Jon Niese (8-6, 4.91 ERA) was dealt back to the Mets on Monday.
Having been a beat reporter or around the team on a regular basis since 1988, I’ve experienced a number of strange days when it comes to the Pirates.
However, Monday was one of the weirdest, as general manager Neal Huntington made three deals in the final hour before Major League Baseball’s 4 p.m. trade deadline.
It is difficult to understand exactly what the Pirates are doing following a flurry of moves that came on the heels of the trade Saturday that sent closer Mark Melancon to the Washington Nationals.
Two of the trades seemingly contradicted themselves and the third was a change-of-scenery deal that only highlighted a bad swap made in December.
Huntington said the Pirates still fancy themselves as contenders, though they entered the day 10 1/2 games behind the Chicago Cubs in the National League Central and four games out of the second NL wild card.
Yet they traded starter Francisco Lirinao, their nominal No. 2 starter, to the Toronto Blue Jays two days after dealing All-Star closer Mark Melancon to the Nationals. Those are moves characteristic of a team closing the curtain on this season and looking ahead to 2017.
However, the Pirates also acquired right-handed starter Ivan Nova from the New York Yankees for two players to be named. That is a win-now move, as Nova is a free agent at the end of the season and likely won’t be re-signed.
Huntington also said Monday’s moves should strengthen the Pirates for the future.
Acquiring right-handed starter Drew Hutchison from the Blue Jays was an upside and so was getting left-handed reliever Felipe Rivero and left-handed pitching prospect Tyler Hearn in the Melancon deal.
Hutchison and Rivero are both 25 and Hearn, who has yet to pitch above low Single-A, is 21.
Yet the Pirates also dealt two well-regarded prospects, Double-A Altoona catcher Reese McGuire and outfielder Harold Ramirez, to Toronto in order to entice the Blue Jays to take on all the money that remains on the three-year, $39 million contract Liriano signed during the 2014-15 off-season.
That saves the Pirates approximately $18 million. Huntington, though, said the trade was not a salary dump mandated by penny-pinching owner Bob Nutting.
Though Hutchison was pitching for the Blue Jays’ Triple-A Buffalo farm club and will likely stay at that level for now and join the Pirates’ Indianapolis affiliate, Huntington was most pleased about landing him.
Hutchison pitched in 76 games with the Blue Jays over the past four seasons, starting 73 and compiling a 30-21 record with a 4.92 ERA. However, the Pirates’ scouts and analytics people both feel Hutchison has the upside of a No. 2 starter.
Hutchison is also enticing because he won’t be eligible to become a free agent until after the 2019 season.
Lastly, there was the trade with the New York Mets in which the Pirates acquired left-handed reliever Antonio Bastardo for left-hander Jon Niese, sending both players go back to their old teams.
Niese spent the first eight seasons of his career with the Mets before being traded to the Pirates last December for second baseman Neil Walker, the popular Pine-Richland High School graduate. Bastardo signed with the Mets as a free agent in the off-season following one season with the Pirates, which acquired him from the Philadelphia Phillles the previous winter.
So, in essence, the Pirates traded Walker for Bastardo, who is in the first year of a two-year, $12 million contact.
It is all enough to leave anyone’s head spinning.
However, Huntington has transformed a franchise that set a major North American professional team sports record with 20 straight losing seasons from 1993-2012 into one that has made three consecutive postseason appearances.
Where all these moves will eventually take the Pirates remains to be seen, but Huntington deserves the benefit of the doubt after what he has accomplished in nearly nine years on the job.