Shame on you if you expected the Pirates to make a major move Thursday before the non-waiver trade deadline. That’s just not their way. They won’t give up proven veteran players who are under team-control for multiple years (Pedro Alvarez) or have a team-friendly contract (Starling Marte). Certainly, they won’t give up high-end prospects (Tyler Glasnow, Josh Bell, Jameson Taillon, Austin Meadows). They believe the only way they can win consistently is by building from within. You have every right to be disappointed the team did nothing at the deadline, but you shouldn’t be surprised.
The reports linking the Pirates to Tampa Bay Rays pitcher David Price were ridiculous. It’s hard to believe respectable journalists speculated about the possibility for a few hours Thursday. Last winter, a high-ranking Pirates official told me there was no way the team would trade for Price because it would have to give up too much to get him and then pay him too much. Price, who went to the Detroit Tigers, is making $14 million this season and could make $20 million next season through arbitration before becoming a free agent. That was too much for the Rays, who traded Price despite climbing back into the wild-card race. Do you really believe Pirates owner Bob Nutting would sign off on it?
Almost as laughable was the speculation Wednesday night and Thursday morning that the Pirates were in the chase for Boston Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester, who can become a free agent after this season. The Oakland Athletics got him for slugging All-Star outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. That’s a steep price to pay for a rental pitcher, but the Athletics have the best record in baseball and are convinced Lester will put them over the top after they traded for Chicago Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija earlier in July. General manager Billy Beane had better be right.
The Pirates’ situation is a little different. Lester wouldn’t have made them an instant World Series favorite. We’ll never know if the Pirates could have gotten him for a package including Marte or Alvarez, but it’s fair to say they weren’t especially interested in dealing either player. Marte, just 25, has shown great potential — it wasn’t long ago that a few dreamers compared him to Roberto Clemente — and is signed at a sweet price through the 2019 season with club options for 2020 and 2021. Alvarez has had a miserable season, but he did lead the National League with 36 home runs last season and is capable of getting on one of his white-hot streaks and carrying the club. He’s also under team control for two more seasons.
Almost as ludicrous were the reports that the Pirates were interested in bringing back A.J. Burnett from the Philadelphia Phillies. He is 37, is having a lousy season and appears to be about done. He isn’t worth his contract, not just for the rest of this season but next season. Beyond that, what makes you think Pirates manager Clint Hurdle wanted Burnett back? He didn’t believe in Burnett enough in the playoffs last season to give him the ball in decisive Game 5 against the St. Louis Cardinals, then had to put up with Burnett throwing a temper tantrum like a petulant child. Price or Lester would have helped the Pirates, to be sure. Burnett would not.
I have no problem with general manager Neal Huntington not making any of those trades.
It would have been nice if the Pirates had added a right-handed hitter. For a while Thursday, it appeared they found one in Tampa Bay super utilityman Ben Zobrist, but that report apparently was based on a Twitter hoax. ESPN should be ashamed for running with the story before checking it out. Huntington is counting on Marte coming off the disabled list soon to provide that right-handed bat.
It also would have been great if the Pirates found bullpen help. They don’t need a closer or eighth-inning man — Mark Melancon and Tony Watson are just fine in those roles — but a seventh-inning specialist would have been welcomed, especially considering the way Justin Wilson has struggled. Huntington believes one of the Pirates starters — Vance Worley or Edinson Volquez? — will be able to help in the bullpen when starter Gerrit Cole comes off the disabled list next week. Jeff Locke has options and figures to be sent back to the minors to make room for Cole.
The Pirates need a lot go right with their starting pitching to remain in contention for the National League Central Division title or one of the two wild-card slots. Cole has to come back and pitch the way he did down the stretch last season. Francisco Liriano must build on two consecutive wonderful starts. Charlie Morton needs to pitch much better than he has for the past month.
If those three things happen and the Pirates get something from Alvarez and a lift from Marte, there’s no reason they can’t win the division.
The Cardinals made their starting rotation marginally better by trading for Justin Masterson and John Lackey but did nothing to help one of the worst offenses in baseball. The Milwaukee Brewers added outfielder Gerardo Parra to their formidable lineup but did nothing to address their weak bullpen. The Cincinnati Reds, like the Pirates, did nothing.
“We felt like we were aggressive,” Huntington said, adding the Pirates “stretched way beyond our comfort level” in a number of the trade talks.
Of course, Huntington is going to say that. He and Nutting want you to believe the Pirates took big runs at Price and Lester. It makes them look good.
But here’s the bottom line:
“At the end of the day, we felt the right move was no move,” Huntington said.
You might disagree.
You might be disappointed, even angry.
But tell the truth.
You can’t be surprised.
Ron Cook: email@example.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the “Cook and Poni” show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.