By Mike Wysocki
Pittsburgh Current Baseball Writer
The July 31trade deadline is approaching quickly and this time Major League Baseball really means it.
In past years, we’d wait for 4 p.m. on July 31 to see if the Pirates decided to trade some of our favorite players. But even if a player managed not to get traded, they still weren’t safe because they could still be traded in August if they cleared waivers.
But, finally, August waiver trades are a thing of the past. If a team wants to make a move, this year, they’ve got to get it done over the course of the next 12 days, Since Clint Hurdle took over a sunken Pirates ship in 2011, the Bucs have mostly been in a bull market after almost 20 years in a bear market. Diehard fans used to lament this time of year because they knew one of their favorite players was on his way out of town, another $100 jersey from Dick’s would be rendered obsolete and either players you never heard of or players 5 years past their prime, were on their way in. But the past eight years have been a little more fun and so this week we look at the three best and worst trades since the departure of manager John Russell.
In 2016, Neal Huntington painted his masterpiece. Mark Melancon had ERA’s of 1.39, 1.90, and 2.23 and had a 51-save season, breaking the Pirates all-time record. Arguably, the best closer in Pirates history was sent packing to Washington for an inconsistent young left-handed fireballer named Felipe Vazquez. At the time, it looked like another Aramis Ramirez deal, but this one was a beauty. Since the deal Melancon is now a Giant and has a 5-8 record in the past couple of years. Vazquez has emerged as a top-five closer in the game and at times can be unhittable.
Marlon Byrd joined the Bucs in 2013 making Pittsburgh the seventh different uniform he had worn. The 36-year-old journeyman hit .318 down the stretch and clobbered a two-run homer off Johnny Cueto in the Pirates first postseason win in 19 seasons. All they gave up was Dilson Herrerra who cashed a check in the bigs for a few years while hitting just three points above the Mendoza line.
Not much was made of Huntington’s acquisition of J.A. Happ in 2015. But Happ went 7-2 with a skinny 1.85 ERA; too good for the Pirates to be able to re-sign him. Happ was a huge part of the Pirates 98-win season. It’s still hard to believe they had a 98-win season. In exchange, the Bucs sent Adrian Sampson to Seattle. He’s still in the Show but has six wins in three years, one less than Happ had as a Pirate for two months.
This could drop in the rankings if Chris Archer regains his form and it seemed like a great idea at the time. Tyler Glasnow struggled to a 3-11 record with Pittsburgh and Austin Meadows was just another prospect in a crowded outfield. Meanwhile, Archer was in the top three in strikeouts in the American League for the past three years. Glasnow started off 6-1 with Tampa this year and Meadows was an early MVP candidate. Archer has struggled to an ERA of over 5. Now, Meadows has cooled off, Glasnow might be out for the season and Archer is slowly getting his groove back. The worst trade as of now, but it is still under investigation.
Tony Watson was 31-16 with the Pirates with a 2.68 ERA. He was one of the most effective left-handed relievers the Pirates had in the past 30 plus years. He’s still a relevant and sought after arm, but the Bucs unexplainably gave him to the Dodgers in 2017. Oneil Cruz and Angel German was the Pirates’ haul in that deal. Cruz is still in rookie ball while German has a 5.00-plus ERA as a member of the Altoona Curve.
Fan favorite Jason Grilli was a big part of the team’s transformation from doormats to contenders. His reward was being shipped to the Angels in 2014 for Ernesto Frieri. Frieri appeared in 14 games in black and gold accumulated an ERA of over 10 and was never seen at PNC again.
As we roll toward July 31, the Pirates are clinging to another playoff run. We will see if Huntington can do a little more Happ and a little less Frieri.