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Neal Huntington’s mistakes have been talked about at length over the last couple weeks. Let’s spend some time to review some of his best trades as Pirates’ GM.
Neal Huntington’s tenure as General Manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates is over. In the weeks leading up to his firing, Huntington’s many head-scratching moves were thoroughly discussed. Now that he is gone, I thought it would be fun to do something different – to highlight the ten best (not worst) trades of Neal Huntington’s time in Pittsburgh.
Believe it or not, he had some pretty big wins. The losses outweighed the wins, but he had some.
I must say, researching this brought up some old wounds. Remember Jose Bautista for a PTBNL (Robinzon Diaz)? Yeesh.
These are in descending order and span almost the entirety of Huntington’s twelve-year tenure. Enjoy.
#10 – Buddy Borden to the Rays for Sean Rodriguez
At the time he was traded in 2014, Buddy Borden was a 22-year old pitcher with some promise. He never was as good as he was in 2014 – only making it as far as AA. He spent his last season, 2017, back with the Pirates organization in Altoona.
Sean Rodriguez was mister utility for the Pirates during their last playoff run in 2015. He played six different positions on the field – all except pitcher, catcher, and center field.
He also added something at the plate. His best season for the Pirates was 2016 when he hit .270 with 18 home runs and 56 RBIs.
Aside from his contributions on the field, Rodriguez was a well-liked and respected member of the clubhouse.
#9 – Travis Snider to the Orioles for Stephen Tarpley and Steven Brault
At one point, Travis Snider was thought of as a high potential outfielder with some pop in his bat. That potential never materialized for Snider and the Pirates were able to unload him while there was still a feeling that it would.
Stephen Tarpley never made an impact for Pittsburgh, but he was a key piece of the trade that brought Ivan Nova to the Pirates. So, they were able to salvage some value from him.
Brault has stuck around with the Pirates and has had some ups and downs. There’s some potential in him. It will be interesting to see if his development accelerates with a new pitching coach.
Even if Brault doesn’t become anything more than a middle reliever, they essentially got him and Tarpley (and Nova) for nothing.
#8 – Joel Hanrahan and Brock Holt to the Red Sox for Ivan DeJesus, Mark Melancon, Stolmy Pimentel, and Jerry Sands
Joel Hanrahan was the key piece of this trade, but he never was the closer for Boston that he was for the Pirates.
This trade ended up being Brock Holt for Mark Melancon. Melancon, as you know, was a stopper in the bullpen for four years. During his time with the Pirates, Melancon had a WHIP under one (0.926), and an ERA under two (1.80). So giving up Hanrahan for Melancon was a net positive to the bullpen.
This trade would be higher on the list if it were not for the fact that Brock Holt has carved out a pretty good career for himself in Boston as utility player.
#7 – Richard Mitchell to the Marlins for Trevor Williams
Trevor Williams, like much of the rest of the team, regressed quite a bit in 2019. At the end of 2018, the Pirates were feeling pretty good about Williams after he posted a 3.11 ERA and a 1.178 WHIP.
Those numbers looked much worse in 2019 (5.38 ERA, 1.414 WHIP), but Williams’ 2018 gives me hope that he can be a middle of the rotation type guy.
The fact that they essentially got Williams for free helps. Richard Mitchell never made it out of the rookie league.
#6 – Exicardo Cayones and Diego Moreno to the Yankees for A.J. Burnett
At the time, this looked like a trade for a washed-up former star, but A.J. Burnett became a Pittsburgh hero in just three years with the team.
He won 16 games with the Pirates in 2012, but perhaps his biggest contribution was as a player/coach for the young Pittsburgh pitching staff.
Like Trevor Williams, Burnett was received for free as neither of the two players sent to the Yankees contributed at the major league level.
#5 – Nate McClouth to the Braves for Gorkys Hernandez, Jeff Locke, and Charlie Morton
This trade would probably be higher if you take into account contributions made by received players for other teams. Charlie Morton is the headliner on this trade, but he didn’t become the player the Pirates hoped he would be in Pittsburgh (rather in Tampa).
Nate Mclouth looked like a star in 2008 with the Pirates – earning an all-star appearance and a Gold Glove. He quickly tailed off and was traded away to the Braves who hoped he just needed a change of scenery. That wasn’t the case as he never returned to anything close to that 2008 form.
While Morton never reached the heights that he has in Tampa while a Pirate, he had some successful years in Pittsburgh. The same goes for Jeff Locke.
#4 – Justin Wilson to the Yankees for Francisco Cervelli
Justin Wilson was up and down with the Pirates during his three years in Pittsburgh. He was lights out in 2013, but struggled in 2014 before getting traded. That up-and-down pattern has followed him the rest of his career – with the downs becoming more and more frequent.
Francisco Cervelli was the Pirate backstop and fan favorite for five years. He was a key component and an energizing force of the Pirates’ 2015 playoff team.
Cervelli struggled in his final year in Pittsburgh before being granted a release.
#3 – Tom Gorzelanny and John Grabow to the Cubs for Josh Harrison, Jose Ascanio, and Kevin Hart.
Josh Harrison began his career as a utility player – often coming off the bench to make a rather large impact on games. The energy and production he brought to the Pirates required that he become an everyday player and he did in 2014. That year he earned his first all-star nod. Harrison was a fixture in the Pirate lineup for years and was obtained from the Cubs for almost nothing.
Tom Gorzelanny was the only other player involved in this transaction to have much of an impact after the trade, and that impact was underwhelming. Gorzelanny’s career numbers (4.40 ERA, 1.445 WHIP) made him rosterable, but that’s about it.
#2 – Andrew McCutchen to the Giants for Bryan Reynolds and Kyle Crick
I went back and forth on whether or not this was number one, but settled on number two because I couldn’t stomach a move to send Andrew McCutchen out of Pittsburgh as the “best” of anything – no matter how well it turned out.
McCutchen’s last year in Pittsburgh showed a sharp decline over the MVP-caliber player Pittsburgh knew and loved. When the idea of him being traded was floated, many wondered which version of McCutchen a trade suitor would get. The answer has been a lesser version of the ‘Cutch we saw even in his last season as a Pirate.
McCutchen is yet to hit better than .256 outside of Pittsburgh and has seen his numbers free-fall across the board.
On the flip side, Bryan Reynolds looks like a star. He hit .314 in his rookie year with 16 home runs and 68 RBIs.
Kyle Crick should prove to be a solid member of the bullpen as well- though he’s provided mixed results since becoming a Pirate.
#1 – Mark Melancon to the Nationals for Felipe Vazquez and Taylor Hearn
It was tough naming this the top trade of Huntington’s tenure in Pittsburgh after the arrest of Felipe Vazquez this season, but we can’t possibly fault Neal Huntington for that.
We all know what Melancon did for the Pirates, but Vazquez was even better. So, simply flipping a 31-year old closer for a better and younger one gets this trade high on the list. When you factor in Melancon’s mediocrity since leaving Pittsburgh, it makes an even bigger steal.
But the part that puts it over the top for me is the other guy in this trade – Taylor Hearn. Hearn never made an impact in the Pirates’ organization, but he was used by Neal Huntington as the key asset used to acquire Keone Kela.
So, the arrest of Vazquez notwithstanding, the Pirates traded a declining Mark Melancon for star-level eighth and ninth inning pitchers who could have anchored a bullpen for years.
So, yes, Neal Huntington did have some wins in Pittsburgh. We remember the losses because, well…they were BIG losses, but we can still acknowledge that he did some good things while we rejoice about the possibilities of how the team will be run without him.
Feel free to comment on what I got wrong. I’m sure I missed something.