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A Look At The Pirates & Penguins Trade Histories Of Recent Years


The Pens have made great trades to win in recent years. The Pirates have made trades in recent years to save money.

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.

Professional sports writer, fluent in sarcasm and other humorous arts. Bachelor and Master degrees from Duquesne University. Member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association. Have previously written for many outlets, including the AP, Sports Xchange, PA SportsTicker, etc. Regularly appear as a guest on local sports radio. Expert at Name That Tune and proficient in many other areas of useless knowledge.

15 Comments on A Look At The Pirates & Penguins Trade Histories Of Recent Years

  1. Harry Schade // January 19, 2018 at 8:45 AM //

    One sided. What about the acquisition of Harrison, Hanrahan, Melancon, Rivero, Burnett, Soria, Cervelli, signing of Liriano, Martin, etc Drafting of Cutch, Cole, Walker, Taillon…
    Sorry, useless piling on article

    • Kevin Creagh // January 19, 2018 at 10:07 AM //

      To build off of what Vince said in his comment, Harry, Vince was trying to show that the Penguins have made bold moves to give up the future (draft picks, promising young players) to win in the present. The Pirates have not done that when the opportunity presented itself. Both teams had good and bad trades, but it is the desire to make that finishing move that separates the two franchises. If I can put words in Vince’s mouth.

    • Bob Stover // January 19, 2018 at 12:52 PM //

      100% correct Harry. This piece offered nothing to fans of the Pirates.

    • betterthanchickwood // January 20, 2018 at 9:38 AM //

      Do you realize how long ago Cutch and Walker were drafted and that it was by a different GM?

  2. Vince Comunale // January 19, 2018 at 9:01 AM //

    You must be a Pirates season ticket holder, Harry. You know what all of those players that you mention above have in common? They were all traded away (or soon will be) when they were at their peak value. Look, the point of the article was not to pile on, the point was to not let the Pirates’ ownership fool you, the fans once again with this narrative that this is going to improve the team. I mean, I actually had about 10 more terrible deals the Pirates made that I wanted to put in this article, but I had to stop at some point.

  3. Bob Stover // January 19, 2018 at 12:49 PM //

    Some trades are salary dumps and some are not. These were not. Cutch was sure to test the free agent market going into 2019 and the Pirates would lose him for nothing. Cole has stated numerous times that he would not sign a contract to buy out his arbitration years or go beyond the team’s control as required in the labor agreement.

    I’m as frustrated as anyone by the current ownership’s unreasonably tight-fisted budget for the major league payroll, however that doesn’t mean that every move they make is solely in consideration of higher profits. The Walker-Niese-Bastardo mess and the Liriano deals were clearly salary dumps, but the Pirates rightly felt that they needed to get some major league pieces back for Cutch and Cole, and cost wasn’t a big consideration in either case. Bad drafting forced the Pirates to go this route, as the minor league cupboard is bare.

    As for the results of the trades, you have no more idea than anyone else how the newcomers will work out. Just as you have no idea whether or not Luplow and Osuna will make significant contributions at the major league level. It’s easy to jump on the bandwagon and just become a Nutting basher 24 x 7, but that won’t begin to explain why the Pirates have drafted so poorly or how we best go about fixing and shoring up the major league product for this year and next. The Pirates may stink this year, or they may be surprisingly competitive, but one way or the other I’m a Pirates fan. Being a fan of the team survives owners. Those guys come and go. The Pirates are on their 4th set of owners in my lifetime. Nutting too shall pass.

    • betterthanchickwood // January 20, 2018 at 9:40 AM //

      The Pirates received a second tier bullpen arm and a average prospect for Cutch. Not a salary dump?

      • Bob Stover // January 22, 2018 at 9:43 AM //

        I guess you’ll have to define salary dump before we can have this debate. To me a salary dump is a trade that has no purpose other than to shed payroll. When the Pirates “traded” Liriano, they didnt’t get anyone back that was a major league player or a true prospect. Salary dump.

        When the team made a QO to Walker and non-tendered Alvarez for a conditional compensatory draft pick – Salary dumps.

        Getting back a major league piece, (whose quality you have arbitrarily assessed as a “second tier bullpen arm” and an “average” prospect in return for a player that you either won’t or can’t sign to a long term deal, that is not a salary dump; that is economic reality and common sense. All available evidence indicates that Cutch has begun an inevitable decline that will only get worse over the next few years. Likewise, Cole has been trending down for two straight seasons. Given that trend, the Pirates got a fairly good return for him. He led the league last year in home runs allowed. How will that kind of stat play in a bandbox hitters paradise like Minute Maid Park?

  4. Vince Comunale // January 19, 2018 at 1:11 PM //

    “Cutch was sure to test the free agent market going into 2019 and the Pirates would lose him for nothing”
    Yes, Bob, but why is that? Why can’t the Pirates be the team that signs him or any of the other stars they’ve traded in the past?
    “Cole has stated numerous times that he would not sign a contract to buy out his arbitration years or go beyond the team’s control as required in the labor agreement.”
    Again, there is a reason Cole felt that way. He doesn’t want to be part of an organization that doesn’t do what it takes to win and said as much at his intro press conference with Houston. The whole culture and perception of the Pirates is rancid. No free agents want to come here, hence why the Pirates have spent exactly $0 in free agency so far this off season. The point is that if the Pirates had built a culture of winning then good players would want to stay and/or come here. I, for one, don’t want to wait 20 years until Nutting sells the team as you seem to be prepared to do. I mean we’ve already waited 39 years and counting since the last World Series.

    • Charles Vine // January 20, 2018 at 8:34 AM //

      “wait 20 years”? Nutting has already vehemently stated on more than one occasion that not only will he never sell the team but he wants his daughters to take over when he croaks or gets tired of ruining it. In other words, it’s like death….nothing out there but eternal darkness.

      • Bob Stover // January 22, 2018 at 9:32 AM //

        Never and Forever are non-quantifiable times and are thus meaningless. The team is not for sale until it is. For the right offer, anything is for sale. That said, Nutting is obviously not actively marketing the team. Many people of this blog and elsewhere have stated that the advent of a salary cap without full revenue sharing would send a massive exodus of owner of small market teams towards the exits. A salary floor would also have that effect. Not only would small market teams be looking to sell, they might even be willing to relocate the franchise or sell to out-of-town buyers.

        I personally believe that the economics of baseball are changing so rapidly that there will eventually be a salary cap and a salary floor. Perhaps as soon as 2021. Players and their union are currently very unhappy with the way the current free agent system is no longer working to their advantage. In addition, the players have been totally cut out of revenue streams such as BAMTech. Their going to want their piece of the pie in the next contract and they’re going to strike if they don’t get a salary floor provision that forces owners to spend a percentage of their revenue sharing and media money with the players through enhanced salaries expresses as a percentage of revenues.

        I cannot see owners agreeing to any kind of full revenue sharing, but a salary floor with some enhanced revenue sharing and some part of the media pie is certainly on the table. If it’s not on the table, there will be a strike or lock-out until its accomplished. My prediction is that if those changes come about, Nutting will be one of the owners scurrying for the exits.

  5. Harry Schade // January 19, 2018 at 2:20 PM //

    It takes two to make any deal. The assumption seems that the Pirates don’t try to maximize their assets, or are inept, or $$$ hungry.

    Any reasonable business will try and balance immediate needs/costs with longer-term planning. What are the short &long-term debt structures of the Pirates?. Is Nutting cheap, or wisely managing his limited resources? I don’t know, the answer, but weren’t the Pirates close to bankruptcy or leaving Pittsburgh 15 + years ago? Didn’t they lose big $$$during the 20 year losing streak?

    I’m not an apologist, do not have season tickets, just a life-long Pirate fan;. And saw them comeback for 3-5 exciting years including the playoffs after a horrendous stretch. That comeback was under the guidance of this ownership.

    Look what Jeter is doing in Miami, with great players. Every team has parted with great players, face of the franchise players; from Babe Ruth to Dick Groat to Puhols…it’s an endless list.

    Last thought, the belief had the Pirates gone that extra mile/cost to pickup a player or two a few years ago would have brought home the WS when they were in the playoffs. That’s merely another supposition with no guarantee. They actually did add players at the deadline…to no avail.

    I’m excited to watch the new guys, and would hope the pundits start to look forward then rehash the past which is done.

    Who know, more deals/signings may be in the works that make the Bucs look better than today.

    This is my favorite site for Pittsburgh Info because it has been consistently fair, analytical, and reasonable.. I hope it continues and the short-term frustrations and negativity become less.

    • Kevin Creagh // January 19, 2018 at 3:51 PM //

      I’d like to think that this week’s articles from Monday to Thursday were pretty fair and analytical and forward-thinking, but of course I’m biased on that.

  6. Harry Schade // January 19, 2018 at 2:33 PM //

    Does anyone know the short and long term debt structure/service of the Pirates?

  7. “Don’t let the wool get pulled over your eyes once again, Pirates fans. ”

    Vince…this might be what I resent the most. This organization (meaning Nutting, Coonelly, Huntington) is constantly attempting to con the fans. They talk as if they have the interest of the fans, and competitive baseball in Pittsburgh, in mind with every deal that they make, or don’t make. But their actions tell a totally different tale. It is mightily obvious that the competitive spirit is lacking, but the profit motive is in full bloom.

    Now, this fraud has been going on for quite some time, and an amazingly large percentage of Pirates fans either don’t realize they are being duped, or just don’t care. Imagine if those same Steelers or Pens that you discuss had the track record of the Pirates over just the last 11 years since Nutting took over full control of the team. The Pirates have had losing records in 8 of those 11 years. During those years there have been no division titles and no playoff series wins. In each of those 11 years payroll has been at or near the bottom of mlb. However, by all indications the profits generated by the team are near the top. Let’s just say that Nutting is not hurting, but Pirate fans who want competitive baseball are.

    Now Nutting is dumping salary again (dumping salary is the only bold move that this guy knows). That 8 out of 11 losing seasons?….no question in my mind his winning percentage will get even worse. But, then again, Nutting doesn’t prioritize winning, only profits. And when/if another window opens and they are competitive again (say, in another 5 years)? We can count on Nutting to remain tight fisted, as he has always proven to be, and to forsake any bold moves that would be required to bring in supplemental elite talent to take the team over the top. So, what’s the use…especially now with no top notch talent in either the majors or the minors? The Pirates under Nutting are rather hopeless.

    Your article was refreshing to read. Great to see a journalist tell it like it is.

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