Pirates Plunder Yankees in Nady Deal

by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
July 27, 2008

On Saturday's Fox Game of the Week, Joe Buck spent the better part of the telecast talking about how he couldn't believe that another team couldn't trump the package of prospects that the Yankees dealt to the Pirates to obtain Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte, as though Nady and Marte were the best players available to any team at the deadline.

This takes us back to July of 2003.  Sidney Ponson was having a career year with the Orioles, going 14-6 with a 3.77 ERA.  When the San Francisco Giants landed him, the reaction was similar to what you would have expected had they signed Juan Marichal Jr., claiming that he was the prize of the trading deadline.  Ponson performed satisfactorily down the stretch for the Giants (3-6, 3.71), but the NL West had already been a foregone conclusion, as the Giants won by 15.5 games.  The real reason they obtained him, I suppose, was for the postseason, and he did not impress in the one postseason start that he made (5 IP, 7 H, 4 ER). 

The funny part of this comparison is that the Yankees signed Ponson to a minor league deal earlier in the season, and despite his laboring through several horrendous seasons between 2003 and the present, he was probably more of an impact acquisition than either Nady or Marte were.  What the Yankees really needed was another starting pitcher, as their 4.27 starter's ERA at the time of the deal was 15th in baseball, 8th in the American League, and 4th in the AL East.  For a sense of scale, the Cleveland Indians were 7th in the AL with a starter's ERA of 4.00.

I guess the real problem is that Joe Buck and people like him are looking at Xavier Nady and seeing Savior Nady, a legitimate .330 hitter who should only improve with a spacious left field to work with in Yankee Stadium.  Adding that kind of a hitter could spur this offense to its '07 form, the thinking goes, and the 2007 Yankees didn't have much in the way of starting pitching, either.  In reality, the 29-year old Nady had never hit above .280 and had a career SLG of .409 after the All-Star break prior to this season. 

Granted, the state of the Yankees' outfield/DH position was not good before the trade, particularly with Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada both potentially out for the year.  But in adding a player like Nady, the Yankees will feel as thought their need has been filled, when they could have added a better bat that would have cost them less in terms of prospects.

As for Marte, I've written before that the lack of a southpaw in the bullpen might have been what prevented the 2007 Yankees from reaching the ALCS.  The problem here is the converse of the Giants issue in 2003.  Those Giants knew that they were going to make the playoffs, and added a player without postseason experience whose primary use would be in helping a team reach the playoffs.  The 2008 Yankees are a third place team despite an eight-game win streak.  They are used to making the playoffs every year, and may have now made the mistake of overlooking the fact that they need help getting to the playoffs this season, not a situational reliever to handle lefties (which incidentally, would only really help them against the Red Sox in the playoffs among potential AL playoff teams, and if the Red Sox are in the playoffs, there is a pretty good chance that the Yankees are not.  Even Jim Thome is hitting southpaws well this year).

Don't get me wrong; Marte is one of the better situational lefties in the game today, and his control has noticeably improved in the past two seasons.  But he is going to pitch roughly 25 innings for the Yankees, and theirs is not a pitching staff only 25 quality innings away from competence.

In fact, the Yankees take a net hit in innings in the loss of Jeff Karstens, who was pitching well enough in Triple-A to merit a shot in the Yankees' rotation.  Karstens has fallen out of favor with Yankee fans because he does not have the stuff of a Phil Hughes or a Joba Chamberlain, and he got tanked in a brief major league stint last year.  Nevertheless, his minor league K/BB ratio was better than 3.3:1 As bad as Ian Snell has been this year, you could sadly make the case that Karstens is the current ace of that Pittsburgh staff. 

Not to be outdone, Dan McCutchen owns a minor league K/BB ratio of over 3.5:1, using a mid-90s fastball, plus-change, and plus-curve to stymie hitters.   Ross Ohlendorf, whom the Yankees acquired in the Randy Johnson trade uses power sinker gives him enough upside to make him an attractive commodity, especially since his breaking ball is good enough to fool right-handers.  Like Karstens, he has struggled in his brief time in the majors. 

Jose Tabata, the Yankees' top prospect entering the season, was the centerpiece of this deal, however.  Some people label his as the prototypical overhyped New York prospect a la Carlos Gomez.  That may be true to an extent, but early signs show that Tabata can do anything asked of him except hit for power, and scouts believe that he will learn to do that soon enough.  His numbers at Double-A do not look good this year, but he is coming off surgery and he does not turn 20-years old until August.

While there isn't a single "can't-miss" among these four prospects, the fact that there are four of them with upside make the odds pretty good that Pittsburgh will get a good return on them.  Also, the fact that all four were in the upper levels of the Yankees' farm system bodes well for an organization with a historically bad developmental staff. 

Joe Buck still can't understand why Nady and Marte did not draw as impressive of a prospect package as C.C. Sabathia did.  Maybe he should instead focus on the fact that Neal Huntington and the Bucs got more from Nady and Marte than Billy Beane and the A's received for Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin.  Certainly, Jim Hendry swindled Beane as well, but I don't get how you look at this trade and see tha Pirates coming up short.  Particularly when we compare it to the deadline deal that the Pirates made last season for Matt Morris, or the eerily similar one that the Houston Astros made this week for Randy Wolf.

Whether any of those four prospects work out for the Pirates or not, this was a successful trade for Huntington, because he acquired players that have upside, affordable contracts, and a chance to be quality players.  Moreover, the Pirates did not give up anyone crucial tot their 2009 success.  In fact, they gave up two players on the wrong side of 27 that each have a great chance to tank in the second half.  They still have Jason Bay, who is a much better hitter and a much more marketable player than Nady is.

The last time the Pirates traded away a really good left-handed reliever, they wound up with Brian Giles.  This trade isn't going to turn out as well as that one did, but the Pirates should nevertheless feel reall y good about what is happening with their organization.

Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith resides in Chicago, Illinois and can be reached at keith@baseballevolution.com or found at the Baseball Evolution Forum