When the Pirates passed on Matt Wieters and chose Daniel Moskos in the 2007 amateur draft, fans lashed out with an amount of outrage that I have never seen. It is rare in Major League Baseball for a fan base to react so passionately to a draft pick, but the choice was so absurd that even casual fans were left fuming. It did not help that the decision appeared to be financially motivated, as Wieters was expected to demand a signing bonus of nearly $10 million. On July 31, Dave Littlefield likely sealed his fate when he acquired Matt Morris. Many were dumbfounded, as the Pirates committed eight figures of salary to a declining veteran just months after passing on Weiters.
These decisions were dreadful, but there was another that has mostly flown under the radar. While Littlefield spent July 31 attempting to send Jack Wilson to Detroit and ultimately adding more frustration to the pitching staff, he neglected a more important task. On July 25, the Padres acquired three prospects for mediocre reliever Scott Linebrink. This deal illustrated the value the league placed on experienced relief pitching. Several other teams were searching for bullpen help, and the Pirates had three of the best relievers available.
Shawn Chacon was surprisingly effective early in 2007. Through July 31, he had an ERA of 3.79 and sported a record of 4-2. He was a steadying arm in what was a very shaky bullpen. Damaso Marte had been even better, as the most dominant left-handed reliever in Major League Baseball. He had an ERA of 1.38 and a WHIP of 0.95. Salomon Torres had struggled in 2007 with an ERA of 5.00 and several blown saves. However, his success in the past meant Torres could bring some value in a trade.
There is no way to be sure what offers were available to Littlefield as the trade deadline approached. However, it seems safe to assume that he had options to deal his relievers. He chose to keep each one. Chacon, Marte and Torres responded by posting ERAís of 4.50, 4.97 and 6.48 respectively the rest of the way. The Pirates had the opportunity to sell high while Chacon and Marte were outperforming their career numbers, but instead waited as those statistics returned closer to what one would expect. Now Shawn Chacon is expected to leave as a free agent, and the Pirates will receive absolutely nothing in return.
A smart way for the Pirates to improve would be to trade veteran relievers (who are often overvalued in the league) for hitters. The performances of relievers are much more variable from year to year, and it is much easier to build a successful bullpen than a potent offense. But at this yearís deadline, Littlefield demonstrated his belief that the Pirates were close to contending. He kept his bullpen intact and added a fifth starter for 20% of the teamís payroll. Two months later, the Pirates finished another season in last place. Failing to unload even one of his relievers was a costly mistake by Littlefield.