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2009 Big-League Losses: Not a Good Way to Judge Rebuilding Efforts

I thought this bit from Dejan Kovacevic was interesting:

As noted in my Sunday piece, half of the 26 players acquired in Neal Huntington's many recent trades are on the current major league roster. That, obviously, is not all of them, and waiting for top-flight players such as Tim Alderson and Jose Tabata to arrive would be the fairest way to assess those. Still, 13 trade acquisitions is more than half the roster, which means the current roster will have to be something more than an unmitigated disaster for those trades, as a whole, to begin to look good.

Um, why? If the best players acquired in those trades are still in the minors, and if the major league roster has been pretty close to "an unmitigated disaster" for 17 years before the trades, and if most of the players Huntington acquired are young anyway, why should he be held to that standard?

Reading between the lines a little, I assume this line of thinking stems from the Pirates' play since the trades. I don't think Huntington should get a free pass by any stretch, and the Pirates' poor recent play disappoints me too. But it seems strange, in a week where we're getting very good news from the minors on a more or less daily basis, to focus too heavily on a handful of busted games at the major league level. 

Of the thirteen Huntington trade acquisitions currently on the 25-man roster, more than half (Charlie Morton, Kevin Hart, Joel Hanrahan, Delwyn Young, Ross Ohlendorf, Ronny Cedeno, Evan Meek) have performed pretty well for the team, and others (Andy LaRoche, Jason Jaramillo, Jeff Karstens) have been at least serviceable. The only ones who have been outright disastrous by any stretch are Jose Ascanio (who's pitched all of two innings), Brandon Moss (for whom "disastrous" doesn't seem quite fair, given the quality of his defense), and Lastings Milledge. That's it. 

Milledge has been a disappointment to me so far. And the Jason Bay trade continues to be a bad one. But to judge the guys who've been acquired in trades by the poor performance of the entire roster, when half the guys who were acquired aren't even on the roster and those who are on the roster aren't actually playing that badly, seems very strange to me. Let's take a more nuanced, long-term view, please. 

Deadline acquisition Jeff Clement has posted a 1239 OPS for Indianapolis so far. Another recent trade acquisition, Jose Tabata, has a .922 OPS there in a small sample, despite only turning 21 this week. Last year's top pick, Pedro Alvarez, is tearing the cover off the ball at Altoona. Tim Alderson has pitched well in two starts there. Jeff Locke, acquired in the Nate McLouth deal, has pitched well in three straight starts for Lynchburg. New Lynchburg infielder Josh Harrison, acquired in the John Grabow deal, has hit well too, and Nathan Adcock, acquired from Seattle in the Jack Wilson deal, has had two good appearances there. Huntington acquisitions Tony Sanchez, Hunter Strickland, Brett Lorin, Robbie Grossman and Casey Erickson have all played well for West Virginia. The Bucs have spent millions in the past couple weeks on a number of talented high school pitchers. Today, two of them, Trent Stevenson and Zachary Fuesser, pitched four innings of shutout ball for Bradenton; it was Stevenson's pro debut.

My point is not that all these players will turn out to be good, or that things are all peaches and cream right now. My point is that, in a week where we've gotten so much good news from the minors and from a number of Huntington's trade acquisitions in particular, it seems like an extremely strange time to call out Huntington's trade acquisitions. The ones already in the bigs have actually, as a group, been decent, and the ones in the minors, along with a number of Huntington draftees, have played very well--better than I'd expected, in fact.

Losses at the big-league level stink. I hate them; we all hate them. But this has actually been a very good week in Pirates baseball, not a bad one. Blaming the new guys for the "unmitigated disaster" that the big-league team has recently been is silly, not only because they aren't primarily to blame but because most of the best ones aren't even there yet. And trying to "assess" the trades based on only a week or two of bad big-league play seems sillier still. 

Personally, I prefer to evaluate trades based on the information available when they were made, since the futures of baseball players are inherently unpredictable and all you can do, as a GM, is to position yourself so that you're likely to be on the crest of the wave rather than being smashed by it. But if we're going to evaluate trades based on the results, and only at the big-league level, well jeez, shouldn't we wait a little while for those to come in? Kovacevic notes that "waiting for top-flight players such as Tim Alderson and Jose Tabata to arrive would be the fairest way to assess" the trades. Well, no kidding. If we're going to assess the trades based on big-league results, waiting for the best players to actually play in the big leagues would, in fact, be the only fair way to assess them.