Monday, March 25, 2013

Evaluating Neal, the Trader

Pirate Chat / Facebook Friend John Niespodzianski posted the following from the "Battling Bucs" blog yesterday:

If you are at all interested in the topic at hand, I would recommend you read the entry.  It lists 61 trades - not draft choices, not free agent signings, but trades - made by Neal Huntington since his tenure at PNC Park began back in 2007.  John, who is a Pro-Neal Advocate, asked that people try to evaluate only these trades and make a judgement on how NH has fared in this regard during his tenure.  John and I, and others on Pirate Chat, have had some friendly, yet semi-heated discussions on the topic of GM Neal, but I promised that I would try to look at this matter with an objective an eye as possible and come to a conclusion.

Here are some of my own self-imposed rules in doing my analysis:

  1. The blog lists Evan Meek as being acquired in a trade.  I believe that he was a Rule 5 draft pick, but what the hell, for our current purposes, let's consider this a trade.
  2. I did not include any of the trades made since the end of the 2012 season.  This includes the Hanrahan to the Red Sox trade.  Too early to evaluate these in my view.
  3. Excluding those 2012-13 off-season trades, the number of deals drops from 61 to 55.
So, what are my conclusions? 

Of these 55 deals, I would classify 27 of them as inconsequential, basic nothing-for-nothing deals.  For example: Romulo Sanchez for Eric Hacker, or Luke Carlin for Adam Davis.  You get the idea.  I mean, who are these guys? Some were pretty much straight salary dumps for which the Bucs have become so famous.

This leaves 28 trades to evaluate.  By my count, these trades have brought 33 players to Pittsburgh who have played significant or semi-significant time with the Pirates.  Some of these guys were truly insignificant (Robinson Diaz, Gorkys Hernandez [more on him later].  Some had good times and then flamed out (Ross Ohlendorf), some never achieved potential (Andy La Roche), some flat out stunk  (Jeff Clement, Aki Iwamura).

Of those thirty-three players, sixteen saw and/or continue to see significant roles with the team, and of those sixteen, eleven of them are still with the team and could continue to contribute.  Those eleven players  are:

Jose Tabata, Jeff Karstens, Jeff Locke, Charlie Morton, Josh Harrison, James McDonald, Mike McKenry, A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, Travis Snider, and Gaby Sanchez.

Is this the normal rate of attrition for trades pulled off by the typical major league general manager?  I don't know, and I neither have the time nor the inclination to do the research to find out (but maybe somebody out there does!!).  

As for evaluating individual trades (of the so-called significant trades), I will offer the following:

  • Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett for Lastings Milledge and Joel Hanrahan.  Somewhat unpopular at the time, this one now looks pretty good.  Morgan is an okay outfielder and Burnett is now a decent face-one-lefty-batter reliever, and Milledge never did live up to his five-tool hype, in fact, he wasn't all that good, but Hanrahan became a two time All-Star lights out relief pitcher.  This trade could start to look even better if a couple of the guys obtained from Boston in exchange for Hanrahan turn out to be solid players at some point.
  • Octavio Dotel for James McDonald and Andrew Lambo.  Yeah, we know questions still exist about J-Mac, and who the hell knows what Lambo is up to, but I would still call this as a good one for the Pirates.
  • "Future Considerations" for Mike McKenry.  Don't know what those "future considerations" turned out to be, and The Fort is now only a back-up catcher, but every team needs one, and he's a fairly decent one.
  • Aaron Baker for Derek Lee.  This was a bold move made when the Pirates were in contention in 2011 and one that teams fighting for the post-season need to make.  Lee did get injured, so it didn't exactly work out the way the team wanted, but when he did play in 2011, he produced. Who knows what would have happened had he not gotten hurt?
  • Diego Moreno and Exicardo Cayones for A.J. Burnett.  With the way Yankees are going down this year, Moreno and Cayones may yet turn up in the Bronx and become stars, but until they do, this trade has to, so far, be considered Neal's best trade
  • Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte for Jose Tabata, Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens, and Daniel McCutchen.  Ohlendorf had a good season and flamed out. McCutchen was a fair long reliever for parts of a couple of seasons,  Karstens has been a fairly good starting pitcher but gets hurt too often.  The final net result of this deal depends on the mercurial Jose Tabata, and 2013 could be his last chance to make it with the team.  If he produces like he has shown signs of being capable, this will become a good trade for Neal.  If he doesn't, it becomes a fairly not-good-not-bad deal.
  • Nate McLouth for Jeff Locke, Gorkys Hernandez, and Charlie Morton.  This was very unpopular at the time, but Neal due to either sound baseball acumen or blind luck, seemed to sense that All-Star McLouth was something of a one hit wonder.  Morton has shown flashes of being a good pitcher, and I anxiously await his return for surgery.  The jury is still out on Locke, but he could be a starter on the team this season.  Hernandez never did much of anything for the Pirates, but they were able to trade him and receive Gaby Sanchez, and that could become the best net result of the McLouth trade. 
  • Colton Cain, Robby Grossman, and Rudy Owens for Wandy Rodriguez.  Exactly the kind of deadline deal that contenders need to make.  A lot of other moving parts went wrong with the Pirates late last year for Wandy to make a difference, but I am genuinely excited that he is a part of the Pirate rotation going into this season.
  • Brad Lincoln for Travis Snider.  You can argue that this was not the kind of deal to make at the deadline, and I would tend to agree, but Snider could turn out to be a good outfielder for the Pirates. Or, he could be the next Nate McLouth.  Time will tell.
  • Gorkys Hernandez for Gaby Sanchez and Kyle Kaminska.  If Sanchez can platoon at 1B with Garrett Jones and produce like Jones, this could turn out to be very good trade for the Bucs.
  • Jason Bay for Andy La Roche, Bryan Morris, Brandon Moss, and Craig Hansen.  Bay was the Pirates biggest chip when Huntington took over, and everyone knew that Neal would be trading him in an attempt to rebuild the team.  True, the trade looked good at the time with the team getting four promising and, in the case of La Roche,  highly touted prospects.  In hind sight, and how else are you going to evaluate such things, this trade BOMBED.  Only Morris remains with the team, and he just got sent back to the minors at age 26.  Even if he does make it to Pittsburgh it will be as a middle inning/situational reliever.  Not the results when you trade a former rookie-of-the year, all-star, and you best player.
  • Jose Bautista for Robinson Diaz.  No one complained about this one at the time, but let's call in our old friend hind sight again to see that this one was bad.  True, Bautista had more than his share of chances in Pittsburgh, but if part of a GM's and his minions' job is talent evaluation, the NHR failed big time on this one.
  • Freddy Sanchez for Tim Alderson.  Yes, Sanchez was injury prone, and, yes, room needed to be made for Neil Walker, but he was an all-star and a batting champion, and he did start and contribute to a World Series winner in 2010, and what has Tim Alderson done?
  • Tom Gorzelanny and John Grabow for Kevin Hart, Jose Ascanio, and Josh Harrison.  A starting pitcher and a pretty good relief pitcher for what has amounted to a utility infielder.
  • Jesse Chavez for Aki Iwamura.  This one could be the Signature Neal Huntington Awful Trade.  Neal will say that this is one where "we didn't give up much", but even if the Pirates only sent the Rays a half-dozen used jock straps, it was an awful deal for the team. He was hurt, he was fat and out of shape, he was over the hill, and he was paid a ton of money.  If someone, if not Neal, then someone on the scouting staff, didn't lose their job over this deal, then Bob Nutting is a true cream puff and not the heartless skinflint we all think he is.

I am not sure what kind of a grade I would assign to Neal's trading history, and,as I said earlier, I am not sure if the mix of hits, misses, and nothing-for-nothings is greater than, less than, or equal to the typical major league GM.  Frankly, I was surprised that there were as many players acquired by NH that are still in a position to make positive contributions to the team going forward, so maybe I give him a C+ or possibly a B- on his deals.   And of course, one has to take into consideration the financial constraints under which Neal operates.  If he were in Brian Cashman's position, who knows what wizardry he might be able to work.  Or, maybe not.

Also, Hunting the Trader does not exist in a vacuum.  Huntington the Drafter, Huntington the Scout/Talent Evaluator, and of course, Huntington the Guy Who Keeps Guys in the Minor Leagues Way Too Long must also be brought into the mix when you consider his overall job performance.  The assignment was evaluate Huntington the Trader, and on that score, he fares better than I thought he would.

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