Should the Pirates make a trade before the trade deadline to bolster their chances of winning the Division. Proponents against making a trade argue that the Pirates shouldn’t mortgage the future for a fleeting chance at playoffs this year. Proponents for making a trade argue that we should strike while the iron is hot. This opportunity may not come again for another, oh shall we say, 19 years.
It is my contention that the Pirates should trade, but not to improve their chances this year. Rather, I believe the Pirates should attempt to trade to get additional prospects to bolster their minor league system. Call me a spoil sport. Call me Crazy. Blind fold me and stand me up in front of the angry mob that will surely come to lynch Neil Huntington if he attempts to trade away pieces of this team.
I do not come by this opinion easily. Like most, I am thoroughly enjoying this year’s addition of the Pirates. But I am a realist. And this team is not pennant bound. Even if we should win the Division, can we really expect to beat the Phillies in the playoffs?
I believe a little history is in order as well. The last time the Pirates were a supposed buyer was 1997. The 1997 Pirates had the lowest payroll in baseball, and yet found themselves in a pennant race with the Houston Astros in 1997. Like the current addition of the Pirates, the 1997 Pirates were offensively challenged. No one on that team hit over 18 homers. It was their starting pitching that carried them. The starting rotation was Jason Schmidt, John Lieber, Estaban Loaiza, Francisco Cordova and Steve Cook.
At the All Star break the Pirates were in first place despite being .500 at the break. But in late July, as the trade deadline approached, the Pirates made no moves. On July 17th they were tied for first, but would embark on a 13 game road trip. They finished the road trip 5 wins and 8 losses. However, the Astros got hot during this same stretch and opened up a 6 game lead in the standings.
The only move the Pirates would make in 1997 would be to acquire Shawn Dunston off of waivers on August 31. The Division and a possible winning record was lost in September when the Pirates finished 11 wins and 14 losses in September.
In analyzing the season, could more have been done via trades to enhance the Pirates chances of winning. Possibly. But looking back on it now, we can take a look at the then Pirates minor league system and see that the Pirates minor leagues were devoid of any real talent.
Let’s take a trip down Memory Lane shall we and fondly recall the minor league prospects the Pirates had in 1997 that would supposedly turn the franchise’s fortunes around. Note that I am only going to name the players who would actually reach and/or sniff the major leagues.
At AAA Calgary, the Pirates had the following prospects: Jermaine Allensworth, Jimmy Anderson, Doug Boever, Adrian Brown, Wes Chamberlin, Lou Collier, Freddy Garcia, Jeff Granger, Chris Peters, Ramon Morel, Chance Sanford, Jose Silva, Clint Sodowski, Ron Wright and Turner Ward.
At AA Carolina the Pirates had Kris Benson, Jason Christianson, Chad Hermanson and Abraham Nunez.
At Class A Lynchburg the Pirates had Mark Farris, Aramis Ramirez, Tike Redman, Craig Wilson and Bronson Arroyo.
Of this group, arguably only Ramirez and Arroyo would become competent major leaguers. Turner Ward got called up to Pittsburgh in 1997 and made a significant contribution, batting .353. But he was near the end of his career, and was not someone you would classify as a “prospect.”
Clearly, in 1997 the Pirates were in need of an infusion of talent in their minor leagues. But rather than trade, they stood pat. And by doing so, they solved nothing. They didn’t get a bat that could put them over the top in the Central Division. And while they didn’t “mortgage their future” by making a trade, clearly their future with that prospect poll they had in the minors was last place for several years to come.
Today, we are hearing wonderful things about the Pirates minor league system. On paper, it appears to be in better shape now than it was in 1997. But most of the Pirates minor league talent is ptiching. What is missing at every level are impact bats. The System is devoid of any legitimate sure fire power hitters. Oh, there are some power hitters in our system, but none can be labeled as sure things to make the majors.
As I write this post, the Pirates have not made a move, just like 1997. In 1997 standing pat was a mistake. If history is any indicater, standing pat again in 2011 will be a mistake too.
And for those who argue that the Pirates should make a move, I point also to that 1997 year and say don’t be too anxious. In 1997 the Seattle Mariners were in need of relief pitching. So they shipped minor leaguers Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe to the Boston RedSox for Heathcliffe Slocomb. The Mariners and Slocomb made the playoffs in 1997 but were ousted by the Indians. And Lowe and Varitek became instrumental in the RedSox championships to come.
So to the Pirates I say go ahead and trade. But let’s keep the eye on the prize. Trade for prospects. Power hitting prospects. Power pitching prospects. The goal remains to have a pipeline of talent in the minors to feed the major league team. Real talent though. Not like 1997. The minor league system is vastly improved, but it still is a far cry from being the Pipeline of talent that is needed. Standing pat this year will not get us those impact bats we so despartely need.