For most of the past couple of months, the Pittsburgh Pirates have been a tough team to watch. It was just a few years ago when things were different in Pittsburgh.
How did we end up here?
It’s mostly due to the handiwork of Pirates general manager Neal Huntington and while all of his roster decisions weren’t bad ones, there simply haven’t been enough good moves over the past three years to offset all of the bad ones.
Huntington and the Pirates organization have a reputation for trading good players or not re-signing them.
However, you need good players for that to happen.
From 2013 on, ignoring the Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen trades this past offseason, the likes of: Pedro Alvarez, Francisco Liriano, Russell Martin, Mark Melancon, Edinson Volquez, Neil Walker and Tony Watson are all gone.
And not one of them would have made this Pirates team any better.
Alvarez has hit a total of nine MLB homers the past two seasons and isn’t in the majors currently.
Liriano had a 5.66 ERA in 2017 and a 4.64 ERA this year.
In the four years since Martin left for Toronto he hit .240, .231, .221 and is currently hitting .172 this year.
Melancon had a 4.50 ERA last season and has only made 46 total appearances the past two years due to injury.
Volquez hasn’t pitched well the past two seasons with a 5.37 ERA and a 4.19 mark this season.
Watson has been good this year, but Huntington did nab Oneil Cruz for him so that could work out nicely for the Pirates in the future.
Finally there’s everyone’s favorite Walker, who is hitting a robust .194/.277/.267 on the year. That’s the same Walker that everyone loved and thought Huntington should have kept.
It’s also the same Walker that in nine MLB seasons has hit above .280 just twice, hit over 20 homers just twice and driven in over 75 runs just twice.
The reality of the situation is that Huntington was wise to walk away from each one of those guys.
The problem is he doesn’t have much to show for it.
He did get Felipe Vazquez for Melancon so that’s a steal by itself, but other than Cruz, which was acquired in the Watson deal, there’s not much to show for any of those guys.
Dealing Walker was the right move. Getting Jon Niese in return was not.
And that goes to the not being able to evaluate talent, which is the biggest problem this front office has.
Things you can’t do anything about
There’s been some bad luck along the way.
Who could have predicted the success Charlie Morton would have in Houston?
Morton was given every opportunity in Pittsburgh and that never came out.
If you want to blame an organizational philosophy then fine, but every Pirates fan complained and made “great stuff” jokes every time Morton got the ball, so don’t blame the Pirates for that one.
To an extent, the same could be said for Cole, but it’s too early to judge that deal.
However we certainly haven’t seen this version of Gerrit Cole in a Pirates uniform.
Then there’s guys who are having productive years that just didn’t do anything in a Pirates uniform.
Do you blame the organization for giving up on Gorkys Hernandez?
He has 11 homers on the year, out homering every single Pirates player not named Gregory Polanco.
What about Alen Hanson and the .822 OPS he’s putting up in San Francisco.
Should the Pirates have kept and built around Wade LeBlanc and his 3.39 ERA?
Of course not.
I will even make the case that it didn’t make much sense to throw big money at J.A. Happ after a few good months, but if I knew then they were going to turn around and give it right to Ivan Nova I may have had a different opinion.
There are some situations where guys put it together late in their careers and you can’t blame the general manager.
But there are others when you can.
There are some moves that have just worked out terrible for Huntington.
I wasn’t much of a fan of letting Jared Hughes walk and he has pitched well, posting ERA’s of 3.02 last season and 1.50 this year.
The Liriano salary dump that cost a couple of prospects was terrible too. Reese McGuire and Harold Ramirez still haven’t reached the big leagues and Ramirez is still stuck in Double-A, but that’s not necessarily the point.
How’s Drew Hutchinson doing?
Then there’s the Juan Nicasio situation, which I’m not even going to get into.
Then there’s the issue of thinking your players are more valuable than they really are, which has more than once likely cost Huntington from making a deal or two.
Again the problem is not evaluating talent correctly.
Huntington takes a lot of flak for his drafting, which has been poor at best.
Not only is the organization void of any superstars on at the MLB level, there’s not many guys that fit that bill on the horizon from the minors either.
Let’s keep this in mind, since 2008, an 11-year span, Huntington has drafted just two all-stars.
How is that even possible?
Of the 11 drafts and 487 picks Huntington has made, only Alvarez (2013) and Cole (2015) have gone to an All-Star Game in a Pirates uniform.
Two all-stars in 11 years?
That’s futility at its finest.
At the end of the day, it’s not the moves that Huntington made by trading away or not resigning players from those 2013-15 teams that turned out to be the problem.
None of them would be difference makers on this team anyways.
The biggest issue was not having a backup plan and talent in place to take their jobs once they left for bigger money.
That all comes back to drafting and evaluating, which Huntington has turned out to be very poor at.
Huntington needs to sell the farm in the next couple of weeks and turn things over to the kids.
There’s just two problems with that.
First, can Huntington get anything of value for any of the vets he has to deal?
That alone is debatable.
Hopefully they are, but judging by Huntington’s track record, they may not be.
At the end of the day, Huntington got the Pirates into this situation, he has to find a way to get them out of it.
With no budget and a bad eye for talent, that might just be Mission Impossible.