Deadline day was no big deal for Neal
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Barely an hour after crossing the finish line of a deadline sprint in which he swung four deals involving 12 players in six days, including the first known Gorkys-for-Gaby trade in the history of the major leagues, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington admitted he didn't necessarily set out to gridlock traffic at the door to manager Clint Hurdle's clubhouse.
"We worked hard to find the right fits," Huntington said via conference call Tuesday. "We looked to improve our rotation compared to what we had, looked to improve our lineup compared to what we had, looked to improve our bullpen compared to what we have, looked to improve our bench compared to what we have."
So ... compared to what you had?
"We were able to do that in three of the four areas without taking too much out of our major league team. We had an opportunity to improve the club now, but with players who fit very well for us going forward. So it was an opportunity to improve the organization while improving the 2012 Pirates."
Even if it meant he had to choose to make do without Shin-Soo Choo.
I really wanted Shin-Soo Choo for the Pirates just to hear the Cleveland outfielder's name attempted on the same streets where they did so well with Akinori Iwamura.
But Huntington didn't wake up July 24 thinking his 2012 edition needed at least four transactions to reach the postseason. The day he sent three minor leaguers to the Houston Astros for Wandy Rodriguez might well have been the only time Huntington would make news in front of the non-waiver trade deadline of 4 p.m. Tuesday, but opportunities kept pounding on the door.
At least that's how Huntington saw Travis Snider, a left-handed hitting corner outfielder with significant power potential who could be pried off the Toronto Blue Jays roster for Brad Lincoln in a swap of players taken 10 picks apart in the 2006 draft.
You can argue that neither player has really established himself at the big-league level, but that doesn't mean the deal wasn't worth the risk from the Pirates' standpoint. Lincoln had established only that he's a better reliever than a starter, but Huntington had bullpen depth to spare. The Snider deal meant that Garrett Jones will handle the lion's share of the first-base job, which made Casey McGehee available to the New York Yankees in exchange for what Huntington called "backfilling" the bullpen. Huntington thus sent McGehee to the Bronx for the suspect Chad Qualls, who will join his seventh club. The Pirates also sent the Yankees a reported $225,000 in that exchange. I guess the donations box at Bain Capital was closed Tuesday.
And in between, Huntington got first baseman Gaby Sanchez, an All-Star only a year ago in the second of back-to-back 19-homer seasons, in exchange for punchless outfielder Gorkys Hernandez and a compensation pick in the next draft.
Sanchez substantially could strengthen the team's bench, but the change-of-scenery theory so often at work in these kinds of deals wouldn't seem to hold up here. They just changed the scenery in Florida -- new stadium, new manager -- and suddenly Sanchez stopped hitting. Huntington hopes something will click for Gaby when his viewfinder clicks to PNC Park.
That's the framework of a pulsating week for Huntington, and the screaming you hear now is the Neal's-gotta-do-something crowd shifting into but-not-those-things mode, mostly because the more conspicuous prizes in the market fell to the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants, one of which will be hounding the Pirates for wild-card credentials.
The Dodgers got Philadelphia's Shane Victorino a week after landing Miami's Hanley Ramirez, and the Giants acquired Phillies outfielder Hunter Pence. You can pretend that means they made out better than the Pirates because they got bigger-name players, but remember; those Phillies started the 2012 season with $174 million worth of big-name talent and now can't get away from the table fast enough.
Anyone who pretends to know how these trades will play out based on reps and metrics is fooling themselves. You don't have to let them fool you as well.
Huntington said he found what Philadelphia wanted for Pence and Victorino "prohibitive" for his purposes, by which he means the sustainability of arriving talent well past the fall of 2012.
His progress in this mission has hardly been consistent, but when the general manager in his fifth year finally arranges the kind of talent that adds 15 wins a year ago and a projected 20 additional wins in the current season, you get to a point where you have to have some faith in him.
We're not even two-thirds of the way home yet. Sit back and enjoy the show.
First Published August 1, 2012 12:00 am