Neal Huntington Is Doing Well: Put the Torches Down, Pirates Fans

Nate RoseCorrespondent IJuly 7, 2009

Buy low, sell high.

It's a maxim that serves Wall Street investors well and, standing the test of time, it has proven true in baseball as well.

When Mark Shapiro of the Indians traded Bartolo Colon and got Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips, and Lee Stevens, he was bashed mightily by Indians fans.

How could they give up on Bartolo Colon? He was coming off of two consecutive 200-strikeout years! And all they got were prospects?! They got hosed!

Or at least that's what the fanbase thought.

How do you think that trade looks to Cleveland now?

It took patience, but do you think that the Indians would give Cliff Lee and Grady Sizemore back to have Bartolo Colon today?

Similarly, Neal Huntington is busy trading veteran talent for packages of prospects in Pittsburgh.

Like Mark Shapiro, the fans are ready to burn him in effigy.

How could this team give up on the players it's traded? How could they trade Jason Bay, Nate McLouth, Nyjer Morgan, Xavier Nady, Sean Burnett, and Eric Hinske? Do they even field a Major League team anymore?

The answer is simple: None of those players helped usher in even a winning season, much less a playoff berth.

At the time of the trades, Bay had been with the Pirates for five years. Nady for two. Morgan for two. McLouth for four. None had seen a winning season.

The youngest player traded was McLouth at 27 years old. The average Major Leaguer peaks between the ages of 26 and 28.

That means that even with these players in or past their prime, the Pirates were not a contending team. When taking this into consideration, the logical conclusion is to try again with a different core of players.

So that's exactly what Huntington did.

Last year, he moved Nady and Damaso Marte to the Yankees in exchange for Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens, Jose Tabata, and Daniel McCutchen.

Only one of those players has an extraordinarily high ceiling.

The sky is the limit for Tabata, and so far he's played very well since the trade. When he's Major League ready, he'll easily be better than Nady.

The other players, however, added depth that will be with this team for years.

Ohlendorf has been a solid back-end starter in our rotation and figures to stay there for a while. I'm certainly more satisfied with him than I was with the tandem of Yoslan Herrara and John Van Benschoten, who had respective ERAs of 10.48 and 9.82. Compared to those two, Ohlendorf is a Cy Young candidate.

Karstens is currently a long reliever after being bumped from the rotation for Charlie Morton. He has performed well in his new role and is available as an adequate emergency starter.

McCutchen certainly looked better at the time of the trade than he does now. He can strike out a ton of batters, but he gives up too many gopher balls to make it worthwhile to start him. He may be the only complete bust of this trade.

Bay was also moved that year in a three-team deal that sent Bay to Boston, Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers, and four prospects to the Pirates—Andy LaRoche, Bryan Morris, Craig Hansen, and Brandon Moss.

This trade has been the hardest to digest for Pirates fans. While Bay is tearing it up in Boston, for Pittsburgh the only good starter out of the deal is LaRoche, and he's a league-average third baseman.

Moss has been hot lately but has been very streaky since coming over and is overall pretty bad with the stick.

Hansen had a bad 2008. He started to turn it around but ended up landing on the DL for what will likely be the rest of the year early this season.

Morris has the most promise out of any of the players received, but he's still in the minor leagues after recovering from Tommy John surgery. He's currently pitching about as well as you would expect your average Tommy John recovery patient to pitch.

This trade may still pan out, however.

If Hansen can come back and show the form he did pre-injury this year, that will be a plus.

If LaRoche's strong gap power develops into home run power (the numbers predict 20 to 25 home runs in his near future), it would move him from being an average third baseman to an above-average one.

If Morris recovers from his surgery, he's expected to be a solid mid-rotation starter.

Moss would be a solid fourth outfielder even if he never develops into a good starter. Developing into a good Major League regular would look good for the Pirates, but it's not something that's necessary. They knew he would likely be a fourth OF when they added him to the deal.

This season, McLouth was moved for Gorkys Hernandez, Jeff Locke, and Charlie Morton. Once again, there was much ballyhooing, mostly due to the fact that all of the players were in the minors at the time of the deal.

Since then, Morton has joined Pittsburgh's rotation.

The coaching staff is being cautious with him due to a hamstring injury, so he's been limited to a pitch count and is probably holding back his best stuff so he doesn't risk injuring his hamstring further.

Nonetheless, the results so far have been encouraging. Stuff-wise, Morton is the best pitcher in the rotation as of today, and his numbers are solid so far.

In 17 innings with the Pirates, Morton has struck out 11, walked six, given up one homer, and has a 2.65 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. He's 25 years old, and Pittsburgh controls his contract for the next four years.

There's a lot to be excited about when it comes to Morton, and he's only one player the Pirates got in return.

Locke is a high-upside pitcher currently in the low levels of the minor leagues. He's a few years away from the big leagues.

Hernandez is a fantastically toolsy outfielder. Most scouts say he's currently the best defensive outfielder in the minor leagues, and after a slow start since coming over in the McLouth trade, he has picked it up with the bat.

Morgan and Sean Burnett were traded this season in an outfield and reliever swap with the Nationals. In return, the Pirates netted Joel Hanrahan and Lastings Milledge.

Both players are Major League-ready, and we'll know sooner than any of the other trades whether this one will have worked out.

My strong gut feeling—which is backed up by the numbers and the analysts alike—say that this was a steal for the Pirates.

All of these trades were buy low, sell high moves by the front office. This is in stark contrast to the trades made by previous GM Dave Littlefield, who frequently bought high and sold low.

The long-winded point of this article when summarized is this: Analyzing these trades in terms of Major League performance will take time. The most promising players the Pirates got in these trades are currently in the minor leagues.

"Patience" is a word that Pirates fans don't want to hear, and I don't blame them. It's been 16 years since the Pirates had a winning season, and No. 17 is looming. As the trading deadline nears, we'll probably see more of our favorite players traded away. Nobody wants to hear about patience anymore.

However, it's a reality we have to face. Due to the mess the old front office left, the team that Huntington inherited was devoid of talent at any level. In just two years on the job, Huntington has transformed Pittsburgh's minor league system into a top-10 system. That's the way a team stays competitive.

Even if we have to wait for results, I'll happily trade more losing if it means something more than a simple 82-80 record down the road.


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