Pirates wait until final minute to trade Bay
The cell phones and email inboxes were buzzing and blinking in the Pirates' PNC Park conference room within a minute of Major League Baseball's 4 p.m. trading deadline yesterday.
Jason Bay, the franchise player fussing in front of a clubhouse computer to learn his fate, stopped to pack his gear for the charter flight for Chicago, with the bus departing in 25 minutes.
"Is it on? Is it off?" Bay asked at the time. "Uncle, already."
He found out, and he and most everyone else involved would be stunned.
At a time general manager Neal Huntington described as "3:59 and seconds," the Pirates traded Bay to the Boston Red Sox as part of a three-team deal that netted four prospects. Boston sent superstar slugger Manny Ramirez and $7 million in cash to Los Angeles, and each of those teams sent two prospects to the Pirates.
- Game: Pirates vs. Chicago Cubs, 2:20 p.m., Wrigley Field.
- Radio: WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: Jeff Karstens (2008 debut) vs. RHP Jason Marquis (6-6, 4.69).
- Key matchup: Cubs vs. a Miller Park hangover after four-game sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers. The Cubs are 9-3 against the Pirates this season, including 5-1 at home.
- Of note: Marquis hasn't won since June 21. In five starts since, he's 0-3 and has allowed 28 hits and 18 earned runs in 30 innings.
Three of those four prospects are 24-year-olds who will join the Pirates this morning at Wrigley Field -- third baseman Andy LaRoche (brother of Pirates first baseman Adam LaRoche), outfielder Brandon Moss and pitcher Craig Hansen -- and 21-year-old pitcher Bryan Morris will be assigned to Class A Hickory.
"Wow," Bay said.
"Many, many people put many, many hours into how it ended up, too," Huntington said, referring to his scouts and other evaluators.
This was how it played out ...
The Pirates' focus for much of the week regarding Bay was on Tampa Bay because of that team's rich system, and that interest continued into yesterday. But the Rays steadfastly refused to part with any of their top four prospects, including shortstop Reid Brignac, highly coveted by the Pirates.
Meanwhile, Boston began making a serious push to move the disgruntled, often-controversial Ramirez -- "The Red Sox don't deserve me," he told ESPN Deportes Tuesday night -- and sought a left fielder capable of filling his formidable role in the lineup. The only available player approaching that criteria was Bay.
Low-budget Florida entered the mix as a surprising suitor for Ramirez and, by mid-day Tuesday, three-team talks were underway. A thin framework was established late that night where Bay would go to the Red Sox, Ramirez to the Marlins and outfielder Jeremy Hermida from Florida to the Pirates, with prospects sprinkled all around.
By yesterday afternoon, after several rejections, the Pirates agreed upon the three prospects they would receive. One was believed to be Florida pitching prospect Ryan Tucker, and the two from Boston were Hansen and an unknown. But the Marlins, according to one source, killed the deal when they asked the Red Sox to pay $2 million more than the $7 million remainder of Ramirez's salary for the season.
"It was all about money," the source said.
Doubts were raised as to whether Florida was serious in its negotiations, and the Pirates and Red Sox each turned elsewhere yesterday morning. The Pirates went back to one-on-one talks with Tampa Bay, but the Rays never budged. The Red Sox turned to Los Angeles, perhaps the only other team interested in taking Ramirez.
Then, not long after noon, Pirates worked through the Red Sox as a conduit and, somehow, just in time, the entire package was done.
It helped, according to one source, that the Pirates had done extensive scouting on the Los Angeles system in anticipation of a possible trade for shortstop Jack Wilson, when that seemed likely a month ago.
"It is something that took place relatively quickly," Huntington said of the trade, "even though the groundwork had been laid a while ago."
The Toronto Blue Jays, St. Louis Cardinals, Arizona Diamondbacks and Oakland Athletics also placed calls regarding Bay but never became serious suitors. The Atlanta Braves, who made a strong attempt late last week, never came back.
Team president Frank Coonelly, who has final say on all of the Pirates' daily operations, said management felt "very strongly" that the ultimate offer was the best one.
Unlike earlier in the week, when Huntington identified Class AA outfielder Jose Tabata as the prospect with the highest ceiling out of the Nady-Marte trade, he declined to do so with the foursome yesterday.
"I'm not sure there really is one guy that we target as the anchor of this trade," Huntington said.
The short-term focus probably will be on Andy LaRoche. Largely because of a powerful swing and patient approach, he was ranked Los Angeles' No. 1 prospect entering the 2007 season, No. 1 going into this one. He has batted .294 in the minors but just .217 in 62 games with the Dodgers, missing large chunks of time to injury.
"Andy LaRoche was one of the best prospects in all of baseball, and we're thrilled to get him," Huntington said.
He should be the Pirates' third baseman right away, displacing Jose Bautista, and he will not be the only one getting instant duty: Moss, Boston's Class AAA most valuable player last season, will take Bay's place in left field. And Hansen, a hard thrower who has dazzled when not battling control issues, will go to the bullpen. Moss spent a total of 34 games with Boston, Hansen 74.
Morris, who will join Hickory today, might have the most potential even though he is not close to playing in Pittsburgh. The Dodgers' first-round draft pick in 2006, He has above-average velocity on his fastball and breaking pitches, and his statistics in Class A this summer have been highlighted by 72 strikeouts in 82 innings. Huntington projected he could be "a mid- to upper-rotation starter."
Hansen was Boston's first-round pick the previous year.
Huntington sounded plenty satisfied with the Pirates' take -- and that was echoed by most national analysts, unlike with the Nady-Marte trade -- but also expressed "mixed emotions" in what he gave up.
Bay, 29, is enjoying a revival season, batting .283 with 22 home runs and 64 RBIs, and he last month overtook Bill Mazeroski for eighth place on the franchise's home run list with 139. After coming to the Pirates in a 2003 trade with the San Diego Padres, he twice represented Pittsburgh in the All-Star Game, including the 2006 edition at PNC Park, where his introduction was met with one of the most deafening roars in stadium history.
He was among the team's leaders -- "The leader, on and off the field," catcher Ryan Doumit recently called him -- throughout his tenure. And he and his wife, Kristen, were among the most active of the Pirates' family in the local charitable community.
Before the team boarded the bus yesterday, Huntington told Bay of the trade, then addressed all players and coaching staff in the clubhouse to explain management's reasoning, and he acknowledged it was a tough sell.
"They've lost a friend, a teammate, a brother," Huntington said. "I think they understand the direction we're going in, and some even appreciate it. Right now, though, it's a shock. Jason Bay, above and beyond everything else, is a great person. He's what we hope all future Pirates aspire to be, a real model."
Bay had made known his wish to stay in Pittsburgh, particularly after he and hitting coach Don Long bonded as part of his revival.
"I've always been happy here, but I'm just glad it's over, one way or the other," Bay said. "It was a crazy couple of days."
For the Pirates, fifth in the National League's Central Division at 50-58 and suddenly stripped of two-thirds of the most productive outfield in the majors, a 16th consecutive losing season -- which would tie a professional sports record -- seems more certain than ever, even if the newcomers perform optimally.
For the general fan base, which has seen this type of trade repeatedly result in nothing more than additional losing over the past decade and a half, it likely will not be received well.
Coonelly, who had said when taking the post late last summer that he would "make the unpopular decisions if I have to," sounded braced for that.
"I understand there's skepticism based on the history, but I believe the fans will see very quickly that this isn't the same old story," Coonelly said. "We've made trades here based on sound baseball judgment and building a championship-caliber organization, not for financial reasons, and we're confident people will see that."
He cited, as part of his conviction, numerous times when the Pirates rejected trade offers, including yesterday.
"We said no time and again, and we were doing that right up until the final minute."
The Pirates also entertained offers for reliever John Grabow into yesterday, but no offer above one average prospect was received, and they decided to keep him.
No talks of any kind were held regarding Wilson in the past week.
First Published August 1, 2008 12:00 am