Sunday, September 1, 2013

Pirates add Justin Morneau at August dead-line to complete surreal week of trades by the front office

If you're a Pirates fan, and someone told you your favorite team would trade for either a 36 year old outfielder who has 21 home runs and 71 RBI, a 33 year old catcher with 15 home runs and 60 RBI or a 32 year old first baseman with 17 home runs and 74 RBI who was a former American League MVP, you'd probably take any of those three trades, individually, right?

By grabbing the outfielder, the Pirates would finally have a power bat to put in right field and add protection for both Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez. By grabbing the veteran catcher, Pittsburgh would have a bona fide backup to Russell Martin and a huge upgrade from both Michael Mckenry and rookie Tony Sanchez. Or by getting the first baseman, the Pirates would finally have someone to take the place of both Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez, two players who would probably be better served coming off the bench.

Well, how about landing all three of those guys in a span of five days? That's what team gm Neal Huntington did, when he  picked up outfielder Marlon Byrd and catcher John Buck on Tuesday from the Mets in exchange for minor league second baseman Dilson Herrera, who represented the Pirates in the Futures All-Star Game in July, and reliever Vic Black, who made two appearances for Pittsburgh this season out of its highly touted "Shark Tank" bullpen.

On Saturday, the Pirates shipped utility outfielder Alex Presley and a player to be named later (believed to be another reliever) to Minnesota in exchange for first baseman Justin Morneau, the 2006 AL MVP.

So, in less than a week, pitching rich Pittsburgh has added 53 home runs and 205 RBI to a roster that has struggled to produce hits and runs on a regular basis in 2013.

The Tuesday trade immediately paid huge dividends on Wednesday, when Byrd, making his Pirates debut, hit a three run homer against the Brewers in a 7-1 victory that brought everyone at PNC Park (including Yours truly) to their feet.

It's amazing how cyclical sports can be. When Huntington took over as Pirates general manager in late 2007, there were anonymous baseball executives who said they felt sorry for him because Pittsburgh's farm system was about as barren as any in all of MLB.

Within the span of a few years, Huntington dealt All-Star outfielders Jason Bay and Nate McLouth, productive veteran outfielder Xavier Nady and team favorites second baseman Freddy Sanchez and shortstop Jack Wilson in order to begin replenishing the minor league system.

People were particularly upset about the Bay trade. Up through the time of the deal in the summer of 2008, he was the organization's best commodity with multiple All-Star appearances. In fact, Bay, Nady and McLouth comprised one of baseball's most productive outfields five seasons ago. Bay and Nady combined for 35 home runs and 121 RBI leading up to being traded away, while McLouth would go on to finish his final full season in Pittsburgh with 26 home runs and 94 RBI.

I remember informing my friend Todd of the Bay trade, and he was pretty disappointed, simply saying, "Bad trade."

His sentiment was expressed universally by Pirates fans who couldn't understand why the team would break up such a productive outfield.

It was simple: If Huntington has proven one thing, it's that he's been in it for the long haul. Despite the productivity of the outfield in 2008, the Pirates were still below .500 and struggling to stay out of last place. What good is all that production if it still leads to a last place finish?

Now, in the summer of 2013, with the Pirates currently in first place in the National League Central Division, it's the right time to add that kind of production to the team for the stretch run.

If you click on the link to the story about the Byrd/Buck trade, you'll see that fans and teammates were a bit distraught over losing so much productivity from a Mets team that was struggling in the first place.

And a fan of the Twins said in the comments section of a Yahoo story regarding the Morneau trade: "Twins always acting like a farm team for the rest of MLB."

My how times have changed for the Pirates.

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