First Pitch: Pirates Need to Stay The Course

The Rays will trade David Price this off-season, and the Pirates should have nothing to do with him.
The Rays will trade David Price this off-season, and the Pirates should have nothing to do with him.

David Price will be a big name on the trade market this off-season. He’s one of the best pitchers in the game, and has two years remaining. If you want the comfort of two years of an established major league pitcher, you can’t do much worse than him. The Pirates certainly could use a top pitcher like Price. But it will cost you. It will cost a lot in prospects, like starting with Gregory Polanco. Although you can trade prospects away and just replace them with big name free agents, right? Like Shin-Soo Choo on a huge deal. After all, the Pirates are contenders now.

Have we learned nothing from recent history?

A year ago, the Tampa Bay Rays traded James Shields to the Kansas City Royals. In return they got a huge haul in prospects, including AL Rookie of the Year candidate Wil Myers. The Rays will have Myers for six more years, and the Royals will have Shields for one more year. The Rays made the playoffs without Shields. The Royals missed the playoffs with Shields.

The Texas Rangers traded for Matt Garza mid-season. They dealt a top 50 hitting prospect and three Grade B pitchers for two months of Garza. That move was supposed to ensure that they made the playoffs. Instead, they missed the playoffs entirely, losing a tiebreaker to the Rays.

The Blue Jays traded for R.A. Dickey last off-season, sending top prospects Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard to the Mets. Toronto finished last in the AL East, and Syndergaard will be a top 50 prospect, while d’Arnaud is still held in high esteem and barely has prospect eligibility.

Toronto also traded for Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, and Jose Reyes earlier last off-season, sending away Henderson Alvarez, Adeiny Hechavarria, Jake Marisnick, and others to the Marlins. Neither team did anything, but the Marlins spent a lot less, and they have a future with the guys mentioned above.

I’m not saying that these types of trades never work. But these types of trades usually lead to the same result. People hype them up because they come with the comfort of a guaranteed upgrade. The Toronto Blue Jays were supposed to win the AL East this year because they added a ton of names who made a lot of money. Nevermind that those names and salaries lost with Miami and New York. The Kansas City Royals traded a chance for success over more than half a decade for a chance at success over the next two seasons. The Rangers traded away future pieces for a boost of two months.

And now we’re about to head into an off-season where the Pittsburgh Pirates have a loaded farm system, and people will be looking to trade those prospects away as quickly as possible to get a “guaranteed upgrade”.

I say this all the time, and it’s fitting again: what would the Rays do?

We know the answer. This off-season they’re probably going to trade David Price. They’re going to do that, just like they traded James Shields last year. Just like they traded Matt Garza the year before. Yet this is a team that has won 90+ games in five of the last six seasons.

So maybe the question is: how did the Rays do this? How do they keep winning at such an amazing pace, even though they trade away top pitchers each year? How is it that those pitchers are going to make other teams a winner, but the Rays are the only team that keep winning? OK, that’s three questions.

The simple answer? The Rays stayed the course.

In 2008 they broke out and turned into a contender. That same season they had a loaded farm system, and had the chance to trade for Jason Bay or Xavier Nady. The Rays in 2008 were like the Pirates this year — if there was a player they really wanted, then they had the prospects to get that player. And here is who they ended up getting that year: Gabe Gross.

Yes, Gabe Gross was their only in-season addition. They added him in February. They didn’t trade for Jason Bay or Xavier Nady. They watched Bay go to Boston and Nady go to the Yankees. Then the Rays went on to win 97 games and the AL East over Boston and New York.

That process continued. The Rays relied on their farm system. They also made the occasional shrewd trade or free agent signing. And they didn’t lock up their players well into free agency. Sure, Evan Longoria is the exception, but most players are shipped out for more prospects to keep the cycle going.

Matt Garza gets traded. He gets replaced by Jeremy Hellickson the following season, and Hellickson puts up a 2.95 ERA in 29 starts.

James Shields gets traded. He gets replaced by Chris Archer, who had a 3.22 ERA in 23 starts. Archer came over for Garza.

And when David Price gets traded, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets replaced by Jake Odorizzi. Who was acquired for Shields.

See the process?

In 2008-2009, the Rays were just starting to compete. They had a talented farm system, which was pretty much meaningless in terms of MLB wins. A talented farm system either translates to future wins, or immediate wins if you trade players away. Usually there are more future wins than there are present wins in those trades. So if you can afford to hold onto your prospects and win without trading them away, you’re going to benefit in the long run.

That’s a tough sell though. Every trade of prospects for established players is met with instant analysis that the team trading for the established players made a great move. Go back to the Blue Jays. I was shocked that they got so much praise for picking up all of the players who lost the previous year in Miami. Why did anyone expect this to be different? No one was looking at it that way. They were only looking at names and salaries. It would have been way too easy for the Rays to sell out in 2008-09 in the same manner. They could have traded away Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, or anyone else who is contributing today. They would have received praise. We now know that nothing would have changed, since they still won 90+ games almost every year following the 2008 season.

Basically, they would have been trading away their future to add unnecessary comfort in the short-term.

The Pirates are now in the early stages of the same process. They broke out in 2013 and made the playoffs. They have roughly the same team going into 2014. They have a loaded farm system, with more players on the way. It’s not going to be comfortable, but the best thing to do would be to stay the course. Don’t trade those prospects. Don’t go for David Price, or Giancarlo Stanton, or whoever else would cost a ton in prospects and bring the false notion that they are the key to winning. Don’t even sign aging players like Shin-Soo Choo. Have you seen the success rates for free agents over 30?

Stay the course. Bring up Jameson Taillon and Gregory Polanco next year. Bring up Alen Hanson and maybe Tyler Glasnow in 2015. After that you’ve got Austin Meadows, Josh Bell, Reese McGuire, Luis Heredia, and others in future years beyond the 2015 season. Not to mention anyone you might get back in trades by following the same process the Rays followed when they dealt Garza and Shields.

In the beginning this course won’t sound as appealing as trading for a big name, or signing a guy who is starting the downward trend of his career. But in the long run, this course will lead to a team that is successful year after year. It will lead to a team that doesn’t know the term “window” when talking about an ability to be competitive. It will lead to other teams and other team blogs asking “what would the Pirates do?”

Hopefully the Pirates won’t trade for David Price. That would involve being on the opposite side of what the Rays are doing. The Rays are the most successful small market team in baseball. Any time you’re on the opposite side of what they’re doing, you’re on the wrong side. Stay the course.

Links and Notes

**Last year was my first year doing First Pitch each night. One thing I learned over the off-season was that it was impossible to do a First Pitch each night. For one, First Pitch has always been my opinion on subjects. Or it’s me writing about something on the site, or an experience I had. Basically, it’s my spot during the season to do whatever I want and talk about whatever I want. The problem with the off-season is that almost every article I write is in the same tone as First Pitch. The off-season preview today was like writing a First Pitch article. If I didn’t see so many “David Price” and “Elvis Andrus” comments, I wouldn’t have had anything for tonight. Then there’s the other factor: the Prospect Guide. That’s a three month process, and I lost a few weeks covering the playoffs. It’s hard writing that and coming up with new articles each night, especially when some nights there’s nothing to talk about at all.

My goal on this site is to have at least one article per day. That was a goal I set in 2009, and there have been maybe 5-10 days since then where the site had zero content on a given day over the off-season. But last year I found it was better to cut back on the First Pitch articles over the off-season. I’ll be doing the same this year. I hope to have 3-4 articles per week, but that will all depend on the subjects I have to write about. I’ll probably start back up full time around mid-November, when the Rule 5 rosters are set and the off-season starts kicking off.

As for now, I’ll be skipping First Pitch this weekend, as I’ll be making my way back home for the first time in over two weeks. I’ve still got a few articles planned for the weekend, including another free agent themed article tomorrow. Plus, we’ve got the nightly AFL recaps, and winter league coverage starting up. So this concludes your content update.

**Pirates Off-Season Preview: Burnett, First Base, and the Walker Problem

**Gerrit Cole Was the Number Three Prospect in the International League

**AFL Recap: Tough Day at Plate For Hanson, Benedict Strong in Relief

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St. Louis has 17 out of 25 on their playoff roster that came up through their system and we should not be going out on a big spending spree. The only difference I see is the Cardinals play the guys they bring up while Hurdle and whoever leaves guys to rot on the bench like he did with Lambo. While Hurdle loves veterans, doesn’t he understand how your minor league players become veterans. We need to stay the course and not over spend when we have so much talent in the system.

Steve Zielinski

Stay the course? Yes indeed. Trade Liriano? Maybe. Make Burnett a Qualifying offer? Yep.

Fans often want to trade youngsters for veterans. But the age-performance curve favors younger players. The price-performance curve (no pun intended) also favors younger players. The best bet for the low-revenue franchises is to go with its younger players if those players are in fact quality prospects or young major leaguers. This is what the Rays have done since they ceased to be the punch line to a bad joke. The Pirates ought to emulate this successful franchise, as I expect them to.

I wonder if the Giants want to reverse their Liriano mistake?

Tim, a request: Please reenable the editing tools which first appeared on this site when the new version went into operation. They would provide an inexpensive addition of value to the users of the site.


I, personally, trust in NH. I’d love to see the team hold onto Byrd. And someone yesterday mentioned taking a flyer on Josh Johnson. Great suggestion; I could see him having a comeback season like Liriano’s. Next year will be fun ! Go Bucs ! raise it !


Stay. The. Course.

Dean Manifest

The current arbitration model (six-years of control) is such a huge factor here. Take Neil Walker. We’re going to enjoy essentially his entire prime without having to make a commitment that extends beyond a single season. We’ll have our first difficult decision to make when he’s 31 years old.
The key of course is keeping the pipeline stocked. Recognizing that draft-and-develop trumps trade-and-pay is the easy part. It’s just discipline after that. Far trickier is making sure Alex Cobb and Chris Archer turn out more like Price and Moore than Bullington and JVB. Fortunately the Pirates look like they’re getting this draft-and-develop thing down.
I wonder why we don’t see more prospect-for-prospect deals. Remember Matt Garza for Delmon Young? You would think that like-minded clubs might arrange deals like that more often. The Pirates simply does not have an impact first baseman in the high minors, but surely another well-run club does. It’d be nice to convert some of our pitching depth into a respectable bat to fill that hole without spending eight figures.


I agree 100% with staying the course. The problem is that guys like us who constantly pay attention to the farm system, understand and even defend management and the plan are the minority. Look at Tampa, they have a great system and plan but they struggle yearly in attendance and a lot of that has to do with name recognition amongst casual fans. It probably has to do with professional sports struggling in Florida in general too but I digress. I grew up in the Burgh but have lived south of Philly since the mid-90’s. I go to Phillies games and most of my friends are Phillies fans. The Phillies sell out every game every year and a huge part of that has to do with name recognition. Most fans were upset at the prospect of them trading any of their name players which is a big part of why Amaro didn’t trade anyone and overpaid to re-sign Chase Utley. The Pirates are just starting to be relevant again and a vast majority of the fans going to those games are casual fans who get attached to certain players. I have a few friends in Pittsburgh I continually argue with because they feel management and ownership don’t deserve a winning team and don’t understand that that Nutting, NH, and FC took over in 2007 and gutted this team and rebuilt it. Unfortunately, that’s a lot of casual fans mentality and while I agree that NH should stick to the plan, attendance may suffer in the long run because of it. Even if they win 90+ each year the next 5 years, if they trade Cutch for a king’s ransom in his walk year, people will be pissed off and not go to games because of it. Nomatter what the Pirates do, Pittsburgh fans will continue to compare them to the Penguins and Steelers. I hear fans say, “I wish Mario would buy the Pirates”. I think that’s stupid, but it’s a popular mentality. I hope my point makes sense. I feel like this article was almost directly in response to my “Dream Scenario” post yesterday.


I do believe people get hooked on certain players, but they get over it if the team wins, I think winning trumps everything.
My approach and I think it is the Pirates approach is to continue to build and continue to win, no matter what they have to do to accomplish that goal, they traded away some fan favorites in Bay and McClouth and the fans went nuts, but they got over it and they are going to trade away some again, because they simply will not have the money to keep them. They can trade anyone on this team, if it is the right move, I would go for it.


leadoff: Morton better than Garza??? I sure wish the rest of baseball thought that same thing, but they do not.

Bay was aging and expensive, and the Pirates did not want to afford to build around him. McLouth was never the big prospect coming through the system, just a decent sidekick to an all world talent in CF who turned out to have a 10 cent head. McLouth had one outstanding season and the Pirates traded him at the highest point of his career for Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke, and a CF who was touted to be a 5 tool guy but turned out to be AAAA at best – we traded him to the Marlins for Gaby Sanchez.

The Pirate fans were never upset about the loss of talent; they were upset that the management traded promising talent rather than try to build a winner. And they were mad that the Pirates always found a way to avoid drafting a player that might cost big money to sign – Wieters is a good example. When this management team made Pedro Alvarez the first pick it signaled that the Pirates were going to be players in the draft from that point forward. They followed up with guys like Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole while playing the system for all it was worth by signing talented HS pitchers for overslot bonus monies, and built a beautiful academy in the Dominican to start signing more international prospects. They have made wise decisions on talent and their developmental system is second to none. Life is good!


Leadoff you are correct, there is no evidence that star players have an impact on attendance/revenue for a team. The only expectation I have read is star players in the NBA have a small but significant impact on road attendance. Wins equals attendance/revenue, generally.

I think individuals in general are prone to seek short term gains and neglect long term costs. I also think beat writers that follow teams are subject to this bias to a degree. (The coverage of Pedro Alvarez draft/signing lead me on a long search for better content/analysis which lead me to this site.) Fans love to make comparisons to the other sports leagues, but the time frames in baseball are the longest, the playoff system is relatively restrictive , and revenue/labor structure means success is a lot more elusive.

I am of the opinion that the proverbial “window” is self created by the decisions teams make, (this is a working thesis I really do not have much evidence.) The playoffs are almost a lottery, thus maximize your draws, value the process. If this front office morphs into Dayton Moore I will be severely disappointed.


I wouldn’t be averse to a trade of Morton for prospects, including a high level first basemen. If two months of Garza could net the Cubs those four players one has to wonder what Morton could fetch. He is not Garza, but we are talking about a full season. And then I would hope for AJ to accept a qualifying offer, along with the pursuit of someone like Josh Johnson or Tim Hudson to short term deals


I think Morton is better than Garza at this point in time, but I would trade anyone for the right price.


You could make a case the Pirates are following the Cardinal model, drafting hard throwing pitchers and not trading top prospects. Huntington has never parted with any of his top prospects in a trade yet, but he might this year and he should if he gets a piece that is young and a top prospect from another team that fills a big need, like first base for years to come. IMO, the Pirates have two choices to add to the major league club, spend money or trade prospects and IMO they would rather spend money.


The one caveat on the Cardinals success that few mention is the shear brilliance of the Cardinals’ front office in getting Arte Moreno and his employees to offer 10 yrs/$240M to Pujols.

Lino Donoso

Completely agree, Tim. Plus, apropos of your Off Season Preview, I don’t see a lot of change in the offing, other than filling some holes, if possible, via free agency rather than trades. Huntington et al have been pretty good at this.

Personally, I don’t see Buck, GFJ or Farnsworth coming back. James McDonald has already elected free agency, I believe. I wouldn’t want Morneau back unless he was willing to accept a radical cut in pay. The production just doesn’t seem to be there. And I wouldn’t be willing to bet $30-$40 million on someone who’s never faced major league pitching. How many Yasiel Puigs can there be? (Yes, I know there have been other more or less successful Cuban players).

I don’t think we’re going to get much production out of Wandy or Karstens, at least not initially. Same for Irwin and McPherson. Pimentel, Morris, Cumpton and K. Johnson are on the bubble, as are McKenry, T. Snider and Pie.

By all means, bring back AJ for one more year, at a reasonable price. Same for Byrd and Barmes. I think you’ve correctly identified the holes that we would like to see filled, but not at a price that cripples us financially or costs more than a couple of expendable prospects.


I think Byrd, while a free agen tover 30, is the perfect Placeholder for Polanco. He can play all OF positions, balances Pedro’s LH power, provides good defense and while I may be naive, won’t be expensive to the point of derailing the plan.


the market is pretty much the same as before everyone is overvaluing veterans and stocking up on the good run of draft prospects from the past few years. pirates should stay where they are…plus i can bet more teams will be calling the pirates about their prospects instead of the pirates making the calls. there is not much of a nate mcclouth/sell high deal right now that i see

Bruce Humbert

I am not sure where the David Price movement is coming from. The Pirates look like they will have a very sound major league rotation, with a lot of depth waiting in AAA. If anything I would be tempted to trade a bit of that depth to try and upgrade at 1st base or RF while waiting on Polanco. I think the big question for this off season will be what to do about Neal Walker. He showed signs of life in September that made me hopeful – but October was awful. I would hope that he – the Bucs – can get him on track in Spring Training – and make him a full time left handed hitter.


I’m with you here. The only thing I’d be ok with seeing prospects go for is a first basemen. And really I’d only like to see prospects dealt from our 8-20 range so that limits the return a little.

Stephen Stull

Completely agree Tim. Any chance we could get Abreu though? It wouldn’t take prospects to get him just a lot of money, right?


Correct. Along with money it would take him wanting to play here more than other teams that offer similar deals.


I think the rays are a great front office. I also wonder if the rays would spend some money on extending their homegrown talent or strategic free agents would they win a world series.

For instance the rays would never sign Abreu.


Been here for the better part of two years and it is always an enjoyable read with a group of regulars who keep it positive. I agree 100% with the “Stay the Course” direction and it is good that we do support that because I do not think that Coonelly and NH know any other way, and the Pirate Nation has grown with that management style.

If we stay the course like a Tampa Bay does, we have to maximize our returns by trading veterans at the height of their success and popularity for young prospects. What would that mean in this off-season? Do we have that one guy who could bring a few Top 50 prospects? We certainly do, but time is definitely on our side.


MJ, I was thinking the exact same thing. With all due respect to Tim, he starts the article by talking about the Rays trading an established, big name player every year, and says the Bucs should do the same thing by standing pat. I’m definitely in the “don’t over trade for a big name” camp and by default figured they’d go big and get Abreu or go small and get a lesser free agent for a couple of years.

But should they consider trading a big name for some top prospects? I’d say the only option is Liriano (I’d include Pdero as well if they had anything in the way of a replacement for him, even just an average one, but I don’t think they do).

Tim, any thoughts?


Bet that article got legs as the season and the playoffs unfolded, and Liriano became the Ace of the staff. I am all for waiting – the playoffs and WS always bring additional information about Free Agents and early signings.

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