Jonah Keri at Grantland did a study on the current active General Managers in the game, and how many trades each has made on average per year since 2002. Keri broke down the trades in two sections. One section looked at June and July, while the other section only focused on July. At the top of both lists was Pittsburgh Pirates’ General Manager Neal Huntington.
In the June/July section, Huntington averaged 7.3 trades per year, which was more than two trades greater than the second place GM, Alex Anthopolous of the Toronto Blue Jays, who averaged 5.0. In the July section, Huntington averaged 4.3, which was 0.3 ahead of second place Jerry DiPoto of the Los Angeles Angels.
Huntington leading both groups says nothing other than he’s been the most active general manager in baseball when it comes to such deals. That should be no surprise. He spent most of 2008 and 2009 blowing up the roster for a rebuild. In 2010 he was active, dealing his entire bullpen away, with the best deal landing James McDonald for Octavio Dotel. Last year was the first year the Pirates could have been considered contenders, and they dealt for Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick at the deadline, and Michael McKenry in June.
Two nights ago I asked whether a trade was necessary for the Pirates. Regardless of how you feel about that question, this research by Keri suggests that Neal Huntington probably will make a trade or two. Or possibly three or four.
Keir talks about the strategy by the Pirates last year, and wonders if they’ll take the same approach this year, or if they’ll dip in to their farm system and add an impact guy.
Barring a cataclysmic fall, Pittsburgh figures to be in better shape this year than last. The question is, how hard do the Pirates push? Do they pursue players like the upside of league-average production, as they did with Lee and Ludwick (and could with Alfonso Soriano and his ilk in 2012)? Or do they dip into their pitching-rich farm system and target a top-flight pitcher like Zack Greinke or Cole Hamels, or even a talented (if slumping) outfielder like Shane Victorino?
Last year the Pirates went more for low cost additions. They gave up cash for Michael McKenry. They gave up cash for Ryan Ludwick. They gave up Aaron Baker for Derrek Lee. That strategy carried over to the off-season. They dealt Jose Veras, who was a non-tender candidate, for Casey McGehee. They dealt Diego Moreno and Exicardo Cayones, two fringe prospects, for A.J. Burnett.
As I mentioned in my article above, I wouldn’t want to see one of the top guys in the system traded. Those types are too important to a small market team like the Pirates. I’m not sure if one of the top guys could be had without including a top prospect. When I looked at the trade values for Hamels, his value was $6.6 M in a July 31st trade. That’s the equivalent of a B-level pitching prospect, someone like Justin Wilson, Jeff Locke, or Rudy Owens. But that value is only based on the performance of Hamels. The seller’s market, plus the name value for Hamels will probably drive that value up.
It seems likely that Huntington will make a trade, based on the research by Keri. The bigger question is, will they continue their approach of low cost moves, or will they spend some prospects? I think some prefer to spend prospects, just because there’s a perception of effort by the team, and a theory that if a player doesn’t cost much, he won’t be productive. We’ve seen that theory proven wrong with some of the acquisitions in the past. Derrek Lee was outstanding when he was healthy. A.J. Burnett has been a steal this year. Even the Casey McGehee move is looking good, based on his numbers in the last month. Ideally you’d want to see the Pirates make a similar move, adding a guy who can be productive down the stretch, while not giving up anything you’d miss in the long-term. That’s the best of both worlds for a team like the Pirates. I’d rather see that than be on the other end of a James McDonald for Octavio Dotel deal.