DEJAN KOVACEVIC, DK ON PITTSBURGH SPORTS
Neal Huntington thanked his scouts.
Not sure that’s one I’d heard before, but there it was: The Pirates’ GM, in the immediate aftermath of a Major League Baseball trading deadline that was about as productive as a waiver-wire plucking of some Double-A nobody — oh, wait, that’s actually all that went down — went out of his way to tell us reporters that his lieutenants had “worked tirelessly” in traveling “back and forth” across the country to study big-league players and write up reports, all aimed at the deadline.
And then … pfffffffffffffffffft.
It’s disappointing, first and foremost, for this terrific team that’s clawed back from that awful April to within one fine weekend of first place.
What’s more, fair or not, it’s utterly dispiriting for fans who have put forth their passion, who have filled PNC Park and who, to varying degrees, have put their faith into seeing this franchise try to reach the next level.
Check that. Not to try, but to do so.
Huntington might well have tried, but he sure swung and missed.
For all we know, he froze on a fat fastball right down the pipe for strike three.
“We felt like we were close a couple of times,” Huntington would say in his first reply to questioning. “At the end of the day, we weren’t able to push it across the line.”
Later he’d add: “We were engaged on a ton of fronts. We felt we were aggressive. But at end of the day, we felt right move was no move.”
Yeah, whatever. At the end of the day, it was nothing at all.
Huntington went on to awkwardly discuss how all that mattered to the Pirates was their game tonight in Arizona, how this was pretty much the same group of players that made it to Game 5 of the Division Series last fall. And then came that stuff about the scouts, which came across almost as an apology that all their efforts had gone in vain. It sounded like some serious guilt in play. Like he knew he blew it. Like he knew he let down not only those men but also the team and its fans.
Well, good. Because that would be accurate.
No, I’m not going to chase after the parade ripping the Pirates solely for failing to land Jon Lester and/or David Price, the two marquee names getting moved.
But to get nothing at all?
Sorry, but that’s just … beyond belief is what it is.
I’m on record as stating — repeatedly — that I’d rather have seen the Pirates focus on building up the bullpen rather than the rotation. If they could have landed a Lester, a Price or some other upgrade starter, swell. But I didn’t see an actual need. Nor did I see a need for additional offense.
But to get nothing at all in relief?
Have Huntington and his men not noticed Tony Watson and Justin Wilson fading?
Did they all forget how Mark Melancon did the same late last summer?
Are they not watching Jeanmar Gomez and Ernesto Frieri?
Because if they are, wow … sorry, but that’s just beyond belief, too.
I asked Huntington after the deadline if relief was a priority for him, and he replied: “We have Gerrit Cole coming back, so that will add an arm that we’ll then have to make a decision on. There are guys in Triple-A who could be options. A couple of guys here are close to turning a corner, and there are a few guys we need to to push in order to turn a corner.”
I’m not seeing that. Maybe Vance Worley or Jeff Locke can get bumped to bullpen duty, but that’s adjusting for survival, not contention. Think of the latter, and the Cardinals from a couple years ago come to mind. They made it into October, then stunned all comers almost entirely by owning the late innings. They were a force.
How could that not have been addressed on this day?
Everyone will pick over the particulars of the Lester and Price trades, but I’m more interested, to be honest, in how the Orioles could get Andrew Miller, maybe baseball’s best lefty reliever, while sending only their No. 3 prospect, Double-A starter Eduardo Rodriguez, to the Red Sox?
Are the Pirates suggesting they couldn’t part with their No. 3 prospect for a guy who could instantly transform the bullpen?
Again, I’m all in favor of keeping top hitting prospect Josh Bell and top pitching prospect Tyler Glasnow, but I’d happily send out No. 3 for a live arm who has annihilated his opposition all season. Imagine the impact Miller would make not only on his own but in spelling Watson and Melancon in the eighth and ninth. Imagine how much Clint Hurdle and Ray Searage would have welcomed it.
Other relievers changed hands, with none coming to Pittsburgh.
Other bench pieces, for that matter, changed hands, with none coming to Pittsburgh.
Was Huntington so locked in on Lester and Price that he couldn’t juggle a third ball?
Was he wary of parting with even a single prospect, ostensibly his No. 3, out of a farm system that Baseball America in March called the best in the sport?
If either one is the case, then wow, that’s a pretty ominous sign as it relates to that whole reach-the-next-level thing.
Falling short on Lester and Price merits its own scrutiny, of course, especially since, as I can confirm, the Pirates absolutely were parties in both sets of talks right through Thursday. I can further confirm, for full context, that Bob Nutting gave his full blessing to spend as needed, although that’s no departure from the norm. I’m sure the percentage of those reading this who will believe that is negligible, but my understanding is that the money is there to spend up toward $90 million.
So what, if anything, went wrong in the dealing process?
I’m inclined to give a pass on Lester, as the Pirates really didn’t have anything approximating the Athletics’ return of Yoenis Cespedes, a 28-year-old outfielder with 17 home runs and 67 RBIs. One might argue for Starling Marte or Bell, but the Red Sox’s rebuild is set to be a quick one. They wanted ready-to-bake players, and Cespedes is better baked than Marte.
Price is harder to grasp. The Rays’ management is known as maybe the brightest in baseball, so they’ll get the benefit of the doubt from most, but even so their take from the three-team deal — Price to the Tigers, Austin Jackson to the Mariners, Nick Franklin, Drew Smyly and shortstop prospect Willy Adames — shouldn’t blow anyone away. It probably wouldn’t match, say, the Pirates offering one of their top two prospects plus Marte, or something in that range.
And yes, I would have parted with Bell or Glasnow for Price, if only because Price would have had another full season under control. Lester would have bolted town with the final out of 2014.
At any rate, I’ve no doubt I’m looking at all this with far too calm and analytical viewpoint for most tastes. Fans are angry. I get that. They wanted more, they built themselves up to expect more and, even though the Pirates actually have been fairly productive at recent deadlines, they wanted this one to be even more than those. They wanted the green light to think World Series.
They didn’t want — or deserve — nothing at all.