This July 26, 2016 file photo shows Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Francisco Liriano delivering in the first inning of a baseball game against the Seattle Mariners in Pittsburgh. Left-handed pitcher Francisco Liriano was acquired by the Toronto Blue Jays in a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday, Aug. 1, 2016 in exchange for right-hander Drew Hutchison. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, file)
I thought we were beyond this.
Really, I did. You probably did too. People who have covered, cheered for, and observed the Pirates for the better part of 25 years probably thought the days of salary dumps, of bizarre trades, of “financial flexibility” as a constant theme were over.
This was proven untrue by a trade that could kindly be described as “suspect” and unkindly be described as, well, several adjectives that would be edited out of this column before it saw the light of day.
Dealing Francisco Liriano wasn’t about being “all in” or not. Liriano was terrible for the majority of the season. No one could have blamed Pirates general manager Neal Huntington for wanting to jettison him. Trading Liriano and throwing in one prospect to a team taking on his salary, a team that was giving you something resembling a passable major league player in return, that was business as usual as well.
Throwing in two of your top 10 prospects to facilitate payroll slashing, whether they were stalled out, blocked organizationally or otherwise, when you had never previously moved even one prospect ranked that high in order to get better in the immediate term, is inexcusable and borders on laughable.
I’d prefer to think, and in fact firmly believe, that Huntington consummated the Liriano trade with a metaphorical gun to his head, forced by Bob Nutting to get Liriano’s contract off the books by any means necessary, so long as it meant that the Pirates wouldn’t be the ones stuck eating dead money.
I refuse to believe that Huntington, an extremely sharp man, and architect of so much good during his time as general manager, would make a move so dumb, so lopsided or so nakedly cheap. His primary sin is trying to defiantly present Drew Hutchison as some sort of potential stud that the Pirates have had their eyes on for some time. I refuse to extend such courtesies to Nutting, however.
The Pirates have raised their payroll steadily since they have become good again. This is true. They also have made several shrewd deals to keep costs low on their best players. They have done plenty of things to run a tight financial ship. They have benefited, as have all lower-revenue, small-market teams, from revenue sharing.
If all of that wasn’t enough to enable them to just eat the final year of a bad contract, or give up less in the way of potentially useful depth pieces of the future, then shame on Nutting — he’s too undercapitalized to own a professional sports team.
If Hutchison was only the tip of the iceberg, if I firmly believed that the Pirates were going to use the money saved on Liriano in an immensely productive way this off-season, on a player or multiple players whose status approached “proven commodity” level, that would be one thing. That would be okay. I could understand that.
This year’s upcoming free agent class is weak, however, especially in the realm of starting pitching. There might not even be a good candidate worth spending the money on. That leaves Hutchison as the return, and the nebulous idea of dollars being spent in some way that ends up being beneficial to the Pirates.
The Pirates didn’t make themselves worse in the immediate term by trading Liriano, but they certainly didn’t make themselves better. Trading Harold Ramirez and Reese McGuire isn’t the end of the world, and it wouldn’t hurt the Pirates of this or next year, or maybe ever, but it was still dumb and unnecessary.
It was the kind of trade that this front office hasn’t trafficked in, on purpose, ever. It was a relic of a bygone era, one defined by bone-headed moves, financial stinginess, and hopeless season after hopeless season.
Pirates fans should better hope it is a blip on the radar, and nothing more.