Shipwrecked: Pittsburgh Pirates in Shambles

Frank Ammirante | June 1st, 2019

The Pittsburgh Pirates are the most poorly run franchise in Major League Baseball. The team hired Neal Huntington as General Manager back in 2007. They enjoyed a brief run of success from 2013-15 with three consecutive wild-card berths, but overall this front office has been a complete disaster, especially in the last three years. Huntington has firmly established himself as the worst GM in baseball.

Huntington has been completely inept in asset management, trading away valuable pieces for minimal returns. Under his management, the team has also been awful in player development. Let’s take a look at the three trades that have decimated this organization.

January 5th, 2018 – Pittsburgh Pirates trade OF Andrew McCutchen and cash considerations to San Francisco Giants for RP Kyle Crick, OF Bryan Reynolds, and $500,000 in international bonus money.

Andrew McCutchen was an icon for this franchise. He won NL MVP back in 2013 and led the team to its first playoff berth since 1992. During his 9 seasons in Pittsburgh, McCutchen averaged a slash of .291/.379/.487 with 23 HRs and 19 SBs. He also totaled 45.7 fWAR with an average of 5.1 WAR per year. In his last season as a Pirate, McCutchen slashed .279/.363/.486 with 28 HRs, 11 SBs, and 3.7 fWAR at the age of 31. This was still a valuable player at the time of the trade, so it was reasonable to expect a decent return. Let’s analyze the players Pittsburgh received here. RP Kyle Crick has turned into a solid arm in the bullpen, posting a 2.39 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and 25.5 K% in 60.1 innings in 2018. OF Bryan Reynolds is currently slashing .339/.393/.571 with 5 HRs in his rookie season. The Pirates used the $500,000 bonus money to sign SS Luis Tejada out of the Dominican Republic. Tejada is a long way from the Show and remains a work in progress.

The Pirates traded their best player in the last 20 years for a solid reliever in Crick, an outfielder with some pop in Reynolds, and an unknown in Tejada. Add in the fact that they paid for part of McCutchen’s salary and you have a totally underwhelming return.

January 13, 2018 – Pittsburgh Pirates trade SP Gerrit Cole to the Houston Astros for SP Joe Musgrove, 3B Colin Moran, RP Michael Feliz, and OF Jason Martin.

The Pirates made a young, flame-throwing righty named Gerrit Cole the first overall pick back in the 2013 MLB Draft. During his Pirates’ tenure, Cole averaged 130 IP, 22.4 K%, 6.4 BB%, 3.52 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and 3 fWAR per season. It was clear that Cole had not yet reached his full potential, especially with the way pitching coach Ray Searage encouraged him to pitch to contact. Cole was dealt to the Astros when he was still only 27 years old. In his first season in Houston, Cole posted a 2.88 ERA, and 1.03 WHIP with 276 Ks and 64 BBs in 200.1 IP. He’s currently dominating again this season, establishing himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball. In the deal, the Pirates received SP Joe Musgrove, who has some potential with strong control and groundball tendencies. But Musgrove will never be the dominant force that Cole has become and it’s not like he’s much younger (Musgrove is 26, Cole 28). 3B Colin Moran slashed .277/.340/.407 with 0.7 fWAR but he has limited upside. RP Michael Feliz has had difficulties finding success in the majors – he’s back at AAA. Fangraphs ranks OF Jason Martin as the team’s #24 prospect. It’s a long-shot that he ever makes an impact.

The Pirates traded a high-ceiling pitcher (who they mismanaged by having him focus on pitching to contact) for a few complementary pieces. The Astros have allowed Cole to pitch to his strengths and he’s now dominating hitters on a nightly basis. This was an absolutely horrendous deal, especially when you consider that the main piece (Musgrove) is only 2 years younger than Cole with much less upside.

July 31, 2018 – Pittsburgh Pirates trade OF Austin Meadows, SP Tyler Glasnow, and SP Shane Baz to the Tampa Bay Rays for SP Chris Archer.

After trading two blue-chip assets in McCutchen and Cole, the Pirates looked ahead for a full rebuild. On July 31st, the Pirates were 56-52, good for 3rd place in the NL Central. They were 6 games back of the division lead and 3 games back of the wild card. Despite their original intentions to rebuild, along with their tenuous playoff chances, the Pirates decided to trade their 2 best prospects, OF Austin Meadows and SP Tyler Glasnow for SP Chris Archer. In 2018, Meadows was struggling in AAA, with a .279/.318/.394 slash. He was having trouble making the big-league team. Glasnow was also struggling with a 4.34 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 34 BBs, and 72 Ks in 56 IP. But these were still two players with significant upside. In Tampa, Archer had continued to be an innings-eater with a strong strikeout rate (27+ K% last three seasons), but he also posted 3 straight seasons of a 4.00+ ERA and 1.24+ WHIP, so it’s not like he was dominating. The results have been absolutely disastrous. Meadows is currently slashing .361/.436/.688 with 12 HRs, 6 SBs, and 2.2 fWAR; Glasnow has a 1.86 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, and 1.8 fWAR with only 9 BBs and 55 Ks in 48.1 IP. Archer has been terrible, with a 5.75 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, and 0.0 fWAR, with 24 BBs and 40 Ks in 40.2 IP. While Shane Baz is still young (he’ll be 20 on June 17th), he is currently eating up A ball. He has thrown 20 innings and has a 25/5 K/BB rate along with a 2.25 ERA and a 0.850 WHIP. As if trading Meadows and Glasnow wasn’t bad enough, throwing Baz in this deal after drafting him 12th overall in 2017 makes it unbearably lopsided.

The Pirates traded two promising prospects and a former first-round pick for Chris Archer, a pitcher who has been on the decline for the past couple of years. The worst part about this deal is that it contradicted the McCutchen and Cole trades. The move made absolutely no sense, considering that Pittsburgh was still out of a playoff spot when it was consummated. These three trades have set the Pirates back for years. The inability to get the best out of their players (see Cole, Meadows, and Glasnow) compounds the need to fire Huntington. This is easily the worst front office in baseball.

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Main Credit Image: Embed from Getty Images