Let's Make a Deal – Cardinals at Pirates

The Pittsburgh Pirates approach the trade deadline with imaginary price tags over their heads. Might the St. Louis Cardinals be among the shoppers?

This past December saw a bunch of new faces in baseball's Winter Meetings, perhaps none more important to meet than Neal Huntington, new head of one of baseball's most volatile deadline-deal feedlots.

As the new GM of the perennially second-division Pittsburgh Pirates, he inherited a team that was all-but-guaranteed to be selling talent by this time of the year. As the one-time guru of player development for the Cleveland Indians, he has cast a hard eye toward determining his assets and holes to be filled. With a farm system overpopulated with "organizational players" and "six-year minor-league free agents," according to a <i>USA Today</i> preseason report, the ledger has been busy already.

As we approach the critical few weeks of rumor, speculation, and deal-seeking leading up to the July 31st trading deadline, the process of restocking will likely begin in earnest.

The only players on the 40-man who aren't nailed down? Perhaps Nate McLouth, Ryan Doumit, Matt Capps, and power prospect Steve Pearce, returned to Triple-A after a short time watching from the bench. With Jason Bay, Xavier Nady, Jack Wilson, and Damaso Marte headlining, this is a team that can ply its surprisingly decent first half into a strong bargaining position.

Huntington replaced Dave Littlefield, an oppositional man who approached deal-making as a beer-goggled fratboy approaches date-making, using "will you sleep with me" as his hello. Better to be rejected 99 times he might say, asking for a team's top two or three prospects in any given deal, figuring that it'll be worth it if the assaulted party ever says "yes."

It's a desperate approach, though, and when closing time came each year, Littlefield often found his leverage destroyed and his options few. The resulting final-hour couplings were often tawdry and embarrassingly shallow in meaningful return. A sad summary follows:

2007: Adding useless junk to the garage.

·         Acquired Matt Morris and his entire contract from Brian Sabean's Giants, inexplicably giving away $20 million of salary cap relief. Received no prospects.

 

·         Helped the Cubs solve a positional logjam by acquiring Cesar Izturis. Received no prospects. Dumped Izturis at the end of the year. Received no compensation.

 

·         Failed to trade Jack Wilson, despite surprising interest around the league.

2006: Four separate July 31st deals produce one useful player.

·         Traded gentleman Sean Casey to the playoff-chasing Tigers for a low-ceiling relief prospect, Brian Rogers. Too small a fish, he was thrown back into Detroit's minor leagues this June.

 

·         Unloaded the barely healthy Kip Wells to pitching-starved Texas, surprisingly in contention. Received a potentially useful 24-year-old relief prospect, Jesse Chavez. Wells makes two starts then hits the DL for the remainder. (Put this one in the "win" column!)

 

·         Bolstered the Mets' playoff hopes with crafty Roberto Hernandez and enigmatic Oliver Perez, in return for Nady. While Perez made this deal look foolish early, Nady has unexpectedly held up his end, and then some.

 

·         Sent their best available hitter, Craig Wilson, to the Yankees. Received future Wrestlemania star Shawn Chacon and got predictably disappointing results.

2005: The hot stove was cold.

·         Traded away their starting right fielder, Matt Lawton, to the Cubs. This resulted in the dawning of the Pirates' Jody Gerut era. All 18 at-bats of it.

 

·         Debuted top prospect Zach Duke to the majors, who showcased a 3-0 record and 0.87 ERA on July 27th. Sadly, his potential trade value may never again be as high.

2004: Goodbye Kris Benson. Hello Jose Bautista.

2003: Oh the humanity!

·         Dealt, and then miraculously un-dealt, future closer Mike Gonzalez to the Red Sox, when Brandon Lyon fails a physical. Gave away Jeff Suppan in return for one-tool Freddy Sanchez in the confusion.

 

·         Cemented the Cubs' hot corner for a decade, giving Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton free passes to the playoffs while taking on immobile strikeout machine Jose Hernandez and Bobby Hill, ne'er-do-well.

 

·         Followed this up by passing Randall Simon through waivers to further bolster the Cubs' bench. Forced baseball-reference.com to engrave the name "Ray Sadler" and eight career at bats into its database, as a result.

Five years of deadline deals, resulting in Freddy Sanchez, Jose Bautista, Xavier Nady, a potential reliever, and a 2003 playoff run for the Pirates' major league affiliate in Chicago. This is the legacy that Neal Huntington inherits, and must take pains to incinerate.

The news is abuzz in St. Louis about Tony La Russa's apparent thirst for new blood. It will be interesting to see whether our new GM, John Mozeliak, can reach out to his counterpart in Pittsburgh and open a pipeline that has been dry since the trade of Jack Wilson in 2000. If nothing else, perhaps Mo can put a squeeze on the one that leads to Wrigley.

 

 

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