On Thursday, the Pirates traded the face of their franchise, Nate McClouth to the Atlanta Braves. In the four days since, I have heard it all. "Same old Pirates," basically is what the public thinks. The casual baseball fan has never heard of Charlie Morton, Gorkys Hernandez or Jeff Locke (the players the Bucs received). The casual baseball fan is very upset at the move, but I'm here to tell you why the move makes sense. Look, the facts are this. The Pirates are at least two years away, if that. No knock on Nate, but if McClouth is your best player then you have too many holes.
First, the timing of the move. While the announcement did come out of no where, it was a trade Neil Hunnington had to make and probably wouldn't have gotten a better offer had he held onto McClouth until the trading deadline. Looking back at trades teams have made over the last ten seasons, most teams tend to hold onto prospects as the deadline approaches. The public will say that we were only four games under .500 at the time. It's not Hunnington's job to get to .500, his job is to put together a team that can eventually compete year in and year out. If it takes two more years of stockpiling young talent, then i say keep sticking to the plan.
Secondly, being the best player on a bad team doesn't make you anything more than that. McClouth is a very good player, but not a full fledged superstar. On the season, he is hitting only .251 with 9 homers and 35 RBI. In addition, McClouth is only a .260 hitter for his career, hardly superstar like. He is a great guy and will be missed in Pittsburgh, but if you give me three young players who can possibly make an impact in Pittsburgh in the next couple seasons, then I have to pull the trigger on the deal. I give Hunnington credit on dealing while McClouth's value is high.
Next, is Andrew McCutchen had to get to Pittsburgh some way. When is the last time the Pirates made a deal, when they replaced the player they gave up with someone with equal or in this case, even more talent. McCutchen will go through some growing pains, but will be very fun to watch. The guy can hit, maybe not for the power of McClouth, but he can get on base and will utilize his speed. Defensively, while McClouth did win a gold glove, he just had sub par range. Between McCutchen and Nyjer Morgan, they will cover a ton of ground. The funny part is that the new outfield of Morgan, McCutchen and Brandon Moss has a combined one home run on the season. It's way to early to give up on Moss by the way, he has been playing very well after a slow start, so as it looks, this outfield should be productive.
It was a tough decision for Hunnington to part ways with McClouth, but good teams take those kind of risks and make them pay off. Fan reaction has been very negative towards Hunnington. I believe legendary basketball coach Bobby Knight once said "If you make decisions based on the fans reaction, pretty soon you will be sitting with the fans."
If Pirate fans have anyone to blame, it's Dave Littlefield. Look at the farm system when Hunnington took over. The cupboard was bare. The top prospects in the system were McCutchen and Neil Walker. That's it. With Hunnington's moves the last two seasons, not only through trades but actually drafting for talent instead of budget, Walker is now the 14th ranked prospect in the organization. The farm system was in dire need of repair and this is the way to do it. Now the list of prospects include: Brad Lincoln, Jose Tabata, Pedro Alvarez, Brian Friday, Hernandez, Locke, Morton, etc.. Now will all of them pan out? Not a chance, but if most do the light at the end of the tunnel may be in sight.
The positive thing is that this was truly a baseball trade. It was not finacially motivated. There was no Aramis Rameriz for Bobby Hill deal here. However with the excess cash saved, it would be nice to see the Bucs lock up Dominican shortstop Miguel Angel Sano.
Pirate fans probably are sick of hearing about a 3 year plan or a 5 year plan. So am I, but despite hearing that for the last 16 seasons, that hasn't happened. What the Pirates have had was 15 years of bad management, so I am willing to give Hunnington the benefit of the doubt for now. Tomorrow, if he has a strong draft, Hunnington would have done more for this franchise than anyone in the last 16 seasons. I say stick to the plan and watch it pay off. If that means dealing Sanchez, Adam Laroche and Wilson, so be it.
My only problem is the payroll. If they continue to draft quality youngsters, eventually the payroll will have to increase. Comparing market sizes, there is no reason the Brewers should have an 80 milion dollar payroll when the Pirates struggle to hover around 50 mil. Until the Nutting family decides to get in the 70-80mil range, the only way to build is through trades and the draft. No qualiy player in his right mind would want to come play here. That has to change.
Will this turn out to be a good trade? Time will tell, but I like what Hunnington has been able to do so far.
Potential Lineup Opening day 2011 (baring trades)
c Ryan Doumit
1b Pedro Alvarez
2b Shelby Ford
3b Andy Laroche
ss Brian Friday
LF Gorkys Hernadez
CF Andrew McCutchen
RF Jose Tabata
SP Brad Lincoln, Paul Maholm, Zach Duke, Charlie Morton