Hidden Vigorish

Detailed Analysis of The Pittsburgh Pirates

Trader Neal: Jason Bay Trade Retrospective

Now that it appears that Jason Bay is hanging up his spikes for good let’s take a look back at the trade that ended his career with the Pirates.

2008 was Neal Huntington’s first year on the job as General Manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates had flirted with the .500 mark for the first few months of the season, but by mid-July they were fading fast. After falling 10 games below .500 on July 20th it was clear the Pirates were going to be deadline sellers. It also seemed likely that the rookie GM was going to use the opportunity to start a full organizational rebuild. Jason Bay was the Pirates best player and Huntington’s top trade chip. For better or worse, trading Jason Bay would shape the opinion of Huntington held by Pirate fans, the media, and other GMs for years to come.

The Pirates nearly swung a deal the prior offseason involving Bay for Cliff Lee and Franklin Guttierez. Bay and Lee were both coming off bad seasons in 2007. The Pirates Front Office decided to hold onto Bay in hopes he would rebound and rebuild his value. Bay did rebound in 2008. He was enjoying a fine season leading up to the trade deadline. Of course Cliff Lee did too, eventually winning the AL Cy Young Award in 2008, but that is another story for another time. Just minutes before the July 31st trade deadline Bay was sent to Boston in a three team trade with the Pirates acquiring Andy Laroche, Brandon Moss, Craig Hansen, and Bryan Morris. The trade was ultimately proved to be a failure for the Pirates. Jason Bay would give the Red Sox 7.2 bWAR over 200 games before leaving as a free agent. In 2009 he finished 7th in the AL MVP vote. The Pirates essentially got replacement level production from Laroche while Moss completely bombed in Pittsburgh. Moss would later have a resurgence with the A’s. Craig Hansen’s career was ruined by Parsonage–Turner syndrome which caused numbness in his throwing arm. Reliever Bryan Morris is the lone holdover from the trade.
At the time of the trade, the deal actually looked pretty good on paper. Laroche, Moss, and Hansen all had previously been ranked as top 100 prospects by Baseball America. Morris was a 2006 first round pick of the Dodgers. He missed all of 2007 with Tommy John Surgery, but was back in action during the 2008 and showed some promise as a starting pitcher. The problem with all of these prospects though was they were losing their shine at the time the Pirates acquired them. They weren’t slam dunk can’t miss prospects. They had fallen out of favor for various reasons with their former clubs. We found out why when they came to Pittsburgh. I think the take away from all of this is that once a top prospect does not mean always a top prospect. Also it should be noted how difficult these types of deals are, especially for rookie GMs. Neal Huntington hadn’t had the chance to build up years of trust with his scouting and development people. Very likely he was acting on stale and/or inaccurate information. Over the years it seems that the Pirates have actually gotten better returns from prospects they acquired that weren’t top 100 prospects. Just a thought, but perhaps it takes a more experienced GM to rely on the scouts that unearth the hidden gems. Regardless, the Jason Bay trade goes down as one of the more infamous deals in recent Pirates history.

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