The Pittsburgh Pirates' season has taken a turn for the worse, and it is tempting to point to the trade deadline at the moment where things started going downhill.
The Bucs are 13-26 since July 31 and currently sit only two games over .500 on the season.
There are two traditional reactions to the situation that the Pirates are currently in, where a team's hopes crumble after the trade deadline (crazily enough, the Pirates' hopes are still very much alive; they sit two-and-a-half games out in the wild-card race, thanks to similarly poor play from the Cardinals and Dodgers).
The first is to say that the team should have done more.
Many Pirate writers, including the well-respected Dejan Kovacevic, have pushed this argument. The need for one missing piece and the effect on the clubhouse of not making a huge splash are the primary justifications for this view.
The contrasting view states that if a team collapses in August and September, they were not good enough to contend anyway. No one player would have made a big enough difference, so the team was better off saving their prospects.
As is usually the case, the truth regarding the 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates likely lies somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.
It does seem like the Pirates could have used a little extra beef at the trade deadline, and comments from Pittsburgh players following the deadline certainly implied that they were disappointed by the outcome. Nevertheless, the Pirates' recent problems have not been driven by missing one impact player but, instead, by an overall lack of depth.
What is interesting about the Pirates' "quiet" deadline acquisitions is that they have all actually worked out pretty well. Travis Snider, Gaby Sanchez and Wandy Rodriguez all have their warts, but they have been above-average baseball players since arriving in Pittsburgh.
Each player has outperformed more highly-regarded acquisitions and will be a contributing member of the Pirate organization beyond the 2012 season.
The Bucs' biggest failing at the trade deadline is not that they acquired these three players instead of more well-known names, but rather that they did not make additional smart trades. If Neal Huntington had been able to apply the formula that brought Snider, Sanchez and Rodriguez to Pittsburgh to additional trade opportunities, the Pirates would be in a better position right now.
This approach can be easier said than done, but it seems there were potential transactions out there for the Pirates.
Given the team's weakness at shortstop, the Bucs could have met the low prices for players like Stephen Drew and Marco Scutaro. Buying Hanley Ramirez from the Marlins would have been a riskier acquisition, but the prospect cost would not have been particularly high.
Fourth outfielder types could have been had at little cost as well, providing the Pirates with depth other than the failed Jose Tabata and Alex Presley experiments. While the Bucs did not expect to get hit as hard by injuries they have, cheap insurance tends to be a smart investment.
Finally, the Pirates should have been much more aggressive in promoting players from Indianapolis.
Players like Brock Holt and Chris Leroux have contributed, but they should have been in Pittsburgh at the first sign of a problem. It is one thing to wait to promote a potential future star like Starling Marte; it is entirely another to keep a role player in Triple-A when he is ready to contribute at the major league level.
The Pirates were not ready to go all-in at this year's trade deadline, and Neal Huntington showed that there are ways to improve a major league team without mortgaging its future.
The error Huntington made is not pursing enough of these low-risk, high-reward moves.
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