Neal Huntington’s 6 best trades as Pirates general manager

August 4, 2018

Pirates closer Felipe Vazquez celebrates with catcher Francisco Cervelli after defeating the Nationals, 6-3, Monday, July 9, 2018, at PNC Park.

On the heels of arguably the highest-profile day of multiple trades in the 11-year tenure of Neal Huntington as Pirates general manager, a look at his best work. Among the dozens of trades he’s made since taking over in late 2007, these are the ones that have worked out the best:

6. July 31, 2015: Adrian Sampson for J.A. Happ

This might have ranked higher of Happ was here for more than two months. But although he left after the season as a free agent (proving 9.3 Wins Above Replacement for Toronto and the Yankees in 2016-18), Happ gave the Pirates 2.6 WAR in just 11 starts down the stretch. And all it took to pry him from Seattle was Sampson, who has appeared in exactly one MLB game.

5. Jan. 27, 2015: Travis Snider for Stephen Tarpley and Steven Brault

Tarpley is long gone from the organization and has never reached the majors, and Brault thus far has been just a long man and spot starter. So why is this trade ranked? Because the Pirates were able to re-sign Snider seven months later (after the Orioles paid almost all of his salary) - and they got a useful (and cheap) major-league pitcher in the process.

4. Nov. 12, 2014: Justin Wilson for Francisco Cervelli

Faced with the impending loss of Russell Martin, Huntington had to act to get the Pirates a starting catcher. He found one that would be above-average offensively, very good in defensive metrics (and become a fan favorite) for the low, low price of a middle reliever.

3. June 3, 2009: Nate McLouth for Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke and Gorkys Hernandez

One of Huntington’s first blockbusters, it wasn’t popular at the time because McLouth was the Pirates’ best player. But the then-40-year-old general manager sold high on him to Atlanta, getting a package of players who would become a useful longtime MLB outfielder and two MLB starting pitchers - one of whom became an all-star and World Series champion (Morton, albeit not for the Pirates). McLouth would hit just .230 with a .674 OPS and 30 home runs over the next five seasons combined (a forgettable half of one back in Pittsburgh) and was out of baseball at age 32.

2. July 30, 2016: Mark Melancon for Felipe Rivero and Taylor Hearn

This is the best of a superfecta series of deals involving relievers that creates something of a flow chart of Huntington’s best work (bullpen management). Huntington acquired Joel Hanrahan as part of a four-player from Washington for middling lefty Sean Burnett in 2009, got three-plus years of elite relief out of him - and then flipped him to Boston, effectively, for Melancon just as Hanrahan regressed mightily (he made nine appearances before his career ended). Melancon became a three-time all-star and NL saves leader for the Pirates... before Huntington cashed him in just before his contract expired for a pair of young lefties with electric stuff. Rivero is now Felipe Vazque - and one of the game’s best closers. Hearn is so highly-regarded he was used to acquire Rangers closer Keone Kela on Tuesday. The series of four trades (the best the dealing of Melancon to Washington) illustrates truly masterful bullpen asset management.

1. Feb 19, 2012: Exicardo Cayones and Diego Moreno for A.J. Burnett

Burnett became arguably the face of the Pirates’ return to prominence after two decades of losing, winning 35 games with a 7.3 WAR over three seasons with the team. The cost? A player who never advanced beyond Single-A (Cayones) and another who, now 31, has pitched 15 1/3 MLB innings. The best part: the Yankees paid more than 40 percent of the $31.5 million Burnett was owed in 2012-13.

Update hourly