The first—and possibly the only—big deal of the Pirates’ deadline season is in the books, and reviews from the national media about GM Neal Huntington’s decision to swap outfielder Xavier Nady and left-handed reliever Damaso Marte for four prospects have been less than kind.
This reaction is to be expected, as the media rarely, if ever, favors the team that receives prospects over the team that receives experienced players.
But the Pirates did not get nearly as raw of a deal as most people are suggesting, for two very simple reasons: They did not give up as much as everyone thinks they did, and given their team needs, they got a lot more back than people seem to think.
Sure, the trade may cost them a game or two in the standings this year, but they will be clearly better off for having made it as early as 2009.
Below are three big reasons why Huntington was right to make this deal.
1. Nady and Marte will never, ever have more combined value than they do now.
Xavier Nady had a huge first half of the year and was one of several important factors that contributed to Pittsburgh’s strong offensive start. But while his batting average has remained high, his production across the board has dipped a bit.
Throw in that this is by far the best season of Nady’s career, and it seems clear that he will not be able to maintain this level of production in the years to come.
At best, Nady is the fourth-most important offensive player on the Pirates, behind Nate McLouth, Ryan Doumit, and Jason Bay. These three players are the kind who could be considered cornerstones.
Nady is not—he is a tier below. He's closer to players like Adam LaRoche and Freddy Sanchez (the current versions, not the first-half ones) than he is to that upper crust. The Pirate's offense certainly has enough pieces to continue scoring without him.
It’s also important to realize that, as a Scott Boras client coming off a career year, the odds of Nady being a long-term part of the Pirates’ future was very unlikely, especially since he was blocking top prospect Andrew McCutchen’s road to the big leagues. Expect to see McCutchen starting in center for the Pirates by April 2009.
Marte’s level of production has been much more consistent than Nady’s over the past five years. But he is still just a relief pitcher, ideally an eighth-inning guy. That is not a commodity the Pirates can afford to hold too dear, especially given the almost certain likelihood that Marte was not going to be a Pirate in 2009 anyway.
Given the Yankees’ strong desire for a left-handed reliever, and Marte’s success in his brief stint as a closer—a position he was going to eventually cede when Matt Capps returned from injury—and this was the perfect time to deal him.
In short, Nady and Marte both had a significant amount of value as the kind of players that can put a team over the top. These players have more value to contending teams than to young teams that are trying to contend, so the Pirates made the right move in capitalizing on that discrepancy in value.
2. No more John Van Benschoten.
I mention Van Benschoten’s name not due to his specific failings—which have been great, consistent, and numerous—but instead for what he represents: the Pirates’ utter inability to form a half-decent back of the rotation, due to their terrible pitching depth.
None of the trio of Ross Ohlendorf, Daniel McCutchen, and Jeff Karstens—the three pitchers the Bucs acquired from the Yankees—will ever be a No. 1 or No. 2 starter in the majors. But all three have the potential to contribute to a major-league pitching staff, which is exactly what the Pirates need.
Karstens, who will start for the Pirates this weekend, and McCutchen both project as No. 5 or No. 6 starters, which doesn’t sound impressive at all, but again, Pittsburgh had two guys in the rotation who probably should have been No. 8, No. 9, or no-number-at-all starters prior to making this deal.
Ohlendorf, meanwhile, has the potential to possibly become a decent starter, due to his power arm (something the Pirates sorely need). If that doesn’t work out, he could become the future set-up man for Capps.
The sad state of the Pirates’ farm system is such that they need to add as many arms that might become major-league caliber as possible. Getting three in one day isn’t too shabby.
3. Pittsburgh finally has a GM who understands the need for high-end prospects.
12 months ago, the Pirates had one healthy prospect that had the chance to become a substantially above-average major leaguer—center fielder Andrew McCutchen.
By Aug. 15, they might have five.
Joining McCutchen in the current farm system is Brad Lincoln, the No. 4 overall pick in 2006, who has made a successful recovery from elbow surgery and was recently promoted to high-A Lynchburg. He projects as a No. 2 starter in the big leagues.
In the 2008 draft, the Pirates selected two high-ceiling players in the first two rounds in third baseman Pedro Alvarez and starting pitcher Tanner Scheppers. Alvarez was a consensus top-five pick, while Scheppers fell due to health concerns and bonus demands.
It is very likely that the Pirates will sign Alvarez, and there is a decent chance Scheppers will agree to a deal as well.
Finally, there is Jose Tabata.
Tabata is a pretty well-known name, as far as prospects go, having played in the Yankees’ system for the past three years. Recently, his stock has taken a bit of a hit, due to a poor season in AA this year, as well as some questions about his discipline. Sounds like a bit of a bust, right?
Here’s the catch: Tabata is only 20-years old. It is extremely rare for a 20-year old to be playing in AA—most are either playing high-A or rookie ball, or are still in college.
Many of Tabata’s problems can be blamed on immaturity. Maybe he’s immature because he was thrust into stardom too quickly. Maybe he’s immature because he thinks he’s the next big thing. Maybe he’s immature because he doesn’t have the makeup to cut it in the big leagues.
Or maybe he’s immature because he’s only 20-years old.
I’m not saying this is necessarily the case—for all I know, Tabata will never make it to Pittsburgh. But I do know that he certainly could have plenty of baseball ahead of him, and has enough talent that he’s worth taking a chance on.
And that might be the most important part of this deal. For once, Pirate management is willing to take a few risks. Taking risks is the only way the Pirates—who when the year began had one of baseball’s worst major-league clubs and one of its worst farm systems—can really get better.
During the first half of the year, the Pirates took care of the former part of the first half of the above equation. By giving Nate McLouth and Ryan Doumit legitimate opportunities, Pittsburgh oversaw the emergence of several cornerstones that will lead this franchise for years to come. Suddenly, the on-field product doesn’t look so bad.
This trade, combined with their selections in June’s draft, puts the Pirates on a pretty significant path towards taking care of the latter part of the equation. Suddenly, the farm system doesn’t look so depleted.
Suddenly, a winning season and playoff contention don’t look so many years away.
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