As I’ve mentioned here before, no trade happens in a vacuum. Individual, one or more of the trades that Neal Huntington made the last few weeks would seem to be a blunder. Taken togther, i.e. in context, they look brilliant.
Here’s the list of players added in these trades: Wandy Rodriguez, Travis Snider, Gaby Sanchez, Kyle Kaminska, Chad Qualls.
Here’s the list of players lost in these trades: Robbie Grossman, Colton Cain, Rudy Owens, Brad Lincoln, Competitive Balance Pick, Gorkys Hernandez, Casey McGehee.
Grossman, Cain, and the Competitive Balance Pick were not going to be in Pittsburgh for at least a year. I will come back to them later.
So in terms of current major league value Huntington swapped Owens, a borderline major league pitcher, Lincoln, a good relief pitcher, Hernandez, a bad fourth outfielder, and McGehee, a mediocre small part of a platoon corner infielder, for Rodriguez, a middle of the rotation starter, Snider, whose value is highly debatable, Sanchez, who is much better as a platoon guy than McGehee, and Qualls, a bad reliever.
McGehee was useless when replaced by Sanchez and Qualls is significantly worse than Lincoln. That may seem to make these four players’ acquisitions cancel each other out. Lincoln, however, fills the same role as Jason Grilli and Joel Hanrahan in the Pirates’ pen. Lincoln was a luxury that a team like the Pirates needs to sacrifice in order to improve holes in the rest of the team. As a result, I think that the swap of these players, that is Qualls for Lincoln and Sanchez for McGehee, is a net gain for the Pirates.
That means that the rest of the 2012 gain/loss calculus is represented by the loss of Owens and Hernandez and the gain of Rodriguez and Snider. This is simple. Rodriguez is a proven 2/3 starter in the big leagues while Owens is a borderline major-league pitcher. Hernandez wasn’t good enough to be a fourth outfielder on a team without three real outfielders while Snider has (while underperforming) been worth 1.9 WAR in 922 plate appearances. That’s not team altering, but it represents an upgrade in the outfield for this team and is, in my opinion, Snider’s floor. The swap of these players in and out of the Pirates roster is a clear boost to the Pirates in 2012. Since the swap of the first group of players (Qualls, Lincoln, Sanchez, McGehee) was somewhere close to even, the Pirates have clearly made themselves better for the rest of 2012.
Whether Huntington’s trades improved or hurt the team’s long-term outlook is less clear. This is partially because projecting prospects is far from a perfect science. I have heard wildly different opinions on both Robbie Grossman and Colton Cain. If Grossman and/or Cain live up to the more positive descriptions of them that I have heard, then these deals may hurt the Pirates going forward. If they fall short of that, and prospects rarely turn out as well as their most glowing scouting reports claim that they will, then this becomes an interesting question.
It’s impossible to speak to this question without delving deep into questions about individual players like Grossman, Cain, Snider, and Sanchez. Until I have done that, I’m really not qualified to judge the long-term outlook of these trades for the Pirates. However, the fact that it is doubtful that the Pirates hurt their long-term outlook while significantly upgrading their current roster means that Neal Huntington did a great job at the trade deadline. I applaud him.