Sunday, August 01, 2004

Trade Aftermath

The Kris Benson trade did have one positive effect, which is that Chris Stynes won't be playing for the Pirates anymore. The Pirates also sent Tony Alvarez back to Nashville, however, which kind of makes sense in Lloyd McClendon's bizarro universe: in Pittsburgh, he's just another rookie who'll rarely get to play (J.R. House and Jose Bautista are the others; J.J. Davis, if and when he returns, will make three). So it almost makes sense to just send him back to Nashville where he'll get to play every day. McClendon probably doesn't trust Alvarez, but if given the chance, he'd be a much better bat off the bench than Randall Simon (not that that would be particularly hard, even given that Simon played well today). Alvarez also has more long-term upside than Tike Redman, but the Pirates seem determined not to give up on Redman despite his mediocre minor league career and the awful year he's had. He's hit better lately, though, so maybe now wouldn't exactly be the right time to dump him anyway.

But more to the point: I've given myself some time to think a little about this trade in order to give you, the reader, a more balanced assessment of it. After forty-eight hours, I must report that this deal is still crap. Matt Peterson is a fairly low-upside guy; if all goes well he may be a back of the rotation starter. He's only a bit better than Matt Bruback, for example - a nice arm to have in the system, but no one to get excited about. Ty Wigginton is the status quo - a nice chess piece to have for a team trying to win 75 games. Anything can happen, of course, but with his age and history, I don't think he's ever going to play much better than he's played so far this year, which makes him the type of guy you settle on for a couple years until you can get something else. If he can really play second, he might be an asset there, but the Pirates already have several decent young second basemen.

Jose Bautista is the third part of the deal, and the most perplexing. He's lost a year and a half now to injuries and to the Rule 5 development-sucking process. He showed superb plate discipline in the low minors, but since then he hasn't been able to play. His upside is higher than that of Jeff "Singles" Keppinger, whom the Pirates also traded to the Mets along with Benson. But how high can it be now that he's lost almost two years?

And here's the strange part: last November, the Pirates didn't even think Bautista was worth protecting on the 40 man roster. He hasn't hit well since then, since he hasn't played much; what has convinced the Pirates that now he's not only worth a spot on the 25 man roster, he's worth trading important chits for? It's as if the Pirates are going out of their way to admit they made a mistake by leaving him unprotected. They did make a mistake, and their fans knew it then as well as they know it now. I thought Dave Littlefield was incompetent before; this move strikes me as, basically, proof of that, as an admission of incompetence. By acquiring Bautista like this, he admits that he screwed up by making a number of roster moves that even many casual fans knew were bad ideas. So, was the Pirates' loss of Bautista and others in the Rule 5 draft part of some grand plan that we fans did not understand? No, now we know it obviously was not. Or if it was, that plan has now been aborted. What's going on here? Does Littlefield even know?

And! Exactly how far out of their way did the Pirates go to get Bautista? Well, earlier in the day, the Mets traded Justin Huber, a legitimately good catching prospect, for Bautista before sending Bautista to the Pirates. What this means is that for the Mets, the price for Benson and Keppinger was Wigginton, Peterson and Huber. Why didn't the Pirates just take Huber, who's a much better prospect than Bautista? It could be because the Pirates already have very good catching depth, but that's not a good excuse. If the Pirates traded for Huber and then called and offered him to the Royals, Allard Baird would almost certainly have given up something besides just Bautista.

So unless Bautista or Peterson becomes a productive player - and it seems unlikely to me that either of them will (Peterson won't because he's not very good; Bautista won't because injuries and the Rule 5 process have messed up his development) - the Pirates didn't really acquire the future impact player they said they were looking for. I doubt that matters much to them, though. If everything breaks right they might be fairly competitive in the next few years anyway, mostly because of the nice work Cam Bonifay and Mickey White did in the farm system before Littlefield arrived, and because of the Brian Giles trade, which Littlefield doesn't deserve too much credit for because it was Bonifay who acquired Giles for next to nothing, then signed him to a favorable deal.

Before the Benson trade, the core of the '06 (or so) Pirates - Perez, Burnett, Van Benschoten, Bay, House, Craig Wilson, probably Jack Wilson - didn't seem like the sort of team that could win more than 88 games or so. In the next few years, they might have competed for a wild card or two. This Benson trade, like most moves Littlefield makes, has done nothing to change my opinion for the better. It's a "good" trade in that it gives the Pirates a few more chances of getting better in the future than two months of Benson would have, but it's a very bad trade in that the Pirates could have done a whole lot better - there's no one in this trade who has much of a chance of becoming a star, and the Pirates need to take chances on players who might, even if they have to reach way down into the low minors to acquire them.

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