Pirates general manager Neal Huntington makes a call as the team works out at PNC Park in September 2013.
By Bill Brink / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
PHOENIX -- The Pirates' roster remained static Thursday. No additions, no subtractions. Despite the team's presence in the middle of a push for the National League Central title, the Pirates did not make a trade before the non-waiver deadline.
The combination of the Pirates' record and position -- 57-50 entering the game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, two games out of first place in the division and a half-game out of the second wild-card spot -- coupled with the frenzy of activity around the league made the inaction even more startling. Pitching aces changed hands, division rivals strengthened their rosters and the Boston Red Sox hit the reset button, even making a trade with AL East opponents New York and Baltimore.
"We felt like we were close a couple of times, but, obviously, at the end of the day we weren't able to push it across the line," general manager Neal Huntington said in a conference call.
The lack of a trade mirrored what the Pirates did last season, when they were 64-42 and in first place by 11/2 games on deadline day and also made no moves. This year, the hope for upgrades from within the organization and the nature of the requests from other teams contributed to the Pirates failure to make a deal.
Selling teams asked for major-leaguers rather than prospects, according to an industry source, and to move a contributor on the active roster in a trade would strengthen one area while weakening another. The Red Sox exemplified this with their returns: Slugging outfielder Yoenis Cespedes from Oakland for pitcher Jon Lester and hard-hitting Jonny Gomes, pitcher Joe Kelly and outfielder Allen Craig from St. Louis for pitcher John Lackey.
The Tampa Bay Rays did something similar when sending stud left-handed pitcher David Price to the Detroit Tigers in a three-team deal. The Rays received left-handed starter Drew Smyly from Detroit and middle infielder Nick Franklin from Seattle, both young players with major-league experience.
"It was more kind of an NBA environment, where it was established guys for younger established guys, versus a true buyers and sellers market where they're just going out to grab the best prospects they possibly can," Huntington said. "We were engaged on a ton of fronts. At the end of the day, we did not find the right situation for us."
The Pirates were in the Lester conversations, and, according to numerous media reports, were in the mix with Price. Asked how deeply the Pirates were invested in those talks, Huntington said, "Probably a better question for them [the other teams]. We felt like we were aggressive."
The asking price of young, talented, controllable players applied to the big names on the market, but that did not preclude the Pirates from adding one of the several players, mostly pitchers, they scouted in recent weeks.
"At the end of the day, we felt that the right move was no move," Huntington said.
Their division rivals took steps to improve.
The Cardinals added Lackey one day after acquiring starting pitcher Justin Masterson from Cleveland. The Milwaukee Brewers traded for Arizona outfielder Gerardo Parra, a strong defender whose left-handed bat provides a complement to the Brewers' three righthanded-hitting outfielders.
The Pirates can still make waiver trades in August, as they did last year when they acquired outfielder Marlon Byrd and first baseman Justin Morneau near the end of the month.
"I think it's going to be a challenge, but we thought it was going to be a challenge a year ago," Huntington said.
For now, the Pirates' rotation will be Charlie Morton, Francisco Liriano, Jeff Locke, Edinson Volquez and Vance Worley, with Gerrit Cole still on the disabled list. Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle said they believe the return of Cole and Starling Marte from injuries will strengthen the team, and Huntington said Cole's return could force one of the current starters to the bullpen.
Inactivity at the deadline can simultaneously be a vote of confidence in the clubhouse and frustrate a team that worked hard to reach contention.
"We all think that we have a team that we can compete with anybody right now," shortstop Jordy Mercer said. "In the long run, it's nice to add certain players like that, big-name players like that, it also does help your team. In the end, we know we have a good enough team. We wouldn't be where we're at right now if we didn't."
Hurdle planned to address the team before the beginning of the series against the Diamondbacks and express confidence in the current roster and encourage a focus on the task at hand.
"It was what it was," Hurdle said. "There's got to be trust at all levels. Our general manager doesn't come down here and question the guys on what happened during the game and doesn't question my game management. He trusts what we do, we trust what he does, and his group."
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @BrinkPG.
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