UPDATE: Shortly after the deadline, and after I published this, the Pirates acquired J.A. Happ and Michael Morse in separate trades. Those deals are both marginal ones that don't really change anything I wrote below, but they are, of course, worth noting here.
* * *
Around the game, this week's trades included plenty of huge names -- Johnny Cueto, David Price, Cole Hamels, Carlos Gomez. Unless there's a late-breaking trade, the Pirates didn't land any of those big fish. That's the norm with them, but this time, I think that's okay. Teams gave up a lot to acquire those guys, even though a couple of them were rentals, and the Bucs were in a spot where they didn't necessarily need to land a top player.
That sounds a little ridiculous -- of course David Price would have helped the Pirates. He would have helped anyone! But the Bucs are currently 5.5 games behind the Cardinals, and five games ahead of the Cubs, who are the best NL team who wouldn't make the playoffs if the season ended today. The Bucs are probably going to get one of the Wild Card spots, and Price wouldn't have changed that likelihood very much. None of that is certain, obviously, and the Pirates clearly could have improved their chances of winning a World Series with someone like Cueto or Price, but likely not by so much that giving up a handful of top prospects really would have made sense. "Going for it" by acquiring stars at the trade deadline is sexy, and there's a time and a place for it, but going for it comes with a cost, and often it doesn't work out the way it's supposed to. Just ask last year's A's.
Another possible route for the Pirates would have been to acquire someone like Hamels or Tyson Ross, who would have been with the team beyond 2015. I would have liked such a move better, but it's hard to say the Pirates made a mistake. The cases of Hamels and Ross are somewhat different, and I like Ross a lot better -- he's younger and a bunch cheaper, and with his history of hitting ground balls, he'd fit perfectly in the Pirates' system. The Padres, though, made the rather amazing decision not to sell, thinking for some reason that they're still contenders. Hamels is great now, but he's 31. His contract (whether or not the Pirates would ever be willing to take it on) isn't exorbitant, but he would have cost the Bucs prospects too, and he's pretty likely to decline in the next few seasons. The Pirates habitually shy away from big financial commitments, and that's a problem, but that in itself isn't the issue here -- it's also the talent they would have had to give up.
In any case, given the limited impact a star player likely would have had on the Pirates' playoff chances this season, I can't blame them for making only a few quieter moves. Leaving aside the Joe Blanton trade, which I don't entirely understand yet and which isn't that important anyway, they made good ones, improving without giving up much. In Aramis Ramirez, the Pirates got a competent short-term replacement for Josh Harrison and only gave up Yhonathan Barrios, a hard-throwing but underwhelming reliever who probably would have been out of the organization within a few more months anyway. Once Harrison returns, Ramirez will still help the Pirates, because their depth will be a bunch better, particularly from the right side of the plate.
The Bucs didn't give up much for Joakim Soria, either -- JaCoby Jones hasn't hit much this season, has issues controlling the strike zone and isn't that young. He's very athletic, and it's not impossible to see him having a future as a big-league infielder with above-average pop, but that doesn't seem incredibly likely. Soria has a weird stat line this year (2.85 ERA, 4.81 FIP, 3.71 xFIP), but the high FIP is due mostly to a ridiculous home run rate, and he generally remains effective. He should give the Pirates additional strength and depth, particularly given that they have a number of guys (Blanton, Deolis Guerra, Arquimedes Caminero, Antonio Bastardo) who are questionable for one reason or another.
If the Pirates weren't going to acquire someone like Ross, then (a young-ish, controllable player with star upside, as opposed to a rental player), I like what they did in the past couple weeks. And, of course, the price for someone like Ross might simply have been too high. Given the high probability that the Pirates were going to wind up with a Wild Card spot no matter what they did, lower-profile upgrades at positions of need were the right way to go.