Pirates Lost Badly On "Stealth" Trades

Tom AuSenior Analyst IISeptember 30, 2009

NEW YORK - JULY 06:  Jose Bautista #23 of the Toronto Blue Jays bats against the New York Yankees on July 6, 2009 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Forget about the highly visible trades like those of Jason Bay and Nate McLouth. It is the trades of supposedly "B" players (who are anything but) that have been hurting the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Take the heavily lamented trade of Nate McLouth. At least we got THREE prospects for him, including Charlie Morton, who may soon become as good a pitcher as McLouth is a hitter.

But how many Pirates remember a utility outfielder named Rajai Davis? He became a star this year as an Oakland A, the equivalent of the late lamented McLouth.

Yet he was traded in 2007 to San Francisco for Matt Morris, then a league average pitcher, commanding a "market" $10 million salary.

Forget, for a moment, Morris' subsequent decline, which set something of a speed record: the Pirates "never" pay market price for talent. In essence, they traded the equivalent of McLouth for far less than Morton alone.

Everyone knows that outfielder Jason Bay was traded for third baseman Andy LaRoche, outfielder Brandon Moss, and two no-name (and so far useless) pitching prospects.

What people forget is that the Pirates dumped Jose Bautista in the process, getting replacement catcher Robinzon Diaz from the Blue Jays.

Bautista had a breakout year in Toronto, with a .350-plus on base percentage (about the same as Nate McLouth's), although with less power. LaRoche's is about 20 points less.

Netting this against LaRoche's better defense gives two players of roughly equal value, meaning the Pirates didn't gain anything by trading for LaRoche and losing Bautista.

Looked at that way, no one would consider the trade of Bay for Moss, the equivalent of the former Rajai Davis, plus Diaz, and two random pitchers a good trade.

Or if you net Moss against Davis, which is being kind to the Pirates, the Bucs (effectively) traded Bay for Diaz, Matt Morris, Craig Hansen, and Bryan Morris with the three trades.

Nyjer Morgan was given up too easily, mainly because the Pirates didn't get to know or understand him before trading him. Lastings Milledge is now living up to "average expectations" (three and a half wins above replacement), and Sean Burnett for Joel Hanrahan was a one win upgrade.

But between defense and a high on base percentage, Morgan is a five win above replacement level player, which the Nationals didn't expect to get for Milledge.

They would probably have traded their head case for Brandon Moss plus a little more. That "little more" could, and probably should have been Ian Snell, the Pirates' head case.

Some consider the trade of Aramis Ramirez the worst Pirate trade of the decade. But the Pirates had to deal him, because unlike other Pirate stars such as Jason Bay, Freddie Sanchez, or Jack Wilson, Ramirez had made clear his intention to seek greener pastures in free agency.

The problem with trading Ramirez was not what the Pirates gave up, but what they failed to get. Specifically, they traded Ramirez AND a lesser player, Kenny Lofton, for three no-name prospects.

In fact, Ramirez was worth the equivalent of Kenny Lofton and the prospects. So the Pirates' loss on the deal was TWO Kenny Loftons, the one they gave up, and the one they failed to get. That, not losing Ramirez, was what hurt.

A former boss told this stock trader, "Don't just chase a bunch of new stocks out there. Study what you own! Every time you buy a stock, you have to sell a stock. And you're not going to make money if what you're selling is worth more than what you're buying."

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