What the Pirates Should (but Inevitably Won’t) Do This Trade Deadline


Neal Huntington | Photo credit: Matt Freed/Post-Gazette

Sam Bisno, Editor-in-Chief

It’s July 7. The Pirates have just eked out a 6-5 victory over the division-rival Brewers. They’re heading into the All-Star break optimistic, having won five of their last seven and 13 of their last 20. They’re one game below .500, putting them just 2.5 games back of the first-place Cubs. General Manager Neal Huntington is feeling good: “[We] have a chance at the postseason.”

Flash forward. It’s July 31 (today). The Pirates won last night! The Pirates won last night. The Pirates won last night.

It’s almost too good to believe. The Pirates won last night. For the first time in 11 days. And only the third since that Brewers game that now seems so, so long ago (why do they always do this after the break?).

They also managed to get four players ejected and, potentially, a few suspended, but that’s beside the point. They won!

But July 31 isn’t just significant because the Buccos can wake up today feeling like they might, perhaps be worthy of being called “professional baseball players” for the first time in a while—it was only the Reds, after all—but also because it’s the trade deadline. Not the non-waiver trade deadline, the trade deadline. No last-minute backup catchers or pre-postseason pickups of players long past their primes that are ostensibly still valuable because of their “veteran presence.” This year, the trade deadline is the trade deadline. Period. That’s it. The whole kit and caboodle.

So, what to do? Well, that win last night surely puts them within striking distance, right? What’s that? They’re dead last in the division and second-to-last in the league, only five games better than the Marlins? Oh. Well, this isn’t new for Pittsburgh. They haven’t really been competitive at the deadline for the past few years. And the front office definitely knows how to pack it in for the season rather than impulsively spending multiple promising prospects on a big-name, mediocre-talent player that’s pushing 30. All one needs to do is look to last year’s blockbuster, which sent Tyler Glasnow (who was the frontrunner for the Cy Young this season before he got hurt) and Austin Meadows (who was leading the AL in batting for a while and was an all-star—maybe his presence at the Midsummer Classic was what triggered the Bucs’ collapse thereafter, like some kind of cruel joke the universe decided to play?) to the Rays in exchange for Chris Archer, who is currently 3-8 with a 5.58 ERA.

Anyone who knows anything about baseball understands that, at the deadline, it’s important for a losing team to cash in existing talent for players who will likely be good down the road. That’s not really applicable to Pittsburgh (“talent” is not something Pirates are often associated with), but the nearest approximation likely comes in the forms of Starling Marte and Corey Dickerson (the latter of whom will be a free agent at the end of this year), both peaking, expensive outfielders who probably won’t have much to offer by the time Pirates are decent again, as well as Felipe Vazquez and Keone Kela, both of whom are young, top-end relievers. There are plenty of teams interested in each of those guys, and they’re all willing to drain the farm at least a little bit.

But Huntington isn’t one for conventional wisdom. He prefers to do things his own way. His big move thus far? Trade Jordan Lyles, an iffy but cost-effective starter, for Cody Ponce, a 25-year-old who’s never made it farther than Double-A. A trade involving Dickerson seems likely, but that’s about it.

I’m actually beginning to suspect that Huntington and the gang don’t understand what winning percentage is. Vazquez is the most egregious example. Why do you need an elite closer when there are no games to close because you’re always losing, Neal? Sure, supposedly he’s “open” to offers for him, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Inaction tends to be his specialty.

2013 is getting smaller and smaller in the rear-view mirror, but as long he can still feel it, everything’s fine, I guess. May Josh Bell save us.

Edit: Since this article was written, Corey Dickerson was traded to the Phillies, which isn’t all that surprising. It’s unclear what the return was, but it’s probably safe to assume it was negligible. Also, the Pirates lost again.