There was some talk on Twitter this morning about Neal Huntington's worst moves (and I might make a list of those later this week), so I thought I'd take a look at his best ones. A couple of things here. First, I generally take the position that the best time to evaluate trades is when they happen (draft picks are a different story, since there's a limited amount of information available), but I want to be somewhat results-oriented here. It's not that I want to see major-league results before calling a trade a win, but that I want to see at least some post-transaction evidence that a move is likely to work in the Pirates' favor. After all, this is about Neal Huntington's best moves, not Neal Huntington's best ideas for moves. Second, this isn't meant to be a defense of Huntington, and actually, I think that as a list of Huntington's best moves in four and a half years, this is rather weak tea. I'm just picking out what I think his best moves have been.
1. Signing Andrew McCutchen to a six-year, $51.5 million extension. This move doesn't get high marks for skill, since every general manager in baseball knows to do stuff like this if it's possible. But it gets extremely high marks for importance. McCutchen is currently hitting .340/.398/.556, and he plays a premium defensive position. Would it surprise anyone (well, anyone in Pittsburgh, anyway) if, in two years, he were the best player in baseball? The Pirates control his rights, at reasonable prices, through 2018, which means they'll be able to keep him through his age 31 season. That's awesome.
2. Trading Octavio Dotel for James McDonald and Andrew Lambo. There's a reason Grant Brisbee called this the worst trade of the past five years ... from the Dodgers' perspective. The Pirates gave up half a season of a decent closer, and they got a potential rotation anchor in McDonald. McDonald isn't eligible for free agency until after the 2015 season, and he's only now coming into his own, so it's not clear exactly how good this trade will end up being, but McDonald has already earned his keep, and if we're all very lucky, his stellar pitching this season will turn out to be the real deal. He's been so much better this year than he was last year that it's tough to know what to make of him, but I have high hopes, since he's 27 and his stuff is so strong.
3. Trading Nate McLouth for Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke and Gorkys Hernandez. The amount of tooth-gnashing about this trade has been way out of proportion to its actual impact, but this is still a winner. I don't think Locke or Hernandez are likely to be more than role players (although I suppose there's still some hope for Locke), so this boils down to McLouth and Morton. McLouth has been frustrating his employers (unfortunately including the Pirates) since the trade. Morton has been frustrating too, but at least he's functional (he was 2.2 wins above replacement last year), and if he can ever be more consistent with his mechanics, he can be something more than that.
4. Trading Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte for Jose Tabata, Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutchen and Ross Ohlendorf. Tabata's career is stuck in a holding pattern, but the Pirates have already won this one, getting three modestly useful players for two aging vets. A look at the players' WARs with their new teams makes that point perfectly clear.
That's a good trade. The Yankees probably aren't overly concerned about it, since they have the luxury of not worrying much about average players like Tabata or Karstens. And the impact of the trade even from the Pirates' perspective isn't spectacular, since the Bucs didn't get any stars (although there's at least some possibility that Tabata might still become one). But this was a nice win for a Pirates team that, at the time, was struggling to find competent players all over the diamond.
5. Signing Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon) came when he was picking at the top of the draft, when it doesn't take a rocket scientist to get a player with lots of upside. (It also isn't yet clear what Cole and Taillon will become.) Also, while the Pirates' tendency to spend piles of money in the draft is (was) admirable, the bulk of the credit for that probably goes to Bob Nutting, not Huntington, and anyway, it's far from clear that Huntington and his scouting department have spent all that money well. It's not yet clear what Bell will become, either, but Huntington does deserve credit for signing him, since other teams had an opportunity to pick him, and they weren't willing to take the gamble. Bell was a consensus top-half-of-the-first-round talent, and Huntington gambled that he'd sign, and he was right.. You'll notice there isn't aren't a lot of draft-related moves on this list. That's because some of Huntington's biggest moves (picking
6. Trading Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett for Joel Hanrahan and Lastings Milledge. Milledge didn't pan out, and Burnett has actually had a very good season so far, and Morgan has been very dynamic at times, but let's forget about that. The key to this trade is Hanrahan, whose nasty stuff has made him a solid closer. The Pirates' ultimate reward for this trade will come later this season, when they'll probably trade Hanrahan. However, there's reason for concern there -- Hanrahan really hasn't pitched all that well so far this season, for one thing, and it's unclear whether the market for great relievers will be as strong at this year's deadline as it was at last year's. The Pirates were still in the race last July, so you can understand why they didn't trade him then, but they probably could have gotten a pretty penny for him if they had.
7. Signing Garrett Jones to a minor-league deal. Again, not a high-impact move, but the Pirates got a decent lefty bat (3.8 WAR with the Pirates) for nothing. Jones will probably have to be non-tendered next year, and of course he never returned to the heights of his 2009 season, but he's given the Pirates a bit of power in years in which they've really needed it.
8. Acquiring the West Virginia Power offense. This isn't a single move, but rather a collection of moves that reflect a big change in the way the Pirates are run. As with Bell and the draft, it's hard to distribute credit here, because increased Latin American spending was a big priority for Bob Nutting. But we're finally starting to see results from Latin American players, particularly Alen Hanson and Gregory Polanco, who were both signed in 2009.