You know the same old story by now. The big market Pittsburgh Pirates continually plunder the small market New York Yankees for talent that the Yankees can no longer afford to pay.
Hopefully you haven’t called your IT department to re-calibrate the sarcasm detector on your computer. However, there’s no denying this fact: Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington has made more trades with the Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman than with any other single GM or team. Who knows how the easy rapport started between these two, as there is no common baseball link that I can find where Huntington/Cashman worked in the same office.
Since coming on board as GM in November 2007, Huntington has made 8 separate trades with Cashman, of varying types of importance at the time. But the end result is this: the Pirates received more value than the Yankees in each of them, or at least broke even in some of the minor ones.
THE JOSE TABATA TRADE
This was the first get-together by these two GMs in July 2008. The Yankees were making a push at got Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte off the Pirates in exchange for Jose Tabata, Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens, and Daniel McCutchen.
I’ve long held the theory that during his first couple of years on the job, Huntington was actually building two teams simultaneously. He realized immediately upon arrival how terrible the minors were, especially the upper minors, so he made sure to procure some Major League ready talent in each trade, while also attempting to build his future, successful team with impact prospects further away. Karstens, McCutchen, and Ohlendorf all were up with Pittsburgh in relatively short order to keep the team moving, while Tabata was seen as a chance to buy low on a fallen prospect.
We all know how the Tabata story ended here in Pittsburgh, but the pure bottom line is that these four players produced more in their collective tenures than did Nady/Marte for the Yankees.
THE ERIC HACKER TRADE
This trade came together in May of 2009. Everyone remembers Eric Hacker, right? No? Neither do I, but the Pirates gave up something called Romulo Sanchez, so this was a trade of nothing for nothing. Moving on.
THE ERIC FRYER TRADE
“No, Brian. I said I wanted Eric FRYER, not Hacker.” That’s how I pretend to imagine the conversation starting a month later in June 2009. The Pirates gave up Eric Hinske and got back Eric Fryer (yes, the same one who is currently the 2016 Pirates backup catcher) and Casey Erickson. The trade did little for the Pirates, but Hinske did nothing with the Yankees, either.
THE A.J. BURNETT TRADE
The trade phone slowed down a little between the Burgh and the Bronx until February 2012. The Pirates were able to get the veteran pitcher and top of the rotation pitcher they long lacked when the Yankees were willing to move Burnett in a salary dump. Even better, they subsidized a chunk of Burnett’s future salaries in 2012 and 2013. The Pirates gave up non-prospects Exicardo Cayones and Diego Moreno in the deal, while getting a player that helped galvanize the team’s attitude during the onset of this winning period of baseball.
It’s not a stretch to say that this may have been Neal Huntington’s most franchise-defining change to date (*cough McCutchen in 2017 *cough).
THE CHAD QUALLS TRADE
These two buds hooked up on a deadline deal in July of 2012, as both teams were in contention for the first time during Huntington’s tenure. The Pirates got back middle reliever Chad Qualls, although by the end of his time here I was wishing they got D.J. Qualls back instead. I personally witnessed Qualls bring his gas can in to numerous games at PNC Park, including one against the Brewers in late September that all but cinched the Pirates having one more losing season in 2012.
But the crazy part is that Casey McGehee, who went back to the Yanks as a bench bat, was far, far worse. His line of .151/.220/.264 added up to a 28 wRC+ in his time with the Yanks in 2012. Rafael Belliard thinks that’s a weak line.
THE CHRIS STEWART TRADE
A year prior, the Pirates kicked off a fun little footnote in Pirate transactions by starting to raid the Yankees for catchers, when they signed Russell Martin in November 2012 to a 2 yr/$17M deal.
This trade in December 2013 was for Martin’s backup, Chris Stewart, who was a journeyman backup for the Yankees after Martin departed for the Pirates. Stewart has been a reliable backup, strong defensively and middling offensively, but he has far outperformed Kyle Haynes who went back to the Yanks in the deal.
THE FRANCISCO CERVELLI TRADE
There was some consternation after Martin left for the big dollars from The Great True North in 2014’s offseason, but Huntington called up his bestie in the Bronx to help out again. Cashman sent over Francisco Cervelli in November 2014 to continue the trend of erstwhile Yankee catchers donning the tools of ignorance for the Pirates.
The Pirates did give up a real asset in the form of LH reliever Justin Wilson, but anytime you can trade a reliever for a starter, you do it. The Pirates signed Cervelli to a long-term extension this spring, indicating their commitment to him. Even though it’s been an injury-marred 2016 campaign, I expect him to bounce back next year strong.
THE IVAN NOVA TRADE
Was this article conceived while watching Ivan Nova’s complete game effort on Tuesday night? You bet it was. It’s mid-August, give me a break. This is a dead time to write about a baseball team. The Pirates got Nova at this year’s deadline for two players to be named later, most likely two guys from Low or High A that no casual fan will have ever heard of and that hardcore fans won’t care that we lose them. Well, someone always raises a fuss about any player lost, I suppose.
Nova has stabilized the rotation and been the #3-level pitcher that this team has lacked all year. Technically, their #1 has been like a #3 and their #2 pitched like a #5 before going to Toronto. In his short time here, Nova has been amazing. Everything that Alex predicted he should do to be successful has come to fruition so far. While maintaining his OK strikeout rate, Nova has stopped walking people (from the good 2.36/9 IP with the Yankees to the microscopic 0.36/9 IP with the Pirates) and has cut his home run rate over 50% (1.76/9 IP to 0.71/9 IP). It’s only been 25 innings, but he’s at least made me wonder if the Pirates are going to re-sign him as a free agent this offseason.