Timid GMs made deadline a dud-line

BY Ken Rosenthal • August 1, 2013

Why is Michael Morse still a Mariner? Why is Nate Schierholtz not a Pirate? Why are seemingly half of MLB's general managers infected with paralysis by analysis, unable to help their teams even incrementally?

Making a trade is not that difficult, or at least it shouldn’t be. The Cubs, as a seller, made four deals before Wednesday’s non-waiver deadline, and if not for the Pirates’ handwringing over Schierholtz, would have completed at least one more. The Orioles, as a buyer, made three upgrades — and weep not, Prospect Nation, they did it without compromising their future.

Frankly, Orioles general manager Dan Duquette embarrassed many of his peers, all while trading from a seemingly weak position — the O’s farm system entered the season ranked only 17th in the majors, according to Baseball America.

To get right-hander Scott Feldman from the Cubs, Duquette parted with a starting pitcher who needed a change, righty Jake Arrieta, and a reliever who was on the verge of getting designated for assignment, righty Pedro Strop.

To get reliever Francisco Rodriguez from the Brewers, Duquette gave up infielder Nick Delmonico, a hitter with good potential but defensive shortcomings that might limit him only to first base.

And to get right-hander Bud Norris from the Astros, Duquette parted with outfielder L.J. Hoes, who might never be more than a solid reserve, and left-hander Josh Hader, who is only 19 and a long way from the majors, plus a competitive-balance pick in the 2014 draft.

There. Was that so difficult?

The Pirates, holding the best record in the majors, were in a stronger competitive position than the Orioles, who entered the deadline five games back in the AL East. Still, the Pirates ranked 11th in the NL runs per game. The combined OPS of their right fielders ranked last. And yet, Pirates GM Neal Huntington refrained from making a single move.

The headline in Thursday’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette blared, “Pirates refuse to overpay,” as if the team had taken some kind of noble stand. Well, Huntington was smart not to overpay for the White Sox’s mercurial Alex Rios, who was guaranteed about $18 million through next season, or the Giants’ Hunter Pence, who is a potential free agent. But does anyone seriously think the Cubs were trying to rob the Pirates blind in a deal for Schierholtz or another outfielder in whom Pittsburgh had interest, David DeJesus?

Schierholtz, 29, would have been an excellent fit — he boasts an .872 OPS against right-handed pitching, plays above-average defense in right and is owed only about $750,000 for the rest of the season, with one year of arbitration remaining. But the Pirates likely blew their only chance to acquire him; Schierholtz almost certainly will be claimed before he gets to them on waivers in August.

Huntington told reporters in Pittsburgh that he worked hard to improve his club, saying, “I made offers that made me incredibly uncomfortable.” He expounded Thursday to FOXSports.com’s Jon Paul Morosi, saying, “Our belief in this club caused us to want to add to it. Our belief in this club also allowed us to not do something desperate. We did not make a move 'cause the market was so shallow and we were not able to find an appropriate match.”

The level of the Pirates’ aggressiveness, though, is in question. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that the Pirates made a “significant offer” for Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton “that caught the attention of the Marlins’ front office.” Bad reporting? Or a shameless leak by the Pirates? The Miami Herald’s Clark Spencer, citing a source, tweeted, “The Marlins received many offers for Giancarlo Stanton but NOT ONE from the Pittsburgh Pirates.”

In fairness, Huntington might win Executive of the Year, in part due to trades for two All-Stars, left-hander Jeff Locke and right-hander Mark Melancon. But his mid-season acquisitions — first baseman Derrek Lee and outfielder Ryan Ludwick in 2011, left-hander Wandy Rodriguez, reliever Chad Qualls, first baseman Gaby Sanchez and outfielder Travis Snider in 2012 — have been mostly uninspired.

The Pirates collapsed in the second half in both of those seasons, but this year’s club should be strong enough to avoid such a fate. And again, Huntington still could make a waiver deal in August, so he cannot be entirely judged just yet.

Indeed, Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik should have Huntington’s problems.

The Phillies, 12½ games back in the NL East, drew the most attention for their inactivity, declining even to trade two potential free agents whom they are unlikely to re-sign, catcher Carlos Ruiz and third baseman Michael Young. But the Mariners, who are just as far out of first place in the AL West, also had no excuse for standing pat.

It’s understandable that the Mariners want to build momentum entering next season. They're 22-21 since June 9, and they’re excited by the progress of young players such as second baseman Nick Franklin and shortstop Brad Miller. Still, the team’s roster is stocked with potential free agents — Morse, first baseman Kendrys Morales, outfielder Raul Ibanez, left-hander Joe Saunders, left-handed reliever Oliver Perez.

Zduriencik told reporters, “When you let a guy leave, it’s harder to bring him back” — fair enough. But the Mariners aren’t going to try to bring back all of their potential free agents, and Morales likely will be the only one who merits a qualifying offer. Why didn’t Zduriencik trade some of the others and save his ownership money in the process?

The Mariners have starters in the minors who could replicate the performance of Saunders, who has a 4.65 ERA in 22 starts. A trade of Perez, who has worked all of 38 2/3 innings, would not have left the franchise in tatters. And while Morse might not have brought the equivalent return of what he cost the M’s — catcher John Jaso — surely he was worth at least a low-level prospect.

Trading all three could have saved the Mariners about $5 million, assuming the team did not include cash in the deals. And again, the M’s would not have been much worse off. The team actually played its best baseball of the season when Morse was sidelined from June 22 to July 29 with a strained right quad.

Let’s not overdramatize this — trading Saunders, Perez and Morse would not have been a game-changer. But such veterans, in the words of one rival executive, amount to “found money.” You get what you can for them, and move on.

It’s not easy being a GM. The stakes are high. The scrutiny is intense. And even smart moves can turn out dumb. Still, the best GMs operate without fear, trusting in their instincts, trusting in their beliefs.

Wednesday was the lamest deadline day in recent memory for many reasons — a shortage of quality players, the reduced need for clubs to dump salaries, the murkiness in the races created by the second wild cards. But too many GMs are indeed infected with paralysis by analysis, robbing the game of creativity, depriving their teams of shrewd management.

Take the bat off your shoulder, people.