Thursday, July 31, 2008

More thoughts on the Bay Trade

I've seen a lot of reactions to this trade and I'm getting a ton of traffic, so I'm going to start this post way back at the beginning. If you're a regular reader and the first two paragraphs or so seem obvious to you, bear with me.

One year ago, Neal Huntington inherited a wreck. He was handed a baseball team built for 75 wins through 2009, at which point it would be completely disbanded, and a minor league system that was so barren that Steve Pearce hit his way to being the #2 prospect in the organization with only one good season. Faced with a choice, he decided to try and let his players maximize their value before trading them off to rebuild the entire organization from square one.

The key piece in doing that has to be the best player on the major league team. That is, of course, Jason Bay. Trading Jason Bay today is not a salary dump, because the Pirates can afford to keep him. Because of the sins of the past, the Pirates have no choice but to look to the future. After 2009 Bay is a free agent that commands $10 million + per year. The Pirates can afford that, too, but to them, a team that's undeniably on a budget, he won't be worth that money. Trading Bay for prospects at this trade deadline is a necessary step towards some day contending again. It's hard to look at a team like the Pirates that's been hitting so well this year and say that, but it's really the truth.

So we come to the trade. The Pirates' position all month has been that they don't have to trade Jason Bay. I've written this before and I'll write it again: that's only technically true. In reality, with two teams in one division needing Bay right now, his value was never going to be higher. The Red Sox wanted Bay partially to replace Manny Ramirez and partially to keep him from going to Tampa. The Rays wanted him partially because they need a right fielder and partially because they wanted to stick Boston with Manny for the rest of the year. In a situation like that, Bay's value was never going to be higher. Huntington knew that and for at least two days, I've had the sense that Bay was going to be dealt to one of the two of them. If you can't strike when the iron's hot, there's not much reason to strike at all.

In the end, the return that we pulled for Bay was better than any single one of the rumors I've read online in the past two days. Andy LaRoche is real hitting prospect that was stuck in an awful situation in LA with a team that had no appreciation for him. Prior to this year, he OPS'd over .900 in his three previous minor league seasons. He's capable of having the career that we all wish his brother would have. Bryan Morris is a great buy low pickup. He's a very promising pitcher in A-ball that missed all of last year with Tommy John surgery, but seemed to be bouncing back very nicely this year. He's good good strikeout and walk rates and might rise pretty quickly once everyone's convinced he's healthy. He's the type of pitching prospect this organization doesn't have and desperately needs. Brandon Moss and Craig Hansen don't have the upside of LaRoche or Morris, but that doesn't make them bad pickups. Moss's minor league numbers kind of remind me of Steve Pearce's, possibly with less power but more consistency. He's hit very well with limited action with the Red Sox this year. He's still only 24, and he's someone that the team can plug in and give a chance to right now while they're bridging the gap to the prospects they've acquired recently. Hansen has electric stuff and hasn't put it together for the Sox, but his minor league numbers are mostly very good and he's a young guy that can step into our pen right now. Seeing as he's probably the player I'm the least excited about in this trade, I think that makes it a very nice haul for Bay.

It's also important to look at aspects beyond the trade. The truth is, we're out from underneath a lot of money that would've gone to him. If we use that money to make sure Alvarez signs, sign Robby Grossman, maybe one more high upside pick from this year, and another pick or two next year, then we get to add all of them to the minor league system, as well. They're not direct results of the trade, but they're indirect acquisitions as well.

I know lots of people are rolling their eyes today and saying, "Here we go again, more rebuilding for the Pirates," but the reason we've been rebuilding for fifteen years is that nobody's actually managed to do it right. Huntington's still got a long ways to go and a tough job ahead of him, but this trade is exactly what he needs to be doing.