On July 31, 2011, the Pirates acquired Ryan Ludwick from the Padres for cash and Derrek Lee from the Orioles for a low-level minor leaguer Aaron Baker. It was an important day in Pirates history as it marked the first time this century that the Bucs were buyers and shooting for the playoffs. Since 2011 (with the exception of standing pat in 2014), the Pirates have been buyers at the deadline each season, which is a drastic difference from what this organization did for years.
With the trading deadline quickly approaching this season, I thought I’d take a look back and see what prospects they lost in the past five years, where they’re at today and if any of them have become a productive player in another organization.
Aaron Baker, who was mentioned above as the prospect traded for Lee, was an 11th round pick of the Pirates in 2009. Once dealt to the Orioles, he never played above Double-A and was last seen in independent ball in 2015. It’s safe to say the Pirates aren’t regretting that deal. Lee hit a sizzling .337/.398/.584 with seven home runs in 28 games with the Bucs before opting to retire over $8M dollars to play for the Pirates in 2012. Despite not making the playoffs in 2011, Lee remains the Pirates best hitter deadline rental in my lifetime.
The next season, the Pirates made two trades as well. The first was on July 25, 2012 when they acquired Astros starter Wandy Rodriguez for Colton Cain, Robbie Grossman and Rudy Owens. It was a decent haul for Wandy, but those three never worked out for the Astros. Cain never played above Double-A in the Astros organization and was out of baseball by 2014. Owens was a decent prospect at the time of the trade and had reached Triple-A by age 23 and ended up repeating the level for years, made one start in the Majors and was unimpressive, was released and bounced around with a couple of organizations and never seeing the Majors again. He currently can be seen scuffling for the Somerset Patriots in the indy Atlantic League this summer. Grossman played a couple of seasons with the Astros and despite having some good stretches, saw limited success overall. He was picked up by the Twins this season and is getting a chance to play with an awful Twins team and Grossman’s answered with a .275/.408/.445 slash line. It’s likely this is just a flash in the pan for Grossman, but he’s still somewhat young at age 26 and could end up being like a Garrett Jones type with a couple productive years.
As for Wandy, he provided a solid 75 innings down the stretch that season and the first half of 2013 before the injuries hit Wandy and effectively ended his career.
Then on July 31 of that season, the Bucs picked up Travis Snider for Brad Lincoln and Gaby Sanchez for Gorkys Hernandez. We all know the story of Brad Lincoln. The former fourth overall pick in the 2006 draft, Lincoln never amounted to anything and did enjoy brief success out of the Blue Jays bullpen in 2013, but was released and ended up in the Phillies organization before returning to the Bucs to pitch at Triple-A last season. He was granted his free agency last November and hasn’t been picked up since. And Hernandez has been the same story his whole career, great runner, good defender, but the bat doesn’t play. He’s moved around a bunch and is currently playing at Triple-A in the Giants organization at age 28.
In 2013, the Pirates stood pat at the non-waivers deadline as the yinzers freaked out for most of August until the team made two memorable moves as they closed in on their first winning season in 20 seasons. On August 22 they picked up John Buck and Marlon Byrd for Dilson Herrera. And on August 31, Justin Morneau was acquired for Alex Presley and Duke Welker. Most fans remember Morneau as a solid defender at first base, but his power completely disappeared in a Pirates uniform. But the best pickup here was Byrd as he belted a home run off Johnny Cueto for the first run in a playoff game in Pittsburgh in 20 years. No one will forget that. Byrd was solid for the Bucs, hitting .318/.357/.486 in 30 games down the stretch for the Pirates. Herrera was the return the Mets got for Byrd and while he was only 19 at the time, Herrera could still be something. He’s played 49 games with the Mets to not much success, but he’s still very young at age 22 and having a nice season at Triple-A Las Vegas. As for Presley, he’s seen action in the Majors with the Twins, Astros and now the Brewers and hasn’t proven much more than a bench OF option for teams. He’s 30 and hitting .198/.271/.293 for the Brewers this season. Welker hasn’t seen the Majors since that 2013 season with the Bucs and he’s currently 30 and in Triple-A Sacramento in the Giants organization and given up 45 hits in 30 innings out of the pen. Nothing to write home about there.
Last season, the Pirates went for it with a couple big trades, picking up Aramis Ramirez for reliever Yhonathan Barrios, Joakim Soria from the Tigers for SS prospect JaCoby Jones, J.A. Happ for Adrian Sampson and then Mike Morse for Jose Tabata. Don’t want to spend too much time on Tabata because we’ve all seen enough of him, but he never saw the Majors with the Dodgers, was released last month and is currently playing in the Mexican League. Maybe him and Humberto Cota are drinking a Dos Equis together south of the border.
It’s only been one year since this trade so it’s tough to tell what the Pirates really lost in that deadline. Barrios made it up with the Brewers late last season and fired 6.2 shutout innings out of the pen. He went into this season almost a lock for the Brewers bullpen, but ended up going down with rotator cuff surgery in early April and hasn’t pitched at all this season. If he makes a full recovery, Barrios could still be a solid ML reliever.
JaCoby Jones, the Bucs third round pick back in 2013, could still be a productive ML with the Tigers, but he’s been struggling at Triple-A Toledo after a stellar start at Double-A this season. Jones was the Pirates minor league hitter of the year back in 2014 after belting 23 home runs at Low-A West Virginia. Jones was also suspended 50 games by MLB for violated the drug prevention and treatment program last season. He came back nicely this season at Double-A and made his Triple-A debut at age 24 this season. Jones could make his Major League debut late this season or most likely next season.
Sampson pitched well at Triple-A Tacoma this season for the Mariners, got called up for his Major League debut, struggled with four runs in 4.2 innings and then during warmups in his next start, left the game before throwing a pitch and will now need surgery on an injured right elbow. The surgery most likely ends Sampson’s season and stunts his development at a critical time.
Overall, the Pirates haven’t lost much in the few years that they’ve been buyers. Jones, Barrios and Sampson are the exceptions right now because it’s too soon and injuries have clouded two of the careers. But the Bucs parlayed three of the deadline years into postseason berths, one run within one game of the NLCS and what did they give up from 2011 to 2014? Nothing substantial. Herrera might be the only one out of that group that has the potential to still have a solid career, but the rest are either out of baseball or cast-offs on their second or third organizations since the Pirates traded them. So while there’s been much talk the last couple weeks about Austin Meadows, Josh Bell or Tyler Glasnow possibly getting dealt for a big name, remember that NH and the front office has been very shrewd in the deals he’s made at that deadline, which is just one more thing NH doesn’t get enough credit for from the local media and the yinzers. Look for the Pirates to go after the lesser names that they feel they can get value out of while not giving up any big names in return.