED ON A VERY LARGE SAMPLE SIZE.  NOBODY, NOT EVEN THE JAY’S SAW THAT ONE COMING SO STOP FREAKIN COMPLAINING ABOUT IT AND WORRY ABOUT WHO WE ARE PICKING IN 2 WEEKS.  

  4. A lot of credit needs to go the Toronto Blue Jays organization for what has happened to Bautista, and I almost think this case will set a precedent for a lot of hitters who are having trouble reaching their potential.

    It’s no coincidence that the Jays’ offence has declined since last season after Gaston retired.

    As a Blue Jays fan, I could name a half dozen players off the top of my head that have improved dramatically after being acquired for very little, or after Cito Gaston took over (remember, Gaston used to be a hitting coach).

    Aaron Hill — career high 17 HR to 36 HR under Gaston.

    Edwin Encarnacion — 13 HR in previous year, to 21 under Gaston, with a .20+ improvement in BA

    John Buck — 17 HR combined in two seasons before Toronto, 20 HR and his first All-Star game  in 2010 under Gaston

    Yunel Escobar — Overall, has been a more rounded player than he was when he was with Atlanta

    Adam Lind — 9 HR & .282 in 2008; 35 HR at .305 in 2009 under Gaston (granted he played twice as many games in 2009).

    Even some of the Jays’ bench players last year had really good years under Gaston. DeWayne Wise and Fred Lewis come to mind.

    Those aren’t coincidences. Even back in 1992 and 1993, many already-established players had huge years offensively under Gaston.

    Therefore, Pirate fans need to stop thinking about what “could have been”. If Bautista had stayed in Pittsburgh, he would have kept doing exactly what he was doing — being an average backup outfielder.

    And I believe that more and more players will be willing to make significant changes to their batting habits after seeing the kind of improvements that Bautista has made.

    • Really,,, hmmm why did AA over in Toronto let Cito retire if he was so great with all these hitters.  Also Aaron Hill and Adam Lind both hit career lows under Gaston in 2010..

      I also love the story how Cito called to the bullpen and asked to Rick Langford to get up a pitcher that was sent to triple A  3 days earlier.

  5. Did anyone bemoan the trade that saw Bautista leave Pittsburgh at the time the deal was made? I think not. At least I can’t come up with anyone who did off the top of my head. If anyone can find a blog/artical from that time frame that states Bautista would develop into 40+ HR hitting machine, I’d like to see it.

    Bautista was average in Pittsburgh. He was average for the better part of three seasons. This wasn’t a brief look and then a trade (like what the Dodgers and Reds did with Paul Konerko – there’s another for the Ortiz, Schilling list). This was a genuine shot at playing everyday in the majors. He was average. He was traded. He blossomed. It happens. The Pirates goofed, but hindsight in this case is way better than 20-20. At best I thought he turn into Ty Wigginton, one of the players the Pirates gave up to get Bautista to begin with

    I always was and always will be more disturbed by the Aramis Ramirez trade and by the release of Tim Wakefield.

    • One other point: if Ryan Vogelsong continues to pitch well and winds up winning 18 games and receiving Cy Young votes for SF, are we going to see a similar article bemoaning how the Pirates gave up on him? 

    • One other point: if Ryan Vogelsong continues to pitch well and winds up winning 18 games and receiving Cy Young votes for SF, are we going to see a similar article bemoaning how the Pirates gave up on him? 

  6. This article is a failed defense of Huntington’s move with Bautista and faulty analysis, at best.   Bautista had just passed 1000 career MLB ABs and was finally getting into a situation where he was playing consistently (after the Rule 5 debacle).  He never got an entire year in AAA, and his minor league development basically stopped with a fine year in AA slugging .503 SLG.  Yes, he was 24 and slightly old for AA.  One could argue that the Pirates would have been wise to cultivate what they had with Joey Bats.

    I would agree with DK that what they had on their hands was fine, much better than an unproven 3B-prospect with inflated stats out of the Dodgers farm system.   Our GM was in the delusional “acquire any prospect you can mode” and failed to recognize the development, talent, and long-term picture of Bautista.  Sure, we didn’t see 50 + HRs, but who trades the potential for 25 HR and extra-base power, with solid defense, and an ability to draw walks for a 3rd string catcher?  

    The 3-stat line comparison to Milledge is ridiculous.  Even worse, is the call for Milledge over Diaz.  What does Milledge bring to the team besides a lack of discipline, a colorful past, horrendous defense, and no leadership?  The 3-blog (Charlie, Pat, Tim) coordinated defense of the Bautista move not only undermines your credibility, but it makes you appear as a propaganda mouthpiece for the Huntington administration.  And that’s from someone who is more favorable to the current Pirates GM than most.

    • The effects of the Rule 5 draft are valid points, but the conclusion you draw from it seems to be that Bautista’s success was inevitable, and that the Rule 5 just delayed what we’re seeing now.  It was never a guarantee that Bautista was going to realize his potential, just as it’s not a guarantee that any prospect will realize his potential.

      The comparison to Milledge was done to show that Bautista put up the same numbers as Milledge.  You’re obviously down on Milledge, yet he put up the same numbers that Bautista had when he was here.

      As for defending anyone, how can you accuse me of defending Huntington when in the same article I criticize their approach with spending money on the bench?  The fact is that Bautista was not good here, and it was completely unpredictable that he would be good going forward.  And that’s not just “this good”.  That’s good at all.  Look back at any review at the time of the deal, and there was hardly any uproar, because Bautista was seen as a poor starter, or a bench player, at best.

      • I suppose my conclusion is that since Bautista had zero development in 2004, put up a great 2005 in AA, basically skipped AAA to move to a starting major league role in 2006 so severely impacted his development that 2.5 years of starting in the a majors, while showing power and general potential, was not enough evidence to give up on a potential 25 HR player and trade him for a 3rd string catcher.  

        Milledge’s development was also “not standard”, although he never showed the eye nor power than Bautista showed in the minors or majors.  Yes, I know Milledge had what one could call a promising age-23 season in Washington.

        I apologize for the propaganda mouthpiece comment – I do enjoy your mostly excellent blog and unique pieces, interviews, analysis, and commentary on the Pirates prospects.  It is just frustrating when the 3-blogs seem to set a concurrent narrative (in this case, of Bautista).  Any defense of giving up on a future,  and at the time underdeveloped, 50 + HR hitter just seems illogical.

        • I understand your stance.  What I’m saying is that some could look at that development time, and assume that the damage was done, and that Bautista had been ruined, based on the almost three years of numbers that we saw.

          As for the “defense” comments, I really don’t like black and white analysis.  It seems that every topic has to have a line, and you have to be on one side or the other.  The truth is that these types of analysis require a more “shades of gray” approach.  The Bautista move today was presented as a “the Pirates made a horrible mistake trading away a guy who was obviously talented”.  What Charlie, Pat, and myself (through no collaborative efforts) did was to point out that it’s not black and white.

          There’s things to blame Huntington for here.  As I mentioned, the fact that they got rid of Bautista, then brought in an aging Ramon Vazquez is one of them.  However, blaming him for missing out on what Bautista is now is a reach.  As I pointed out, there was no evidence at the time that Bautista would even be more than what he was at the time: a bench player/poor starter.  If you blame Huntington for that, you have to blame everyone else, as this was the consensus opinion at the time.

          • Yes, but in attempting to create shades of gray, in my opinion, the 3-blogs come off as setting a black and white narrative.   As in, “why are we still talking about Bautista, there was no reason to keep him, it’s very clear – not NH’s fault.”   From my perspective, looking at the shades of gray in Bautista’s story (organizational and development issues), I think the conclusion comes up that NH  committed a gaffe.

            • I agree with Nate’s point.  There was no reason to get rid of Bautista, his development was retarded by previous poor roster management, his replacement was no better, and our bench got worse because of the trade.

              I ask this question, if Neal Huntington isn’t responsible, who is?  I agree its not a fireable offense but it an indicator that the current regime can’t evaluate bi league talent and don’t have the skill to build a winning team.

              On a side note this three blog defense also appears strange to me. All three blogs “offended” by the criticism were granted prevous unprecedented access to the front office.  History will show that access can often be a tacit means of control.  Lets hope the price of access isn’t objectivity. 

  7. You know why we are still talking about this? Its because his replacement was much worse than him. If Andy had been even average, it would have been some what palatable .

    I do think it was the right thing to do at the time, and its a typical Pirates move that backfired as similiar things have worked out, ie see Pirates pitchers in the past. 

    • I doubt that.  Look at McLouth.  His replacement was great, and the argument was that they could have found another position.  If LaRoche had performed better, we’d just be hearing about how Bautista could have moved to another position.

      •  There will always be people second guessing a trade but LaRoche was flatout terrible for most of the time he was here. Between bobbling any ball hit towards him  consistently, to the O for a few weeks,  he is an easy target to show that somebody goofed in the talent evaluation process.

        I am not sure that money was or wasn’t a factor considering how much we are shelled out for bust(or soon to be bust) free agent pickups to replace him.

        I think it was just another in a long series of bumbles that this organization has made. Heck for all we know, he tanked his way out of Pittsburgh like other guys have.  It will be a story in and around Pittsburgh because national media can show how we gave up a potential “superstar” for a bucket of balls.

        • LaRoche was bad, especially in 2010.  However, his WAR in 2009 was 2.6.  Bautista’s best year when he was here was 1.2, in 2007.  As bad as Andy LaRoche turned out, he was an upgrade over what Bautista was doing with the team when he was here.

          As for the story, I just wonder how long people can talk about it before it becomes overkill.  I don’t follow the Minnesota media, so maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think they’re talking on a regular basis about losing David Ortiz for a bag of balls, or trading Johan Santana and getting nothing in return in the long run.  The Bautista story isn’t new.  Every time you bring it up, the story remains the same: they traded a guy who wasn’t performing, and he shockingly turned in to one of the better players in the game a few years later.  At what point does talking about it become overkill?

          • Considering how much I see this story on MLBtraderumors, it will be forever. They can’t not mention this trade while glowing over what a good deal Toronto made with Joey Bats extension.

            You have a team starved for talent and right now with a really lousy offense, yet somehow you gave this guy which is the type of player that your GM normally chases after. This story won’t die until the Pirates are contending for something other than the No 1 draft pick.

            I can’t see how Andy’s WAR was ever that much better than Bautista’s.

            As for the why other team’s don’t talk about their bust trades like we do, they aren’t on year 19 of the losing streak. Eventually they got better while we are still treading water. Stop treading water with good baseball and stories like this die except for All-Time Worst trade stories.

            • On the MLBTR reference: we’re always going to see the references, or at least initially.  But there’s a difference between a mention and running a full story on it.  The latter is what I was talking about.

              On the “type of player Huntington chases after”, that’s what I don’t get. I’d much rather have Bautista on the bench over Vazquez.  On the same note, it never made sense that they traded Gorzelanny when they needed pitching.

              As for LaRoche’s WAR, it was higher because he was actually good on defense, while Bautista was horrible.  At least LaRoche was good in 2009.  In 2010 he was horrible at everything.

              • I watched Bautista play many times, I don’t think his defense was horrible.  It was probably about as bad, sabermetrically, as McCutchen’s last year.  But I could be wrong.

                • His career UZR/150 at third is -9.6 over parts of seven seasons.  UZR is more of a long term stat.  Individual years don’t tell the story.  It’s kind of like batting average.  A guy could hit for a .300 average one year, but if he hits .250 the rest of his career, he’s not a .300 hitter.

                  With Cutch, his UZR/150 in 2010 was -12.9.  However, this year it’s 9.4.  I also believe that the odd positioning last year affected his UZR on a negative scale.

              • ” On the “type of player Huntington chases after”

                If Bautista had been on another team, I bet we would have acquired him. He fit the “maybe different scenery will fix him” profile that Neal loves to look for.

                You are right, he would have been better than Vazquez, Gomez, or any other roster fodder we signed to fill the same bench role. Granted he wouldn’t have been a 50 HR guy coming off the bench but at least he would have been better than the other options we “replaced” him with.
                I guess I should have remembered Andy was alright in 09 since Perry Hill was still around. I just remember the multi-error games for some reason.

  8. This is a complete contradiction for Dejan. He is always saying how the performance of players after they are traded from Pittsburgh does not matter but yet Bautista’s performance is the only reason he is writing this. If Bautista had stayed a super utility player would the article have been written?

  9. This is a complete contradiction for Dejan. He is always saying how the performance of players after they are traded from Pittsburgh does not matter but yet Bautista’s performance is the only reason he is writing this. If Bautista had stayed a super utility player would the article have been written?

  10. Not only is there no guarantee Bautista would have broken out with the Pirates as he did with the Blue Jays, it is unlikely. By the time the trade happened, the relationship was broken. Bautista wanted out and who cares what talent someone has, he wouldn’t have produced like that here.  

  11.  The Pirates didnt have the staff to revamp Bautista career change his stance and timing mechanism. Jays front office and management staff was miles better and still is somewhat miles better to this day. Bautista is super utility guy probably a dh down the road with a lot of power and a great stadium to hit most of his homer in the Rogers Centre. Also the AL pitchers cant adjust so Bautista will probably hit in the mid 40’s in homers.

  12. Why didn’t they give him a chance to be an everyday player, rather then a platoon guy.  Maybe then he could have developed the rhythm he has obviously found in Toronto.  The Pirates sure could use a .368 hitter with 16 bombs right now

      • The better question is why they didn’t give him a chance to develop (as a prospect fully), not just as an everyday player.  This player developmental error was then compounded by a player evaluation error.

        • I believe they gave him a chance.  He was an everyday player for almost three years.  They traded him at the age of 27, at which time he had over 1500 plate appearances, and a .733 OPS with the Pirates.

          That’s more than Andy LaRoche got.  It’s about how much time Lastings Milledge got.  There are no debates that the Pirates didn’t give them enough time.

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