The Houston Astros and Pittsburgh Pirates were built in similar ways

Believe it or not, the Houston Astros and Pittsburgh Pirates have taken very similar approaches to team building.

On paper the Pittsburgh PIrates aren’t as far away as many may think, but it will take a commitment from ownership and the front office, that likely won’t be there.

After several down years that saw Houston go a combined 162-324 from 2011-13, the Astros built their team in a similar fashion that the Pirates have been trying to do- through the draft.

Needless to say, they have had more success than the Bucs.

Here’s a look at how both franchises compare.


It’s no secret that both the Houston Astros and the Pittsburgh Pirates wanted to build through the draft.

The Astros current World Series team features several impact players gained through the draft. Dallas Keuchel was a seventh-round pick. Lance McCullers was a second-round selection, while the likes of: Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, George Springer and Derek Fisher were all first-round picks.

Correa and Bregman were selected with the first and second overall picks respectfully.

While Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington hasn’t had nearly as much success landing impact talent in the first round, the Bucs current roster is mostly built through the draft.

Gerrit Cole (first round, No. 1 overall pick), Tyler Glasnow (fifth round), Chad Kuhl (ninth), Jameson Taillon (first), Josh Bell (second), Jordy Mercer (third), Max Moroff (16th), Adam Frazier (sixth), Jordan Luplow (3rd) and Andrew McCutchen (first) were all Pirates draft picks.

All but McCutchen were selected by Huntington.

So while Huntington has taken a lot of hits for his drafts recently, they haven’t been that bad as quite a few good ball players have come from Pittsburgh Pirates’ drafts.

The difference is Astros’ general manager Jeff Luhnow has hit home runs with his first-round selections and Huntington hasn’t. The Bucs don’t have one superstar to speak of that came from a Huntington draft.


That’s not to say the Astros haven’t made their share of mistakes. Houston chose Mark Appel No. 1 overall in 2013, one pick ahead of Kris Bryant.

They also selected Brady Aiken No. 1 overall in 2014 ahead of the likes of: Carlos Rodon, Kyle Schwarber, Michael Conforto, Trea Turner and others. The Bucs also selected Appel in the 8th round of the 2012 draft with Corey Seager, Addison Russell and Marcus Stroman still available.

And who knows what will come from former first-round picks Austin Meadows, Cole Tucker, Kevin Newman and others. Only time will tell if they will exonerate Huntington or be part of the reason whyhe will eventually be run out of town.

But the Astros successes and misses just go to show how much of a crapshoot the MLB Draft really is. It’s not just the Pirates who have problems at times.

International free agents

Two big pieces of the Houston lineup- Jose Altuve and Yuli Gurriel– were undrafted guys signed as amateur free agents. A big piece of the Pittsburgh Pirates roster was found going the international route.

Dovydas Neverauskas, Edgar Santana, Elias Diaz, Starling Marte, Jose Osuna and Gregory Polanco were all found through international waters.

The difference between the two clubs is that the Astros were willing to pony up $47.5 million for Gurriel and the Pirates obviously aren’t in conversations like that with top international talent.

Remember Miguel Sano?

He would look real good in a Pirates uniform right now.

Free Agents/Trades

Let’s not pretend like the Astros have an astronomical payroll. They sat at $101 million at the beginning of last season.

What they do have is a commitment from ownership.

Once the Astros, built their solid young core of young players, they increased payroll by signing the likes of: Luke Gregerson, Charlie Morton, Brian McCann, Josh Reddick and Carlos Beltran. They also completed the rest of their core in the trade market by acquiring the likes of: Chris Devenski, Ken Giles, Joe Musgrove, Brad Peacock, Evan Gattis, Marwin Gonzalez, Cameron Maybin and Francisco Liriano.

Most of those were minor deals that brought in key contributors to a pennant winning team. Of course there was also the crown jewel of landing Justin Verlander at the August 31 deadline.

The Pirates also have made a few deals that brought in the likes of: Steven Brault, Ivan Nova, Felipe Rivero, Trevor Williams, Francisco Cervelli and Sean Rodriguez. But the Pittsburgh Pirates free agent additions have been severely lacking, with the likes of David Freese and Daniel Hudson being signed in the past couple of years.


The glaring difference between the two franchises is ownership.

I hate to have to beat the Bob Nutting drum, but that’s what the difference comes down to and likely the main reason the Pirates will never be able to duplicate the success of the Astros.

Both franchises were in similar spots at the bottom of the barrel. Both franchises tried to build through the draft. The difference is that when the Astros got their core together, their ownership elected to go for it and add to the core and look where they are today. The Pirates on the other hand, after winning 98 games in 2015 elected to bring in the likes of Jonathan Niese, Ryan Vogelsong, Phil Gosselin, John Jaso, Hudson and others.

That will never be a recipe for winning a World Series.

I have always been about the Pittsburgh Pirates plan, but while the Astros are willing to deal prospects for Verlander to cement their potential championship push, the Bucs will just look for the next cheap band aid fix.

The Pirates have had plenty of opportunities to deal prospects for difference makers, the commitment just isn’t there.

The Astros on the other hand took what the Pirates were trying to do and perfected the model.

Photo Credit – Flickr Creative Commons

Matt Shetler

Matt is a life long Pirates fan with both a newspaper and radio background. Before coming to Pirates Breakdown he was most recently the co-owner and lead columnist for Pittsburgh Sporting News. He has been a credentialed writer for all four major sports and also has written for plenty of other sports and fantasy sports websites.