Sunday, August 2, 2009

HUNTINGTON BURNS DOWN TEAM IN UNPRECEDENTED TRADING

SANCHEZ, GRABOW, GORZELANNY THE LATEST TO GO IN SWAPS WITH GIANTS AND CUBS; TEAM CUTS PAYROLL $7.3 MILLION


ABOVE: Bucs said goodbye to fan favorite Freddy Sanchez in their recent spate of trading. They also bid "fondest best wishes" to his $8.4 million salary for next year as well. Bucs anticipated payroll for 2010 currently stands at only $23,162,000, down from $55 million on opening day 2009.

Neal Huntington, the Pirates wheeling, dealing General Manager, completed two more deals as the trading deadline approached Friday and make no mistake about it, the Pirates have never had a more profound change to their roster in any season since at least the 1950s when Branch Rickey did a similar purge of the lineup.

After earlier trading Nate McLouth, Adam LaRoche, Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett, Huntington first traded popular second baseman, Freddy Sanchez, to the Giants for "AA" pitcher Tim Alderson, then in his final move, Huntington moved pitchers John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny to the Cubs for major league starting pitcher Kevin Hart, pitcher Jose Ascanio and infielder Josh Harrison. In just over a week, Huntington has traded three of his four starting infielders including breaking up the number one double play combination in baseball. Additionally, the team has now dealt 11 of the players who were on their opening day roster.

So has Huntington completely lost his mind or is this fire sale really what the team needed? Well face it, the Pirates were never going to win any championships with the guys they had, but what Huntington has managed to do is to infuse a TON of talented players into their farm system, a system that was among the worst in baseball even after having a perennial top five pick in the draft every year for the past 17 seasons.

Thankfully, Huntington got rid of the Pirates "talent scouts" a long time ago and has already converted the Pirates into an organization that very soon should start having a plethora of players competing every year to move up to the big club.

Take the Sanchez trade as an example. Huntington traded a good player who was, let's face it, prone to injury and even happened to be injured at the time of the trade, to San Francisco for a pitching prospect who is rated by just about everyone as the third or fourth best prospect in the Giants' entire organization. Tim Alderson is another big pitcher...Huntington seems to be cornering the market on pitchers in excess of 6'6"...and he is universally regarded as literally a "can't miss" type of guy. To get a player with this upside for a 31 year old, often-injured, contact hitter who does not hit for power is a good deal indeed. Add to that the fact that Sanchez was due to make $8.4 million next year if he gets to 600 at bats this year and you have a case of the Pirates also dodging a major payroll bullet.

Of course the legions of skeptics out there are calling this nothing more than a salary dump and of course, if the Pirates weren't in their 17th consecutive losing season maybe there wouldn't be so many cynical Pirate fans to begin with. But remember, this team never had Neal Huntington before and I happen to like the players he's been bringing in. No other GM ever had the guts to burn down the whole team either. Anyone who doesn't see that this man has a plan just doesn't know anything about baseball.

I know, I know, it's been a long time since we had a winning team, but it's also been a long time since we had a minor league system that was percolating with talent too. I predict that the next thing that you're going to see Huntington do is go on a signing spree with international players. Why not? He has the bullets that he's saving on all of these major league contracts, so why not sign a Miguel Sano and a few other blue chippers? This would also do wonders to quiet those skeptics who think that these trades were only money-related.

As guys like Lastings Milledge (who's already off to a good start with the Buccos), Gorkys Hernandez, Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata and others start hitting the major league roster, Pirate fans everywhere are going to call Neal Huntington the best G.M. since Sid Thrift or even Joe L. Brown. Just look at the impact that a quality young player can have: Andrew McCutchen, who hit three homers on Saturday night, has been the first major talent to emerge from the farm system since Barry Bonds, and there are a lot more like him learning their craft right now in the Pirates minor league system. Most of those players weren't there before Huntington came on board either.


ABOVE: Just when the Pirates needed a new "face", they got one in Andrew "McC(l)utchen".

Neal Huntington is a man who has an eye for talent and even more importantly, has a game plan in place. It will take a little while, but you'll start seeing vast improvements with this team as these players mature. We've waited this long, what's a couple more seasons? Very soon the Pirates are going to take on the look of the Pittsburgh Penguins of about three years ago. Very young, very talented, lacking in experience, but very fun to watch nevertheless. This is what we'll have to look forward to. However, these guys will have nights where they will take their lumps too, but very soon Pirate fans will no longer be questioning the direction of the team. It will be very clear that management now knows what it is doing and they will work to re-sign their own players as they can do so and where it makes economic sense. I have complete faith that Coonelly and Huntington will make it happen. After these things transpire, then try to get a ticket to a Pirate game!

THE LOWDOWN ON THE NEW BUCCOS

Tim Alderson will no doubt report to Altoona where he will immediately be regarded as one of the Pirates top three or four prospects. He is 6'6", 217 pounds and is just 20 years old. He was drafted in the first round by the Giants in 2007 and was the 22nd player selected. Obviously, the Pirates received value for Sanchez.

Alderson has an impressive 20-6 receord in three seasons with a 3.07 e.r.a.. "Baseball America" has him rated as the 60th best prospect in all of baseball while stats-based analyst Keith Law lists him at #26.

He throws an average fastball with a "plus-plus" curve that most feel will be his out pitch. He throws a two seamer and is working on developing his changeup.

ABOVE: Coming soon (year or two) expect to see big guy Tim Alderson on the hill at PNC Park.

Kevin Hart is 3-1 with the Cubs this year and has a 2.60 e.r.a. He stands 6'4", weighs 214 and is 27 years old. Hehas a career e.r.a. of 3.88. Hart will join the Pirates starting rotation and should be pitching on Wednesday.


Jose Ascanio, 24 is a righthander who stands just 6'0" and 170 pounds. He is a very hard thrower who still needs to develop better control, but he is a tantalizing prospect. His e.r.a. this year is 3.52.

ABOVE: Jose Ascanio. This is what a power pitcher looks like in "A" ball.


Josh Harrison, 20, is an infielder who was drafted in the 6th round by the Cubs in 2008. At class "A" Daytona he has batted a combined .319 with 7 homers and 71 r.b.i. in one and a half seasons.