It’s far too early to tell whether the rebuilding effort under the new regime in Pittsburgh will be a success. The Pirates are unlikely to contend in 2010, and given the ages of the most promising players under team control, it will be a few years before the current core group reaches its potential.
Regardless of long-term success, what amazes me is the thoroughness with which the front office has recycled the old for the new. I happened to glance at the batting order for the Pirates’ Opening Day game against the Braves on March 31, 2008, and you might be as amazed as I was:
- Nate McLouth – CF
Traded June 3, 2009 for Gorkys Hernandez and Charlie Morton
- Freddy Sanchez – 2B
Traded July 30, 2009 for Tim Alderson
- Jason Bay – LF
Traded July 31, 2008 in a three-way deal that returned Craig Hansen, Brandon Moss, Bryan Morris and Andy LaRoche
- Adam LaRoche – 1B
Traded July 22, 2009 for Argenis Diaz and Hunter Strickland
- Xavier Nady – RF
Traded July 26, 2008 for Daniel McCutchen, Jeff Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf and Jose Tabata
- Ryan Doumit – C
Still a Pirate (at press time, anyway)
- Jose Bautista – 3B
Traded Aug. 21, 2008 for Robinzon Diaz
- Jack Wilson – SS
Traded July 29, 2009 (with Ian Snell) for Ronny Cedeno, Jeff Clement and three minor leaguers.
- Ian Snell – P
Traded July 29, 2009 with Wilson.
Also appearing for the Bucs that day:
- Nyjer Morgan – PH
Traded June 30, 2009 with Sean Burnett for Joel Hanrahan and Lastings Milledge
- John Grabow – RP
Traded July 30, 2009 with Tom Gorzelanny for Jose Ascanio, Kevin Hart and minor leaguer Josh Harrison
- Damaso Marte – RP
Traded July 26, 2008 with Nady.
- Two more pinch-hitters and three more relievers, none of whom are currently on the 40-man roster.
All told, 17 players entered the game for Pittsburgh that day. Eleven of them were traded away before Aug. 1, 2009. If Doumit had come out of the game, it would’ve been 12 for 18—backup catcher Ronny Paulino was sent to the Phillies on Dec. 10, 2008 for Jason Jaramillo. As it is, Doumit is the only Pirate who appeared in the game—less than two years ago!—who is still on the 40-man roster.
When Pirates fans look back five years from now, a lot of these deals will already be forgotten. Some of the new Buccos have appeared at the top of the prospect lists of their former teams, but every single one of them has lost some luster since then. After all, Pittsburgh wasn’t exactly trading away Johan Santana to get them.
But GM Neal Huntington and his crew recognized what they had to work with. The 2008 Pirates won 67 games, and maybe, if they had kept Bay and Nady around, they would’ve made a run for the low 70s. We’re looking at good, not great, players, many of whom were nearing the end of their arbitration years.
Essentially, the Bucs bought in bulk. A-minus and A prospects are rarely available except through the draft, but if you pick up enough B prospects, you’re bound to strike gold occasionally. Pittsburgh replenished a minor league system that desperately needed some potential—particularly potential that wouldn’t flame out at Triple-A after a series of shoulder surgeries. And now, with a few bona fide homegrown prospects on the way (hello, Pedro Alvarez!), they can enter the next phase of the project: Figuring out what the booty is worth.
If you weren’t already amazed by the dispatch with which the front office parted with the 2008 Opening Day roster, how about this: The players received in those trades make up 16 of the players currently on the 40-man roster. This year’s Opening Day 25 could easily feature 10 or 11 of those players.
Some of these trade acquisitions will fizzle out. Prospects like Alderson and Tabata are loaded with raw talent but are ultimately gambles for any club that targets them. But one thing is certain: This is a completely new approach to running the Pittsburgh Pirates, and whether or not you’re a Bucs fan, it’s one heck of an exciting young team to watch.