Pirates treading water despite trades

With the trade deadline on the horizon, I thought it would be a good time to look back at the trades made by the Pirates in the last calendar year or so. I am only looking at what I consider the significant trades. These include the deals that saw Xavier Nady, Damaso Marte, Jason Bay, Nate McLouth, Nyjer Morgan, Sean Burnett and Adam LaRoche leave Pittsburgh. What I really want to focus on is the overall major league production from each player involved. I think many people are overlooking the great job that Neal Huntington has done in keeping the major league team at about the same talent level while rebuilding the farm system.

Let’s look at each individual trade. I have included each player’s major league Wins Above Replacement (WAR) since each was traded. These numbers are from FanGraphs.

Player WAR
Nady 0.7
Marte 0.2
Ohlendorf 0.7
Karstens 0.2
Tabata Altoona
D. McCutchen Indianapolis

Ohlendorf and Karstens have been marginal contributors in Pittsburgh since they were acquired, but Nady and Marte have been largely useless for the Yankees. The trade is currently a wash in regards to major league WAR. With the younger players in the deal coming to Pittsburgh (not to mention Tabata, who is performing well in Double-A at 20 years old), this trade is a clear win for the Pirates.

Player WAR
Bay 2.2
An. LaRoche 0.9
Moss 1.2
Hansen -0.5
Morris Lynchburg

This trade is shaping up to be Neal Huntington’s worst. It appears the Pirates only received a few role players, while Bay is having an All-Star year in Boston. But we have to look closer. Bay’s defense continues to cost Boston runs, leaving him at just 1.6 wins in 2009. Andy LaRoche, after a horrible stint in Pittsburgh last year, has also produced 1.6 wins this season. Essentially, LaRoche has matched Bay’s production. He is also five years younger. Most people call this trade a bust. I would disagree. If this ends up being the worst trade that Huntington makes, the Pirates are going to be just fine.

Player WAR
McLouth 0.6
Morton 0.7
Hernandez Altoona
Locke Lynchburg

We are looking at a smaller sample size here, so I hate to draw too much from the numbers. But Morton has matched McLouth’s output thus far, and the Pirates also received two more prospects in the deal. This trade told many fans that the Pirates were punting in 2009. In reality, it has hurt the team very little.

Player WAR
Morgan 1.2
Burnett 0.1
Hanrahan 0.2
Milledge Indianapolis

This is an even smaller sample size, and it does not include any production from Lastings Milledge, the most important piece of this trade from the Pirates’ perspective. But I would like to reiterate how wrong I was about Nyjer Morgan. He is having a very good season, with a combined WAR of 3.3 with the Pirates and Nationals. Compare that to the 1.6 WAR from Jason Bay this season. Kudos to Pirate management for recognizing that they had an underrated replacement for Jason Bay. Not only that, but they were able to flip Nyjer for a potential impact talent in Milledge. Huntington played this situation incredibly well.

And just for fun, here is the LaRoche trade:

Player WAR
Ad. LaRoche 0.1
Diaz Indianapolis
Strickland West Virginia

We know the new regime has the correct overall philosophy to build a winner. Trade aging veterans at their peak, right before they get expensive and lose a step. Sell high, buy low. Search for impact talent. Find inexpensive, undervalued players. The process is there. What will take some time to determine is whether management is able to properly evaluate talent, in order to make that process work. I, for one, am encouraged. Neal Huntington has basically traded away half of his major league team for prospects, and the team hasn’t skipped a beat. While rebuilding the farm system, he has plugged in underrated performers at the major league level.

Replacing Bay with Nyjer. Replacing McLouth with Andrew McCutchen, while adding Morton. Adding guys like Delwyn Young and Garrett Jones for free. Flipping Nyjer for Milledge. These are the types of astute moves needed to build a winner on a budget. So far, things are looking positive. If management has as much success evaluating minor league talent, the fun is just beginning.

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