Transaction analysis: Pirates acquire Justin Morneau … Huntington gambles and wins


PNC PARK – Pirates GM Neal Huntington played a dangerous game in not making a pre-July 31 deal.


Yes, prices were inflated in a seller’s market at the deadline.


Yes, few teams acquired assets.


But the Pirates were not making moves in a vacuum they were considering them in the midst of a season that had historical importance. What was the cost of, the risk of, doing nothing? Significant. There were no guarantees the club would be in this position in 2014,


“We were willing to do something stupid,” Huntington said at the time, “just not something insane.”


Huntington decided to keep his top prospect assets. The Glasnows, Polancos and Taillons.


But by holding on to elite prospects,  a prudent long-term play, Huntington told me Saturday that there was a very real fear that the club would get “shut out” of the waiver wire, and waiver trade market in August prior to tonight’s postseason roster eligibility deadline. Why? The Pirates’ record placed them at or near the back of the waiver wire and there was a very concern in the front office that they would essentially have to stand pat.


“We expected we had a very good chance to get shut out in August,” Huntington said. “We did not think there would be very many players clear that would be good fits for us. Nor did we expect players to  get to us. It was a little surprising to be able to make a couple deals that we feel are going to help us.”


But then Marlon Byrd inexplicably wasn’t claimed by the Diamondbacks or Reds and he fell to the Pirates. The Pirates made a deal with the Mets on Tuesday. Dilson Herrera and Vic Black are nice pieces but they are not future franchise cornerstones. Herrera was a fringe top 10 organization prospect, according to a Baseball America source.


And then Saturday, Justin Morneau, who the Pirates called about before the trade deadline, who had cleared waivers, came into the fold on after the price came down to 40 cents on the dollar. Alex Presley is a good guy who might be a fourth outfielder. The PTBNL is “significant” according to Huntington but it’s not a blue-chipper.


Huntington said the price “absolutely” came down on Morneau.


Still, Huntington played a dangerous game but what turned out to be a smart and perhaps fortunate one.


A lineup without Byrd and Morneau – who brings a hot bat (9 August homers and a .831 OPS against right-handed pitching) – might not lead this team to October.


The Pirates are 59-14 when they score more than four runs …. 20-42 when they do not.


He acquired two significant lineup pieces in Byrd and Morneau for little cost. The cost at the deadline was “insane” the cost Aug. 31 was middling. The Pirates played a dangerous sort of poker game, but he won the game.


We impacted today without too negatively impacting tomorrow,” Huntington said.


That was the goal and it took an extra month, post non-waiver tradeline to get the prices down. It took risk, but it paid out in reward in the last week in August. Embattled a year ago is Huntington the lead candidate for exec of the year?


Crazy turnaround.


Now what does Morneau bring to the table?

He’s not the player he was when he won the 2006 AL MVP. But he can still impact a game with power against right-handed pitch. The Pirates believe there is something to his second-half breakout.


“Our (scouts) have seen a mechanical adjustment as a reason why he’s hit nine home runs in the month of August,” Huntington said. “We have some confidence he’ll be able to keep that going forward, especially when he gets out here to the Clemente Wall.”


He’s another plus clubhouse guy, who should fit it well.


Morneau will make Garrett Jones a bench player. But it will extend not only the depth of the Pirates’ starting lineup, it will give Clint Hurdle a deeper bench and more match-up flexibility. And remember, the bench was arguably the weakest area of the Pirates in the first half.


“(Hurdle) can pick matchups,” Huntington said. “There will be certain nights Garrett Jones is in right or first and certain nights. Gaby is at first base or Marlon is in left. It just makes us a deeper more talented team. Not only the first seven innings but the last three as well: bats off the bench, defensive ability.


“We feel we’ve not only upgraded our every day lineup but also our bench.”


You could say the Pirates went for it, pushed all their chips in, and in a way they did, getting the best two post deadline assets they could. But in another way they didn’t as they didn’t surrender a single significant asset.


They didn’t trade tomorrow and got better today.


That’s a win.