A few years back, Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott severely cut the Reds' scouting staff and budget, saying words to the effect, "All scouts do is watch baseball games."
Yes, they do. That's why they're called "scouts".
Thankfully Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington doesn't adhere to Schott's theory. In fact, Huntington is 180 degrees the other direction, increasing the Pirates scouting budget and relying heavily on his scouts' input.
That input came to the forefront last Thursday as the clock ticked toward the 4 p.m. trading deadline.
"At 3:55 p.m., when I got the off the phone, Jason Bay was still a Pirate," said Huntington on his weekly radio show Sunday. "Within the next minute or so, we had a couple of more phone calls come in and the deal was completed with Boston."
That deal resulted in the Pirates shipping Bay to the Boston Red Sox, with Boston sending Manny Ramirez on to the Los Angeles Dodgers along with a several million dollars. Boston sent Brandon Moss and Craig Hansen to Pittsburgh. To complete the transaction, Los Angeles sent Andy LaRoche and Bryan Morris to Pittsburgh, giving the Pirates a total of four players in exchange for Bay.
"Our scouts deserve all the credit," said the Pirates general manager. "As soon as were done with the June Draft, we deployed our amateur scouts with a strategy of looking at all the teams in baseball that might be interested in trading with us. We scouted them the whole way down to A-ball."
When the final offer came in, Huntington was immediately able to pull up on the computer all the info that he needed on the Boston and Los Angeles players.
Showing a great deal of class, Huntington hustled to meet with the Pirates before they departed for this current road trip. He said that he wanted to let them know the reasoning for the trade and also to tell Bay in person about the trade. A lot of general managers wouldn't have done that.
After making some phone calls, here is what I have come up with on the four newest Pirates.
Third baseman LaRoche, who is Pirates first baseman Adam LaRoche's younger brother, projects as a middle of the lineup power hitter. As the 2007 season began, he was tabbed by "Baseball America" as the Dodgers number one prospect. This year, he was rated number two in the entire Dodgers organization. In addition to being a solid hitter, he is also has a good glove at third where he should see a great deal action.
A Class-A pitcher this year, Morris actually has the highest ceiling of all four players. The downside is that he missed the 2007 season with Tommy John surgery. He was charged with three runs or less in 15 of his 17 starts with Great Lakes of the Midwest League. With a fastball hitting 93-94, he had a 0.84 ERA in his last four starts for Great Lakes. He was a first-round of the Dodgers in 2006 as a compensation pick. Morris has been assigned to Hickory in the South Atlantic League.
A tremendous athlete, Moss will see most of his action in left field for the Pirates. His path to the majors in Boston was blocked by Ramirez and J.D. Drew. In 34 games with the Red Sox, Morris batted .295. He also batted .282 at Triple-A Pawtucket. He was Boston's minor league player of the year in 2004. The left-handed hitter was Pawtucket's MVP and a midseason International League All-Star in 2007.
Hansen throws in the mid-90s and will be given a shot at being the Pirates' closer. He does have control problems. The righthander was 1-2 with two saves in 32 appearances with Boston this year. The Red Sox's first-round pick in 2005, Hansen goes six-foot-six, 250 pounds, so he is imposing on the mound.
The pick up of LaRoche takes away some of this year's number-one pick Pedro Alvarez's bargaining leverage. The deadline for signing for Alvarez is Aug. 15, who is represented by Scott Boras. If the Pirates don't sign Alvarez, they will receive the number three overall pick in the 2009 draft.
"We won't overpay," Huntington said Sunday. "We have a certain dollar figure in mind and we're not going to pay more than that."
It sounds like the ball is in Boras' court. Huntington is not going to blink.
For the past four years, ever since he was taken No. 11 overall by the Pirates, people have been asking when Pittsburgher Neil Walker will make it to the majors. Originally a catcher, Walker was shifted to third base last year. Currently hitting in the .225 range at Indianapolis (AAA), if Walker makes it to the majors this year, it will only be for a September cup of coffee. With LaRoche now ahead of him, it may be a while before Walker calls PNC Park home on a regular basis.