The reverberating shockwaves grew larger as the details emerged, pushing fans into utter disgust from the Pittsburgh Pirates most lopsided trade in the Neal Huntington era.
The Pirates traded their opening day starter three years running, Francisco Liriano and his 13 million dollar salary to the Toronto Blue Jays for marginal Major League starter, Drew Hutchison. Hutchison was 13-5 last season, on the strength of the Blue Jays powerful run support, but had a whopping 5.57 ERA last season. This season he was banished to Triple-A.
The Pirates traded a starting pitcher and two top prosepcts in order to avoid giving Liriano 13 million dollars next year. Such act is as unbelievable as it is wrong.
On that surface, Liriano for Hutchison the Blue Jays won the deal. But wait, that’s not all!
The Pirates also included their eighth best prospect, outfielder Harold Ramirez. But wait, there’s more!
If the Blue Jays were to act now, the Pirates also included their ninth best prospect, Reese McGuire. McGuire is a 21-year old catching prospect largely projected as a future daily catcher in the major leagues.
Call now, operators standing by!
The Pirates not only robbed their farm system to avoid paying Liriano 13 million dollars next season, they robbed their fans who have already spent money to see a product which should have been a push for a fourth straight playoff appearance and a World Series.
13 million dollars is market value for Liriano. If Liriano is the pitcher to whom the Pirates offered three years and 39 million dollars (other teams offered more) last season, and the Pirates are serious about a contending team for this season and next, betting on the lefty to rebound would have been the right decision. And a better bet than Drew Hutchison.
So what message does the opposite action send?
“Financial flexibility” is the polished phrase they use to make the surrender all better. Fans may feel screwed, but hey, the Pirates are now “flexible” for the future.
Ask those in the financial sector what “financial flexibility” really means. It doesn’t mean profit. It doesn’t mean slashing costs for an inferior product AFTER your customers have already forked over their hard earned money.
It certainly doesn’t mean giving away a pair of prized prospects assumed to be major league caliber, one of whom is an ever valuable catcher, in order to save somewhere around 9-11 million dollars.
A financial sector employee will tell you that “financial flexibility” is a company’s selling assets in order to reinvest monies in more profitable areas or pay down debt to be more solvent.
Since we know Pirates owner Bob Nutting has used PNC Park and MLB Revenue sharing to become a Billionaire, paying down debt to a manageable level seems absurd.
The Pirates also did not re-invest the money they saved by trading Liriano and certainly don’t have a habit of signing quality pitchers to market fair deals in the off-season.
Given Liriano’s record in a Pirate uniform, the Pirates sold low. Liriano should be viewed as a legitimate Major League starting pitcher having a rough year.
Some defenders have pointed to Liriano’s statistics this season as a reason for the trade. That defense is missing the larger point: The Pirates received a pitcher with less worth AND gave up two prized prospects in order to avoid paying Liriano 13 million next season.
Even if Liriano, McGuire and Ramirez fail miserably, and Hutchison succeeds, the deal is still an abandonment of this year’s playoffs in order to save money the team could afford to spend. Luck of a positive outcome should have no effect on judging this deal.
Was Liriano worth dumping? In the vacuum of 2016, Liriano was not a good pitcher, but since when are veteran players judged solely on four months?
The Pirates have spent the past few seasons bargain bin shopping. However, with the loss of secret weapon, pitching guru Jim Benedict to the Miami Marlins front office, the entire Pirates pitching staff declined this season. Walks and control are worse, for Liriano foremost.
Without Benedict teaming with Ray Searage, the Pirates projects, such as Niese, looked like scrap heap leftovers instead of reclamations. The luck of Burnett, Liriano, Volquez, and Happ ran out, which makes the Pirates need for a legitimate starter(s) even greater.
To add at the deadline would have cost the Pirates a couple or few prospects. The Pirates instead chose to part with the prospects to spend less cash.
If you feel betrayed, you are justified. If you feel insulted by front office spin, you are justified. “Financial Flexibility” just reeks of condescension, doesn’t it?
One more myth to puncture for staunch defenders: The Pirates TV deal is negotiated by the Pirates. If they don’t generate as much revenue from their TV contract as similar sized market teams, that’s on them. So, if they don’t have enough money to spend, it’s entirely their doing.
I may recommend truly trying to win, not just within restrictive parameters, but an honest effort to do what it takes. Such respect to the ultimate goal tends to enhance profits.
After a 98 win season in 2015, record fan support, an outfield signed to team friendly deals, the core has been in place. It has been in place for a few seasons. The team has been missing another top end starter or high-end ace to compete in the postseason.
Today, the Pirates have one less legitimate starter, two less good prospects, a lot more money and even more upset fans. It was certainly not a banner day for the Pirates. In fact, it made any banner day a little less likely.
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