The Pittsburgh Pirates’ recent trades of Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen has, rightfully, sparked outrage amongst the baseball fans of Pittsburgh. Fans know that several more years of futility are now on the horizon, even though ownership is trying to put a positive spin on the trades as they have so many times in the past.
The Pirates have not won a playoff series since 1979, and are now heading into their umpteenth rebuilding plan. Meanwhile, the other members of their black and gold fraternity have won five Stanley Cup championships in six trips to the Final and two Super Bowl Championships in four trips since 1979.
The Pirates drafting and trade prowess have been nothing short of atrocious. I thought it would be interesting to go back and compare the past 15 or so years of notable trades and high draft picks between the Pirates and Penguins. Some of the moves that both teams have pulled off are nothing short of astonishing; I think you can figure out which teams’ were astonishingly good and which ones were astonishingly bad.
In 2004 the Penguins had the second overall pick and selected Evgeni Malkin. The very next season they won the draft lottery to get the first overall pick and chose Sidney Crosby. Those two picks seem to be working out just fine for the Penguins. In 2002, the Pirates had the first overall pick and took pitcher Bryan Bullington who went on to post exactly one career MLB win, which didn’t come until 2010 with Kansas City. He only appeared in 26 total MLB games. You could label Bullington a bust, it sometimes happens with high draft picks, however the Pirates chose Bullington because they felt he was more “signable” than some of the other players in the draft that were represented by super-agent Scott Boras.
The drafts haven’t gone well for the Pirates, but the trading of big-name stars has gone even worse. In 2008 the Pirates traded perennial all-star outfielder Jason Bay to the Red Sox. In exchange they got “valuable” future pieces Andy LaRoche, Bryan Morris, Craig Hansen, and Brandon Moss. Meanwhile, across town during the 2007-08 season the Penguins traded their 2008 first round pick, Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, and prospect Angelo Esposito to Atlanta to get the highly-coveted Marian Hossa, along with Pascal Dupuis, which propelled them to the Stanley Cup Final that season.
The Pirates just love unloading their good players on the San Francisco Giants. At the 2007 trade deadline, the Giants were absolutely desperate to unload starting pitcher Matt Morris and his hefty salary. Not only did the Pirates take on Morris’ whole salary, they also sent promising outfielder Rajai Davis to the Giants. The Pirates ended up paying approximately $10 million for the 16 starts they got out of Morris, who was released in April of the next season and never pitched again. Davis is currently a free agent, but split last season between Oakland and Boston. Just as a refresher, that was Rajai Davis tying Game 7 of the 2016 World Series for Cleveland with an eighth-inning home run that put the game into extra innings.
Fast forward a few years to 2013 when the Penguins pulled off a deadline deal of their own when they out-negotiated all other suitors and landed the most sought-after trade deadline player in years, Jarome Iginla. In return for the former NHL MVP, the Penguins sent Kenny Agostino, Ben Hanowski and their first-round pick in 2013 NHL Draft. The deal did not lead the Penguins to another championship, but it certainly was worth the risk since the players the Penguins gave up in the deal played a combined 38 career games in the NHL.
In 2015 the Pirates had a player that actually wanted to stay and play in Pittsburgh, native Pittsburgher Neil Walker. However, instead of keeping him around, they traded him to the Mets for inept pitcher Jon Niese. It turned out that Niese was so bad they traded him back to the Mets after two-thirds of a season to get relief pitcher Antonio Bastardo, who the Pirates had allowed to become a free agent the year before. Unfathomably, the Pirates released Bastardo less than a year later. To summarize, the Pirates traded Walker for Niese, traded Niese back to the Mets, got Bastardo back, who they could’ve signed as a free agent, then released Bastardo. In conclusion, they literally gave Walker away for no return.
While the Pirates essentially stood pat in the 2014 and 2015 seasons and didn’t add any pieces to some very good teams, the Penguins were having very busy summers in those same years. In June of 2014 GM Jim Rutherford made a blockbuster trade sending high-scoring winger James Neal to Nashville for gritty forward Patric Hornqvist and bottom-six center Nick Spaling. Speaking of Spaling, he was shipped to Toronto a year later along with Kasperi Kapanen, Scott Harrington, Pittsburgh’s first round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft and New Jersey’s third round pick (previously acquired) in the 2016 NHL Draft for gifted winger Phil Kessel, Tim Erixon, and Tyler Biggs. The Penguins also worked a deal where Toronto would retain $1.2 million per season of Kessel’s salary through the 2021-22 season. To say that Hornqvist and Kessel have been instrumental to the Penguins’ Stanley Cup success would be the understatement of the century. Hornqvist scored the Cup-clinching goal last season and Kessel is leading the team in points and goals this season.
Sure, the Penguins have also made some real dud trades over the years like the pitiful return they got for Jaromir Jagr. Or Markus Naslund for Alek Stojanov. Conversely, while you really have to search for them, the Pirates have occasionally made a great trade like the Mark Melancon for Felipe Rivero deal. However, don’t be fooled by the extension that Rivero just signed with the Pirates. That extension was signed for no other reason than to make him more tradeable at the deadline. Besides, what is the point of having the best closer in baseball when there are no games to save?
Don’t let the wool get pulled over your eyes once again, Pirates fans. The trades made over the past week were nothing more than salary dumps with the eternal hope that some of the prospects they got back will become good MLB players that they will then trade once they can’t afford to keep them. It is a vicious cycle for the Pirates that will never end under the current ownership group.
Pittsburgh fans wouldn’t trade the Penguins or Steelers for anything. The Pirates have shown that they’ll trade anyone for just about anything.