"Reeling" and Dealing: The Story of the 2008 Pittsburgh Pirates

Erik HoekeCorrespondent IJuly 31, 2008

Yet again, the Pittsburgh Pirates were sellers at the trading deadline. But this time, they may finally have a general manager that knows how to make a deal.

Last week, the Pirates gave up Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte for four Yankee prospects. They might have been able to get more than what they got in return, but they were able to move a Scott Boras client and soon-to-be-free-agent bullpen arm, both of which would never have stayed to help the Pirates create a winner anyway. 

Whether it was a good deal remains to be seen.

The deadline day three-way with the Red Sox and Dodgers, however, sets the Pirates up for a very bright future. Yes, it's been said before that they have prospects that will one day make a contender, but this is also the first time in two decades that the Pirates have a GM with a backbone.

Let's unpack this trade, starting with how it brewed.

The Pirates, knowing their 2008 season has long been in the crapper, wanted to shop Jason Bay around, in hopes of restocking the bare cupboard they call their farm system. Sure, it immediately dashes any hopes for 2009 as well, but why not explore options.

The first serious rumors involved the Tampa Bay Rays, who apparently were inflexible with regards to the Pirates' demands. So, Huntington pulled a brilliant move, creating leverage by contacting the Red Sox GM Theo Epstein. He hoped to play division rivals fighting for first against each other in a bidding war for Bay—the best return of prospects would win the coveted left fielder.

Soon, the Pirates, Red Sox, and Marlins were seriously planning a three-way trade.

But Huntington got frustrated with the Rays at about the same time the
Red Sox became fed up with the fussy Marlins.

Epstein contacted Huntington and said, "Do you still want to do this if we find another third team?" Huntington was in, and the Dodgers entered the picture.

So the trade became, on the Pirates' end, losing J-Bay and receiving four prospects in return. The Red Sox gave them Brandon Moss and Craig Hansen.

Moss is a highly regarded OF/1B prospect that was crowded out in Boston's deep OF.  The Pirates will give him a chance to play every day, and he might turn out to be another Xavier Nady—a solid corner guy that gets the job done, albeit not at superstar levels.

Hansen, a former standout college closer, has "wicked stuff", as they like to say in Beantown. He's been dominant his entire life, until he reached the majors. There's been no discussion by the Pirates on this yet, but with closer Matt Capps out for at least another month, they may give Hansen the closer job as a one-month trial.

If it pans out, this could be a great move for the Pirates.

The Pirates also received two prospects from the Dodgers. One is Andy LaRoche, the younger brother of Pirates 1B Adam LaRoche. He's been a top prospect for the last few years, and many baseball experts say all he needs is a team with the confidence to give him a real shot at starting. 

Ironically, if he succeeds, the Pirates may have to move first-round pick Pedro Alvarez to first base when he's ready in a couple years, leaving Andy's older brother Adam jobless.

The other Dodgers prospect is Bryan Morris, an unknown 2006 first-round pick who sat out all of 2007 after Tommy John surgery. Apparently he's recovered well and is having a fine season in low-A ball. Surely a former first-round pick with arm problems will fit right in with the Pirates' minor-league system.

Their minor-league affiliates are littered with once-promising pitchers that can no longer bend their elbows or lift their arms above their heads.

It seems like another bad trade for the Pirates, and in the short term, it will make them much, much worse. But looking at it for the long term, in these two big trades, they're giving up about 3.5 years of contracts in Bay, Nady, and Marte, and in return get a possible five to six years of major-league service from eight different prospects before they become free agents. That's 3.5 years for 32 years, if only half the prospects pan out.

Only time will tell, but this may be the trade that finally turns around the sorriest of franchises in professional sports.