The response to Neal Huntington's moves as the trade deadline approached have, so far, been mostly negative, but I think he did well to acquire Travis Snider in particular, and he also did well to balance the team's short-term needs, as they make a playoff push this year, with the organization's future.
Here's what the Pirates have done in the past 10 days:
-P- Acquired SP Wandy Rodriguez for OF Robbie Grossman, SP Rudy Owens and SP Colton Cain.
-P- Acquired OF Travis Snider for RP Brad Lincoln.
-P- Acquired 1B Gaby Sanchez and RP Kyle Kaminska for OF Gorkys Hernandez and a competitive balance pick.
-P- Acquired RP Chad Qualls for INF Casey McGehee.
Let's work backwards. The Qualls trade was largely a response to the Sanchez trade. Sanchez made McGehee superfluous, so the Pirates dumped him on the Yankees. Qualls is pretty likely to be terrible, and I'm sure the Pirates know that and won't hesitate to drop him in the very likely event that he doesn't succeed. I would have rather they just sucked it up and called up Bryan Morris or Chris Leroux, or traded for a reliever who's good, but you can't always get what you want.
I'm not sure what to make of Sanchez. We know he can hit lefties, but McGehee could do that too, so by trading McGehee, Hernandez and their competitive-balance pick, the Pirates seem to be guessing that Sanchez will have value to them beyond this year. His 2012 season has been terrible, but he played fairly well in 2010 and 2011. The problem is that he's almost 29, and there's not much reason to think there's much more there. He's under team control for three or four more years (depending on some vagaries of his service time clock), but unless he can turn his career around quickly, he's probably going to end up a non-tender candidate at some point.
I like Sanchez fine as a bench player. What I don't like is giving up a competitive-balance pick for him. Not only is the pick itself valuable (it'll be in the mid-30s in next year's draft), but the flexibility it would have given the Pirates is valuable too. Now that the pick is gone, the million-plus dollars it added to the Pirates' 2013 draft pool is also gone. The Astros showed this year what lots of money in your draft pool can do when they picked Carlos Correa first overall and then used the extra cash to sign another high-upside pick, pitcher Lance McCullers. Obviously, it's certainly possible that a player like McCullers will never be as valuable as Sanchez. Fine. But the Pirates are still a cash-strapped team, and someone like McCullers who has at least some shot of being a star would be a much more important player for the Pirates than someone like Sanchez, who doesn't appear to have much chance of being one.
That said, the Sanchez and Qualls deals were minor. The Rodriguez and Snider deals were more important, and I like those a whole lot better. There was a lot of this kind of thing going around on Twitter earlier this afternoon.
Would have liked to seen #Pirates get an established hitter and go for it instead of always getting "upside" guys. Rebuilding needs to end.
Travis Snider is the not the type of player contenders trade for. They trade f for guys like Choo or Pence.
Well, yeah, exactly. The Pirates still probably shouldn't be behaving like stereotypical "contenders," which I think essentially means acting like the Yankees or Dodgers. The Pirates can't afford to give up high-upside players of the kind typically required to get players like Choo or Pence, and there's a reason you never see a smart small-payroll team like the Rays doing things like that. Doing it for Justin Upton is one thing, because he's still a very young player who can be around for several more years; doing it for Choo or Pence, who would likely be gone after 2013, would be really dubious for the Pirates. (Especially in the case of Pence, who's due to make about a billion dollars next year and isn't as good as most of the world seems to think he is.)
Instead, what Neal Huntington did was to try to upgrade the team while hedging to protect the franchise's future. This was probably the smartest, most responsible course of action he could have taken. How well he did it is up for debate, but this was so much more level-headed than acquiring an overrated faux-star like Pence would have been.
In Rodriguez, the Pirates get a pitcher who should stabilize their rotation this year and next. The Bucs' rotation was looking very shaky after A.J. Burnett, so this moves helps them both this year and next. They're taking on some risk in paying a big chunk of Rodriguez's salary in 2014, when he'll be well into his mid-30s, but I think it's a risk worth taking. Whether or not you think it was a good deal probably hinges on what you think of Robbie Grossman. I'm not a huge fan of his, and he would have been behind Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Josh Bell, Gregory Polanco and now Travis Snider in the outfield pecking order, so although I agree he has a reasonable chance of having a decent career, I'm fine with the Pirates' decision to let him go.
The Travis Snider trade is a great move, straight-up. Brad Lincoln is a reliever. He's a potential closer, but relievers tend to have short peaks and tend to be available in free agency even to cost-conscious teams like the Pirates, so trading him for a potential everyday player made all kinds of sense.
Some folks on Twitter have made a big deal of the fact that Snider has taken five years to break into the big leagues. Before you go blaming Snider for that, have a look at his player page. Is a former top prospect who's been bouncing between AAA and the majors like this for the better part of five years being given much of a chance to succeed? It looks like what Snider needs, more than anything, is an extended stretch in the majors to see what he has.
You might argue that August and September on a contending team isn't the best context for that, but consider that 1) he's replacing ... well, basically no one; 2) he's moving to an easier competitive environment and a to decent ballpark for lefties; 3) he's only 24; and 4) his overall stat line, when you come right down to it, is plenty promising. He posted a 1.026 OPS this year in Las Vegas, which is good even in Las Vegas, and other than a poor performance last year for Toronto (which came, by the way, in two separate stints -- the Blue Jays never game him more than five weeks to get things going), his major-league numbers are at least decent as well.
At 24, this is a player who still has a chance of being a star. He has a good shot at helping the Pirates down the stretch, and he can be around for four years after this one. He's a former top prospect; no one seems to doubt his power; and he's put up big numbers everywhere but the majors. Maybe he'll turn out to be Lastings Milledge (the key warning signs here are Snider's recent wrist problems, and the fact that a smart team like the Jays was willing to trade him), but there's no rule that says Hunter Pence has to hit down the stretch either. Pence is more likely to be good this year, but either he or Snider would have addressed the Pirates' immediate needs. Only one of them is 24, and only one of them would have been likely to be around after 2013.
In short, then: the Rodriguez trade was good, the Snider trade was great, and the Sanchez and Qualls trades were weird but a lot less important than the first two. I give Neal Huntington's performance at the trade deadline a thumbs up.