Two weeks ago, it looked as if the Pittsburgh Pirates were just going to stand pat at the trade deadline.
They were rumored to be after Hunter Pence, Carlos Beltran and Ubaldo Jimenez, but they would not part with the top tier prospects necessary to move these stars to PNC.
The other options rumored were on the Twins, however Minnesota is still under the belief they can and will contend in the AL Central. Out of nowhere, Neal Huntington lands two old NL Central veterans in Derrek Lee (formerly of the Cubs) and Ryan Ludwig (formerly of the Cardinals).
Overall, how did Neal do with the Pirates’ unique situation?
I love these moves.
First and foremost, Lee and Ludwig are both proven veterans, have pop in their bats, have been to the postseason and succeeded, and are essentially everything Lyle Overbay has proven not to be.
Lee will immediately take over at first base and as seen in his debut, will enjoy the friendlier dimensions of PNC. Ludwig is escaping the hitter’s nightmare of Petco and also fills in the outfield, allowing for players like Xavier Paul and Alex Presley to mature in both AAA and the majors before stepping up as starters next year.
These two players will come in leading the team in RBIs and homeruns, so the anemic offense was addressed all for a Single A .285 hitter and cash/player to be named.
While these two players do add to a struggling offense, the recent Pirates struggles can be traced back to what was the strength at the beginning: pitching.
While the Pirates added veteran Jason Grilli to the pen, the starters are starting to show signs of fatigue. Over the road series in Atlanta and Philadelphia, Pirates starters were able to baffle Atlanta but the bullpen was exhausted after the 19-inning fiasco. In Philadelphia, the Pirates faced a talented lineup that was not fooled by anything the Pirates starters threw.
Against Chicago, the Pirates again saw the pitching fail to escape the jams it has all year, and overall, it’s looking as if the Pirates needed an arm at the deadline.
A bullpen is hard to come by in trades in this modern era, and starters like Jimenez would have foolish for the long term future but as Jayson Stark was proclaiming, the Pirates needed an arm and Neal could not find a team willing to deal.
This was an interesting deadline.
With no team really being dominant except for Philadelphia, everyone was looking to buy and few were selling.Huntington realized that the Pirates would simply not contend with the Giants, Phillies, and Rangers who are looking to win now and have the stockpiled prospects to trade away.
Instead, Huntington looked at teams such as Houston and Colorado first to see what they wanted, and when the price was too high, moved on to teams such as Minnesota and Tampa Bay, who were in divisional limbo.
Overall, this is a smart way to sift through the market, however, almost everyone knew that both the Twins and Rays are still high on their recent success and are trying to avoid the terms of “sellers” or “rebuilding” in order to keep interest up in their markets.
Remember, teams can still trade, it will just take relatively inconvenient waivers systems in which teams can block rivals from acquiring players.
ESPN has listed both Rays and Twins players on their list of potential waiver deadline deals. I personally like the idea of viewing the Pirates as waiver watchers.
As of now, at five games back in the division, the Pirates made smart moves and now must play like division contenders. They still have plenty of games with the Brewers (and 24 with the NL Central) to make up ground.
If by the end of August the Pirates are sitting at at most four games back, look for them to seek pitching help first via the waiver list. Is there a potential for a Matt Capps reunion as a setup man? Do the Pirates make their move for Jason Kubel? Or maybe even grab B.J. Upton?
We will have to see if “No Deal Neal” has anything left up his sleeve.