Let's go back in time to early August, when the Pirates shipped Francisco Liriano, Reese McGuire and Harold Ramirez to Toronto in exchange for Drew Hutchison. The trade made little sense as anything but a salary dump. I called the trade "disastrous."
I was angry about the deal, and shortly after I wrote about it, I was worried that I'd overstated how bad it was. The trade did clearly look like an awful baseball move, and it did bode poorly for the Pirates' financial health. But Liriano had been pitching poorly, McGuire and Ramirez were far from sure things, and maybe the Bucs saw something in Hutchison that no one else did.
Technically, perhaps, a trade can't be fully evaluated until all the players involved have moved on. But the early post-trade evidence suggests the trade is even worse than it looked at the time.
Let's forget about McGuire and Ramirez for a second. They're both crucial pieces in the deal, but we don't know much more about them now than we did when the deal took place. Both spent time on the DL shortly after the trade, and neither accumulated much playing time, although it's fair to note that McGuire didn't hit well in a small sample with Double-A New Hampshire. Their values, and their statuses as prospects, haven't changed much since the deal.
Instead, let's focus on Liriano. The Pirates cleared $17 million in salary when they dealt him. Which, fine -- that's $17 million the Pirates could spend on something else, at least theoretically. Liriano had been in the midst of a terrible season, with a 5.46 ERA and 5.5 BB/9, and swapping him out in favor of Ivan Nova (the value of whom I mostly failed to see) turned out to be a net positive for the Bucs for these last two months.
The thing is, though -- and many people, I think including James Santelli, made this point in their criticisms of the trade -- is that, leaving Liriano's salary aside, he had value. If, instead of being traded, Liriano could have hit the open market in early August to sign a contract through the 2017 season (the span of time his current contract covers), he should have been able to get at least $10 million or so, just as . Yes, Liriano was struggling, but he had struggled at previous points in his career, so there was reason to hope he could get back on track. Even if the Pirates thought they couldn't help him, they should have been able to find a team willing to gamble that it could, and that team shouldn't have seen Liriano as a complete waste of $17 million.
Liriano's performance with Toronto has shown why. He finished the season with the Blue Jays with a 2.92 ERA, 9.5 K/9 and a mere 2.9 BB/9 in 49 1/3 innings. That's still a small sample, but it's a night-and-day difference from his performance in Pittsburgh, and the Blue Jays have to feel good about having him in their rotation next season. All they had to do to get him was pay his salary, which suddenly actually looks like a modest bargain rather than an albatross. And the Jays got their current No. 4 and No. 5 prospects in the deal, too.
Meanwhile, we're no closer to figuring out what the Pirates saw in Hutchison, who posted a 4.50 ERA in Indianapolis and a 5.56 ERA in 11.1 innings in Pittsburgh. Nothing about his peripherals or other aspects of his performance is particularly promising, either. And, of course, he's already making $2.2 million this season and will be eligible for arbitration again this winter. If he hadn't been the guy the Bucs acquired for Francisco Liriano, no one would think twice about labeling him a non-tender candidate, since he hardly played in the big leagues this year. In fact, I still think it's pretty likely the Pirates could have just waited for the Jays to non-tender him, then signed him themselves this offseason.
Who knows? There's still time. Maybe McGuire and Ramirez really won't turn out to be anything. Maybe Liriano's performance down the stretch this season will have been a mirage. And maybe Hutchison really somehow is a diamond buried deep -- incredibly deep -- in the rough. Right now, though, the trade looks even more baffling than it did when it was made.