June 30: Trade OF Nyjer Morgan and LHP Sean Burnett to the Washington Nationals for OF Lastings Milledge and RHP Joel Hanrahan
Both teams swapped a reliever and an outfielder with an attitude problem in this deal, but it looked like the Pirates gave up much more at the time.
Burnett was a former first round pick who was looking good as a reliever after Tommy John Surgery. Morgan had a well documented attitude problem (here’s the obligatory clip of him turning a flyball into an inside the park home run by pouting), but he was still pre-arb eligible and in the middle of a 4.8 fWAR campaign. He could have been a player they could use for a while.
Milledge also had his own off the field issues, souring on his teammates for repeatedly late for meetings. Those stories stopped when he came to Pittsburgh, but he did not live up to the astronomical hype surrounding him. He was ranked as the 11th best prospect in 2005 and the ninth best in 2006 by Baseball America. While he was making steady progress in the minors, he was rushed to the majors at age 21. As a result, he never fully developed his skills. He was at -0.3 fWAR at the time of the trade and was demoted a week into the season. He picked up 1 WAR in his year and half with the Pirates.
Hanrahan was the saving grace of this deal. At the time of his acquisition, he had promising stuff that had not translated to the majors. With a little bit of Ray Searage pixie dust, he became elite. He ended up racking up 82 saves in three and a half years with the Bucs.
The Hanrahan-for-Melancon-for Rivero trade line has often been discussed, but it looked like the Nationals won this trade at the time. Had Hanrahan not turned out to be one of the best relievers in baseball, it would have been one of Huntington’s worst trades. How else could one spin the “trading a 1st rounder and a five WAR hitter for two busts” angle?
July 22: Traded Adam LaRoche to the Boston Red Sox for SS Argenis Diaz and RHP Hunter Strickland
LaRoche was a let down for the Pirates, who gave up lefty reliever Mike Gonzalez to land him in 2007. At the time of the trade he was hitting .247 with 12 home runs and a 103 OPS+, so the Pirates could not demand a high asking price, especially since 2009 was his last year of team control.
Strickland was in Class A at the time and slowly crept his way up through the farm system. Injuries halted his development in 2010 and 2011, suffering an elbow strain and getting rotator cuff surgery. He was eventually added to the 40-man roster in November of 2012 to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, despite never pitching above AA. The club then tried to sneak him through the waiver wire at the start of the 2013 season, but the Giants claimed him. He missed most of the season after getting Tommy John Surgery, but he eventually broke through in 2014 and is now a mainstay in San Francisco’s bullpen.
Diaz ranked somewhere in the 10-20 range among the Red Sox top minor leaguers in 2008 or 2009, mostly due to his glove. His bat never caught up and was left off the 40 man in 2010. He did at least get a cup of coffee in the bigs that year.
The Red Sox flipped LaRoche again after just six games, so getting an intriguing defender at a skill position and a low level pitcher with upside is not a bad haul. They just did not stick with the Bucs.
July 29: Traded SS Jack Wilson and RHP Ian Snell to the Seattle Mariners for SS Ronny Cedeño, 1B Jeff Clement, RHP Aaron Pribanic, RHP Brett Lorin and RHP Nate Adcock
Wilson’s contract was nearing its end, with only an $8 million option remaining. With no plans to compete, that option was unlikely to be exercised. Ian Snell was once a highly rated Pirates’ prospect, but he struggled in the majors. He still had a good fastball and plenty of team control, so he had some value.
The return back was overwhelming manpower wise but underwhelming results wise. Ronny Cedeno was the Cubs’ number three prospect in 2006, but he never posted a one win year in the majors. Whether the Pirates felt he was a potential shortstop of the future or just a placeholder, he certainly was a step back from Wilson.
The moral of the trade: beauty and fastball velocity fade
Clement was another player who failed to live up to high hopes, getting drafted third overall lin 2005 and never sticking with a major league club for long. Pribanic, Lorin and Adcock were all on the Mariners’ radar as lower level prospects, but none made an impact with the Pirates. Adcock was taken in the 2010 Rule 5 draft and pitched in the majors for a couple years. Pribanic and Lorin did not get that far.
Wilson was a fan favorite and the return for him was underwhelming. Unlike other players who were about to hit free agency, Wilson probably could have stayed. He ended up re-signing with the Mariners for two years, $10 MM. That was well within the Pirates’ range, and he would have been an upgrade over Cedeno. This just has the stink of a young GM making a trade for the sake of making a trade.
July 29: Traded INF Freddy Sanchez to the San Francisco Giants for RHP Tim Alderson
Hey, would you look at that. Another infielder with an expiring contract. Like Wilson, Sanchez had a club option that looked out of the Pirates’ comfort zone, so a trade seemed imminent. Hewas in the middle of another solid campaign and was a perfect fit for a lackluster San Francisco lineup.
Alderson was the Giants’ fourth ranked prospect and 45th overall by Baseball America at the start of the season. He fizzled in the minors, seeing his velocity and strikeout rate drop. Those problems may stem from the Giants and Pirates trying to fix his delivery. He always pitched from the stretch in high school, and that’s where he had his best results and velocity.
The Pirates started using him as a reliever in 2011, but it did not help his major league outlook much. He nearly spent three full seasons at AA before bouncing around other team’s AAA clubs. He never reached the majors.
The moral of the trade: beauty and fastball velocity fade.
July 30: Traded LHP Tom Gorzelanny and LHP John Grabow to the Chicago Cubs for RHP Jose Ascanio, RHP Kevin Hart, UTL Josh Harrison
When asked if he worried about getting traded, Grabow told the Post-Gazette in July of 2009, “I’m untouchable, dude. No way they’re trading me.” In classic sitcom fashion, Grabow was then traded alongside Gorzelanny- a pitcher the previous front office was high on before his control problems worsened- to the Cubs.
Hart for Gorzelanny was a fairly even swap in terms of stuff. He was hammered in 10 outings (eight losses, 6.92 ERA) and let go at the end of the year. Ascanio made cameo appearances in 2009 and 2011. He was a promising reliever in the Cubs’ system, but stretching him out to a starter was a bad decision.
Harrison saved the trade and all the deals the Pirates made in July. He was not on anybody’s radar at the time either, absent from Baseball America’s top 30 list. He was a 22 year old still in A ball, so he was behind the curve. That’s how the Bucs got him.
The 2009 deadline did not yield great results, but the focus was clear: trade top major league talent for top minor league talent. That was muddled this year since they also targeted reclamation projects. Those projects have been a staple of the Pirates the last five or so years, but they have mostly found success with major leaguers who had been good and then just lost their way. It’s harder to build up a guy based on promise rather than a bedrock of results.
Trading for top prospects had hits (Locke) and misses (Alderson, Hernandez). Trading for reclamations also had its ups (Hanrahan) and downs (Clement, Milledge). In the grand scheme of things, picking up three future All-Stars at the trade deadline is a great haul. But this was a messy series of transactions with more misses than hits.
Regardless, the old front offices’ fingerprints were gone. Huntington got what he wanted: this is his team, now. That did not mean the job was done. There was still more rebuilding to do.