Okay. Let's ignore all the little trades. The Ivan Nova deal was a little depressing, but it wasn't surprising and ultimately won't be harmful as long as the players to be named later the Pirates are giving up aren't particularly good. The Antonio Bastardo / Jon Niese trade was strange, but it's hard to argue with any trade that results in the Pirates potentially getting back a useful ballplayer in return for Jon Niese. Even the Mark Melancon deal, while an odd move for a contending team, ultimately was just a trade of a rental closer, albeit a really good one.
So let's forget all of that, and let's focus on the Pirates' late-breaking trade of Francisco Liriano, Harold Ramirez and Reese McGuire for Drew Hutchison, which is the most baffling and deflating move Neal Huntington has ever made as GM of the Pirates. Liriano will make about $18 million through 2017. Hutchison will make a little less than $1 million for the rest of this season. What the Pirates have essentially done here is to trade Ramirez and McGuire for $17 million.
This trade is a disaster. When the smoke from the deadline clears -- once people get used to the idea of Aroldis Chapman as a Cub, and Andrew Miller as an Indian, and Jonathan Lucroy as a Ranger -- the Pirates are going to get a ton of criticism for this trade. And they're going to deserve almost all of it.
Their critics are going to have a really easy time, too, because this deal plays into every conspiracy-theory narrative there is about the Pirates' ownership being cheap, and because it will be easy to point to the Aramis Ramirez trade as proof that this is the sort of thing the Pirates always do. That was, of course, a different time, and that deal involved a worse owner, a much worse GM, and a much better player. The Bucs have taken enormous steps since then to reestablish themselves as a serious team. But the basic framework was the same. The Pirates gave up a ton of talent for no reason but to save money.
You know that's true, too, because of what Neal Huntington has already said about this trade.
Neal Huntington, asked about moving Liriano salary: "Our goal in trading Ramirez and McGuire was to acquire Drew Hutchison."— Bill Brink (@BrinkPG) August 1, 2016
Riiiight. Hutchison will be 26 this month and he already has three-plus years of big-league service time, and the Pirates aren't even assigning him to the big-league squad. Huntington's claim that he traded two of the Pirates' top prospects for the purpose of acquiring Hutchison is asinine, to put it mildly. Their values aren't remotely similar. I know that, you know that, everyone knows that.
The Pirates have, to their credit, made weird-looking pitching moves before and had them work out. Their acquisition of J.A. Happ last year looked like an uninspired short-term move at the time, and that turned out brilliantly. Maybe they genuinely do see something interesting in Hutchison. I don't know what it is -- he's a fly-ball-prone righty with modest velocity and no significant track record of success. But it wouldn't be a shock if Hutchison emerged as a semi-productive pitcher at some point.
Even if he does, though, there was no reason to have traded Harold Ramirez and Reese McGuire to get him. Hutchison has spent most of the year in the minors, making clear that the Jays had no real interest in him and thus shouldn't have required much to part with him. They might well have non-tendered him in a couple months, since he's already making $2.2 million this year.
I chuckled when I saw this:
So the Pirates wouldn't trade two top-five prospects for Matt Moore or Jake Odorizzi. Good for them! I applaud that decision. But then they traded two of their top ten prospects for a pitcher who isn't on the same planet as Moore or Odorizzi in terms of value or pedigree.
One can, of course, make excuses about why Ramirez and McGuire were expendable. Ramirez has a thicker body type, hasn't developed much home-run power and wasn't likely to pass Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco or Austin Meadows on the Pirates' depth chart. McGuire still doesn't hit particularly well. And, of course, the Pirates know Ramirez and McGuire as well as anyone, so it's possible that they have well-formed opinions that these guys aren't as good as everyone else thinks. Maybe they won't turn out to be anything special, and the Bucs can whistle while they walk away from this trade.
Obviously, though, that's no reason to trade them at a steeply discounted price. If Ramirez and McGuire aren't interesting players, no one else seems to know that. So the Pirates could have traded them for players with more value, and not, you know, Drew Hutchison.
The only reasonable conclusion here, then, is that this was about money. Money is baseball is a funny thing. Fans, especially Pirates fans, often seem to think that it is infinite, and that the existence of any upper limit on the amount a team might spend in the season is a dastardly betrayal of trust. That's not true. Every team has a budget, and every dollar a team spends somewhere is a dollar it's not spending somewhere else. We can argue about where the upper limit on the Bucs' spending should be, and I'm with most fans in that I think, based on the limited information I have as an outsider, that it should be higher. But I try to be sensitive to the facts that money doesn't grow on trees and that, until baseball has a salary cap, the Pirates are probably going to spend less than some teams.
In this case, though, none of that matters. No organization that takes itself seriously should be throwing away two legitimate young talents for money, particularly not the relatively piddly $17 million or so the Pirates will save with this deal. There is no good reason to think these dollars will be reallocated toward a robust budget in the future. Remember, this is an organization that, instead of paying for J.A. Happ last offseason, gave us Ryan Vogelsong. The Bucs' 2015-2016 offseason was suspect enough. At this point, it's fair to wonder what the Pirates' baseball operations budget is and why it's apparently in such terrible shape that they had to trade two top prospects -- the kinds of players who, because they'll be lightly paid once they get to the majors, might be able to produce $17 million in surplus value within a year or two of the start of their big-league careers -- just to clear a few million dollars in salary.
Last year, the Diamondbacks traded Bronson Arroyo and Touki Toussaint, who they'd selected with the 16th overall pick of the previous year's draft, to Atlanta for a mostly-useless infielder named Phil Gosselin. The idea, essentially, was that the Diamondbacks had traded a top prospect for about $10 million in relief on Arroyo's salary. In the wake of the deal, Diamondbacks GM Dave Stewart cited "flexibility," the same word Neal Huntington used over and over to reporters this evening, in explaining the trade.
Nearly everyone who understands the economics of baseball ripped Stewart and the D'backs for the trade, and they deserved it -- it reflected, at the very least, a grotesque misunderstanding of Toussaint's value. The trade the Pirates made today is just as bad, and what's most frustrating is that, unlike with Stewart, we know Huntington knows the reasons it's bad. If the Pirates wanted to trade Liriano, fine. If they wanted to trade Ramirez and McGuire, that also would have been fine. But don't trade two good young players for a relatively minor amount of money. And if you do, don't act like you're running a serious organization. You aren't.