There’s quite a bit to write about now that the MLB trade deadline has officially passed. And to start off, I think it’s extremely clear that the Pittsburgh Pirates are all about next season.
Not to say the team isn’t going to keep pushing for October. But the Pirates — as of Monday — are third in the NL Central, trailing the “best in baseball” Chicago Cubs by 11 games.
I won’t overlook the fact that the Brewers (fourth in the NL Central) did just sweep the Bucs in its latest three-game series. That, by any means, does not help their Wild Card chances, since the Brewers are right on Pittsburgh’s trail.
Pittsburgh is sitting three spots back from being a Wild Card team, behind the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Mets.
But, this column isn’t going to focus on the Wild Card standings. That’s for a little further down the line.
This is about Huntington bolstering up the bullpen. Or trying to.
I’ve flip-flopped a few times on my views of the Pirates pitchers.
Early in the spring, optimism set in. Now, reality has.
The biggest attention-grabber in the Pirates trade deals has been the Melancon-Rivero trade, which also included the Nationals’ 27th-ranked pitching prospect, Taylor Hearn.
On the surface, I couldn’t believe that the Pirates so-easily swapped Mark “the Shark” Melancon. The 31-year-old right-handed closer, who is fourth in the NL in saves with 30, and a 1.51 ERA, was dealt to Washington for left-handed pitcher Felipe Rivero and a prospect.
But don’t be fooled. The Pirates have had their eye on Hearn for a few years. And trading players is as much about opening up more funds as it is strengthening the team.
Hearn has been drafted four times, the first time by Pittsburgh, right out of high school in 2012.
Hearn decided not to sign until 2015, when the Nationals picked him up in the fifth round out of Oklahoma Baptist University.
The Nationals’ No. 27 prospect has split this year between rookie ball and Low-A, sporting a 1.39 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning), in 29 innings pitched.
Another interesting trade is the Niese-Bastardo deal, which came to light shortly before the deadline ended on Monday.
Jon Niese, who the Pirates acquired from the Mets earlier this year for Neil Walker, will be rejoining his New York team. Antonio Bastardo — if that name rings a bell, it’s because he was suited up in a Bucco’s uniform in 2015 — will now be coming back to the ‘Burgh.
Between Niese and Ryan Vogelsong, the latter of the two has been more impressive this season, despite Vogelsong being on the verge of 40, and being on 60-day disabled list, although he is expected to be active soon.
Niese started spiraling in the wrong direction around the All-Star break, where his ERA jumped to 5.00, in just 18 starts.
Bastardo isn’t having a breakout year either, though.
The lefty brings to the Pirates a 4.74 ERA, but, when he was with the Pirates just a season ago, he had a 2.98 ERA, in 66 appearances. His career ERA balances out to about 3.73, with a record of 24-19. So, it could be worse.
Bucco nation also said goodbye — possibly with a smile — to Francisco Liriano, Monday.
Liriano is now Toronto-bound, with Pittsburgh taking right-handed pitcher Drew Hutchison. The Pirates also dealt prospects Harold Ramirez and Reese McGuire to the Blue Jays. McGuire was far from a bad catcher, but his batting average has descended since 2013 — from .323 to .259.
Thankfully, Josh Bell and Austin Meadows aren’t going anywhere, and they’re the real prospects of the franchise’s future.
Ivan Nova, a right-handed major leaguer, is also another new face that will be in the Pirates bullpen.
Although Nova brings in some baggage — having triceps surgery and recently Tommy John ligament replacement surgery — he can possibly be polished up by Ray Searage, in hopes to bring the 29-year-old down from his .576 career ERA.
Many moves have been made, and hopefully many monies have been saved.
At this point, Pirates fans are either trusting in Huntington, whose been through nine seasons as the Bucco’s GM, or, finding a spot on the floor, assuming fetal position, and waiting until 2017.
I’m teeter-tottering in between.
Lohr is the sports editor at The herald. He can be reached at email@example.com, or at 827-3634.