By Rob Rossi
Neal Huntington (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)
Delusions dominate baseball's silly season, which ended Friday afternoon with Pirates general manager Neal Huntington having helped his club for the rest of this summer and positioned his franchise for a potentially harsh winter.
You probably don't believe he did enough.
And you wouldn't be wrong to have wanted more from Huntington before the expiration of baseball's non-waiver trade deadline at 4 p.m. Friday. Pittsburghers have waited long enough for their oldest professional team to take a big swing for the World Series.
But it's tough to swing when your hands are tied behind your back. Huntington's have been for weeks, and not by owner Bob Nutting.
Rather, by Josh Harrison. By Jordy Mercer. And now A.J. Burnett, and for who knows how long?
The Pirates aren't the only contender to get sucker-punched by the baseball gods. They're not even the most bloodied team within their own division. The St. Louis Cardinals have spent about four months winning without several regulars.
But the Cardinals have had those four months.
The Pirates went from stylin' and profilin' to living hard times within the past month, and their timing couldn't have been worse.
At the All-Star break, Huntington conceivably could have considered supplementing the surging Pirates, because even an extended absence for Harrison essentially was offset by the presence of Jung Ho Kang. Before he knew it, though, Huntington was missing the left side of his infield, his first baseman was missing just about everything, his previously steady bullpen appeared to wobble, and his rotation regressed from a Big Three to Two and a Half (trusted) Men.
Branch Rickey couldn't have plugged all the holes in the Pirates' ship.
Huntington at least plucked Aramis Ramirez from Milwaukee to bolster third base. He also added a couple of serviceable pitchers in Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ, and a versatile backup who can change a game with one swing in Michael Morse.
Most impressively, Huntington stacked the back end of the bullpen by trading for Joakim Soria, who closed for Detroit. Soria, Tony Watson and Mark Melancon should form the National League's best lockdown trio, and the Pirates could shorten games in a fashion similar to the Kansas City Royals' run to Game 7 of the last World Series.
Of course, you're probably wondering if Huntington could have moved a top prospect or two for other players projected to make a Soria-like impact.
No, he couldn't.
If his Major League roster has been hit hard by injuries recently, Huntington's envied farm system has been savaged by the losses of pitchers Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham and Casey Sadler, not to mention potential spot-starter Brandon Cumpton.
Moving prospects for prime-time players — something all the big movers and shakers did before the deadline — was no option for the Pirates. With several of his better prospects hurt, Huntington had to hold his healthy ones.
The best part about the moves Huntington did make is now the Pirates need not rush pitcher Tyler Glasnow (their top prospect) or first baseman Josh Bell (No. 3) into an intense pennant chase.
By next year, the Pirates likely will look a lot different.
Close to a dozen players are eligible for arbitration this offseason. Tough questions must be asked: Is Pedro Alvarez worth keeping? Will Melancon become too expensive? Have stalled negotiations with Neil Walker actually fallen apart for good?
Huntington has masterfully built the Pirates into a consistent contender. On Friday, despite a deck stacked against him in a sellers' market, he provided the Pirates the help necessary to at least hold onto a National League wild-card spot.
He managed to pull that off without giving away too much from a weakened pool of prospects, thus preserving his options for an offseason that will challenge him like no other.
Right now, he has baseball's third-best team.
It's no delusion to believe that team can still win big.
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter
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