Pittsburgh Pirates

Examining Giants' long, odd history of one-sided trades with Pirates

Examining Giants' long, odd history of one-sided trades with Pirates

The Giants would have been in Pittsburgh tonight, which is always a fun trip if you can ignore the fact that you're in for at least one lengthy rain delay (they make up for it by leaving the ice cream machine on in the dining room, although it's possible that's an accident I'm not supposed to talk about publicly). 

PNC Park is as good as it gets, and the Giants do have some recent history there. Madison Bumgarner's shutout in the Wild Card Game, boosted by Brandon Crawford's grand slam, is one of the more memorable games of the championship era. If you go further back, you know the Pirates as the team that employed Barry Bonds before he came home. Other than that, you might think of them for something else. 

If you feel like the Giants and Pirates make a lot of trades, you would be correct. They have a long history of working out deals, and some ended up being lopsided. There have been 38 deals in all, including six since the Giants moved into Oracle Park. Before you watch our PlayStation simulation of Giants-Pirates tonight, take a stroll through some of their most recent deals:

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2018: Bryan Reynolds and Kyle Crick for Andrew McCutchen

I've written about this one a couple of times before, including in early 2019, when the Giants happened to be in Pittsburgh when Reynolds was called up. To sum up, while the Giants misevaluated Reynolds, they also really misevaluated themselves. 

McCutchen and Evan Longoria were not going to turn a 98-loss team back into a contender, and by swinging those deals the Giants set their farm system back and slowed the current rebuild. Reynolds hit .314 as a rookie with 16 homers, and Baseball-Reference had him at 4.1 WAR (which easily would have led the Giants) in just 134 games. 

Imagine if the Giants would have been moving forward knowing that Reynolds, Heliot Ramos and Hunter Bishop could have made up an extremely cost-controlled outfield by 2022? 

2010: John Bowker and Joe Martinez for Javier Lopez 

Acquired on deadline day in 2010, Lopez became a key member of the Core Four and allowed Bruce Bochy to deftly play the matchups every other postseason. My favorite Lopez stat: He faced 47 batters in the playoffs for the Giants and allowed just five hits. He also was so popular and respected that he joined the broadcast team soon after retirement, and he regularly fills in for Mike Krukow when the Giants are on the road.

Bowker had just 109 big league at-bats after the trade. He ended up back in the Giants system and they dealt him back to Pittsburgh in 2015 for cash considerations. Martinez made eight big league appearances after the deal. It was such a heist it made my list of top 10 trades in franchise history.

2009: Tim Alderson for Freddy Sanchez

I started covering the Giants full-time in 2012, which means most of my Freddy Sanchez stories have been updates on his health. But in 2010, he was a key piece for the championship club. Sanchez had a .342 on-base percentage that year and started every postseason game at second base. He became the first player to double in his first three World Series at-bats and his huge Game 1 helped the Giants get off to a good start against the Rangers. 

Also, Ghost Freddy is an underrated image:

Alderson was a 2007 first-round pick who made Baseball America's Top 100 in back-to-back years, but he never made it past Triple-A. 

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2007: Matt Morris for Rajai Davis

The Associated Press always stays right down the middle, but even their Pittsburgh writer couldn't resist taking a shot after this deal, a pure salary dump by Brian Sabean. "Normally, teams not in the race don't look to add an aging and expensive starter such as Morris," the AP writer wrote in the recap.

Well yeah, but the Pirates don't exactly have a history of making smart baseball decisions. They took on an expensive contract to add Morris to a young rotation. Morris had a 4.35 ERA at the time of the deal and it ballooned to 6.10 in 11 starts the rest of the season. He gave up 24 earned runs in his first five starts of 2008 and was released with more than $10 million remaining on a three-year deal he had signed with the Giants. The general manager who dealt for him was fired about a month after the trade. 

Davis, incredibly, still was playing in the big leagues last season at the age of 38. He played just 63 games for the Giants after the deal, but that's alright. Getting rid of that money as they were rebuilding was the real prize. 

2001: Armando Rios and Ryan Vogelsong for Jason Schmidt and John Vander Wal

Sabean fared quite well when he called the Pirates, and he absolutely fleeced them in his first deal with them.

Schmidt was a back-end starter in Pittsburgh but turned into an All-Star and Cy Young candidate in San Francisco. His 2003 season -- 17-5, 2.34 ERA, 0.95 WHIP -- is one of the best in recent franchise history. Vander Wal played just 49 games for the Giants. 

Rios had been a moderately productive outfielder for the Giants but he hit just one homer in 211 at-bats for the Pirates. Vogelsong is one of the most popular players the Giants have employed, but it took him a while to get there. He struggled in five seasons in Pittsburgh, bounced around the globe, and then returned to San Francisco, where he became an All-Star in 2011 and contributed greatly to the next two titles. 

Ranking MLB's best ballparks in National League outside of Oracle Park

Ranking MLB's best ballparks in National League outside of Oracle Park

There have been some high-profile issues at Dodger Stadium in recent years, and in baseball writing circles, it's known as also being a bit of a nightmare logistically. 

The elevator that takes you to the press box is infamously slow -- it's not uncommon to wait 10-15 minutes for it to arrive -- and the journey to the visiting clubhouse is the longest in the league. It's the only place where you can go talk to the manager and players, take your time on a story, pack up -- and still end up in traffic leaving the parking lot. 

Having said all that, I've always loved covering games at Dodger Stadium. You can sense the history of the franchise when you watch a game there, and they fully embrace the Hollywood vibe. There are movie stars in the first row, Lakers sitting alongside the dugout and loud music blaring at all times. It's a show, they go all-in, and the fans are some of the loudest in the league -- after arriving in the third inning. 

Throw in the hills in the background and the beautiful SoCal sunsets and it's a hell of a place to watch a baseball game. It is not, however, this:

This isn't even bias speaking. Do a real poll of fans, players, media, managers, team employees, etc. and you'll find overwhelming support for Oracle Park. It's a jewel of a ballpark, and it's widely considered the best ballpark in Major League Baseball. Even if you set that aside, Petco Park is easily the second-best ballpark in the NL West. 

But, the people who voted in that poll are allowed to have their opinion. So am I, so here's my ranking of the NL ballparks (I excluded Oracle Park because that's basically my office), some of which I've been visiting for a decade:

14. Marlins Park, Miami -- I actually don't hate it as much as most people, although I have no idea why they took the center field statue away. If you're going to build a Miami-themed stadium, go all the way. That monster fit perfectly, along with the nightclub in left. This place needs a reboot. More color, more flair, more Miami. As is, it's just kind of boring. 

13. Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati -- I realized the strength of the NL when putting the Reds second-to-last. The ballpark is fine. There's nothing really wrong with it, and I like the way they set up the seats in left and right. But there's not a whole lot that stands out, especially compared to the rest of the league. 

12. Truist Park, Atlanta -- It looks like something you would build on franchise mode in a video game, but they generally did a nice job. There's a ballpark village with bars and restaurants leading fans into the game and they did a good job of placing statues and honoring the team's history. There's just no creativity here. 

11. Nationals Park, Washington D.C. -- Ironically, it was cooler before they built up the surrounding area. You used to have a view of downtown and the capital building, but now the ballpark is surrounded by high-rise apartments. It's pretty cookie-cutter for a park in such a famous city, and they don't at all take advantage of the fact that it was built literally alongside the Anacostia River. 

10. Chase Field, Phoenix -- There's a bit of an airplane hanger vibe, but all things considered, when you're playing games in 110 degree heat most of the summer, I think they did pretty well. It's spacious and the concourses are packed with good food and entertainment options for fans. The TGI Fridays is a nice target for the Madison Bumgarners of the world during BP, and the pool in right-center is a fun target during games. You should roll your eyes when you see stories about them wanting a new place. This one is just fine. 

9. Busch Stadium, St. Louis -- The view of the arch is great and the ballpark village across the street is a model for every other MLB organization. It's amazing to me that the Giants haven't duplicated that already. The Cardinals do a good job of embracing their team colors, but there's not a whole lot that sticks out. 

8. Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia -- You can't tell from watching games, but the ballpark is in a gigantic parking lot about 20 minutes from downtown, along with the facilities for the Eagles and 76ers. There's nothing else there, but at least they built the ballpark to have a view of downtown. They get points for embracing Philadelphia's history a bit, the great and accessible bullpen setup, and the fact that the park has an offense-first design without turning games into a joke. 

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7. Coors Field, Denver -- You don't play real baseball here, but that's not their fault. Coors Field is well located and has a great aesthetic, and the fountains and mini forrest in center field were a nice touch. They get a ton of points for tearing up the upper deck in right field a few years ago and building a party deck with bars, comfortable seating and fire pits. The Giants have considered doing something similar and they really should. I take points away because there's a pet food factory somewhere in Denver and every once in a while that stench drifts over and takes over the ballpark. 

6. Citi Field, New York -- Not enough ballparks embrace their city's feel, but if you sit behind the plate here you can look out and see a gigantic apple, along with a Shake Shack. It can be distracting to have planes flying overhead on the way to LaGuardia, but even that fits right in with this being a ballpark in the country's busiest city. Citi Field is huge, but the concourses are wide and they have escalators everywhere, making it one of the more walkable ballparks in the NL. The food is outstanding, too. 

5. Miller Park, Milwaukee -- Built near a freeway a few miles from downtown, Miller Park is really well-designed on the inside and has plenty of quirks. The slide gets all the attention, as it should, but they also have a random Toyota SUV out there that hitters can take aim at and they spread the seats out well. There are random statues and benches all over the ballpark and they center a lot of their feel around the sausage race. We need more weird things inside parks. Good for the Brewers for realizing that. 

4. Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles -- Summarized above. The one thing I'll add is that the food is awful, especially compared to the other two NL parks in California. It's baffling that a park in such a trendy city could have such boring concession options. 

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3. Wrigley Field, Chicago -- It's a time portal as much as it is a ballpark, although the Cubs have put millions into the facility in recent years to modernize it. That's appreciated, especially when it comes to the crowded concourses and bathrooms. Wrigley still has all its charm, though, from the footprint in the middle of a neighborhood to the bleachers and home runs that land in an adjacent street. They're playing more night games these days, but this remains the best place to be on a summer afternoon. 

2. Petco Park, San Diego -- If they had found a way to build this exact ballpark near the water, it might be the best ballpark or stadium in America, but it's hard to argue with placing it in the Gaslamp. If you ever get here, or get here again, take a lap around the entire ballpark. It's just beautifully set up, with plants growing up walls and floating walkways and long escalators. The Western Metal Supply Co. building in left is one of the coolest ballpark features around. 

The view in center has gotten better over the years as construction has been finished, and the Padres are finally starting to fill this place up as they've put together an intriguing team. This is an unbeatable place to spend a Friday night.  

1. PNC Park, Pittsburgh -- There isn't a cooler way to get to a ballpark than walking across Roberto Clemente Bridge, the ballpark opening up to you as you get closer and closer. Then you get inside, turn to the field, and find that the opposite view is even more spectacular. The ballpark was built to give a perfect view of downtown, the river and the bridge:

The actual ballpark has everything you would want, too. Wide concourses, decks that overlook the water, interesting food, plenty of cool places -- including the water -- for a ball to land. This is easily my favorite one to visit. If you're checking ballparks off your list, this needs to be at the top. 

Andrew McCutchen's walk-off vs. Dodgers cemented him in Giants' lore


Andrew McCutchen's walk-off vs. Dodgers cemented him in Giants' lore

Imagine if the Giants had a 25-year-old who could play all three spots in the outfield, hit .314 with 16 homers as a rookie, and provide more than four WAR despite not playing the whole season. A player like that would change the timeline of this rebuild and even the outlook for the whole big league team in 2020. 

That player is Bryan Reynolds, and he was taken by the Giants in the second round of the 2016 MLB Draft. For all the talk over the years about Adam Duvall, Reynolds truly is 'The One That Got Away,' and it's a fascinating decision to look back on.

When they drafted Reynolds, Giants officials gushed about how they had scooped up a first-round talent in the second round, finding a way to get Reynolds at a cost other organizations didn't anticipate. But there wasn't much griping when he became the main piece in the deal for Andrew McCutchen less than two years later. 

Reynolds had a solid year in San Jose in 2017, but didn't flash too much power, and team officials felt lucky that they came away from that offseason with Evan Longoria and McCutchen, having stayed under the luxury tax line and kept most of their best prospects. Here's something I included in a story the week of the McCutchen deal, after talking to people within the organization: 

Christian Arroyo might come back to haunt the Giants, but the team held onto Heliot Ramos, who has superstar potential, and Chris Shaw and Tyler Beede, who should contribute to the 2018-19 clubs. Reynolds was a former top pick, but he generally was viewed as part of the organization's second tier of top-10 guys. 

Judging prospects is an imperfect science, but in retrospect, it's clear the Giants made two big mistakes. They didn't see what Reynolds would become and gave up on a slender young outfielder without anticipating how much he could develop. More importantly, they failed to accurately see what they had become. 

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After the Giants lost 98 games in 2017, the word "rebuild" was not used. "We hope it's a reset," one of their executives said two days after that season. Oops. 

The Giants tried to walk a fine line, adding Longoria and McCutchen but not spending much more as they tried to dip under the tax, which they would do with a midseason trade of Austin Jackson and Cory Gearrin. They were neither in nor out. They didn't realize it was time to commit to a rebuild, and at the same time, they also didn't go all-in on competing, choosing to be selective with their spending and leaving plenty of holes. 

We know how that all turned out, but you know what? There's one thing the Giants did right with that move. McCutchen still was a solid player, someone worthy of hitting in the heart of the lineup, and he brought some star power to an organization that was leaking plenty of oil. They were right about the kind of veteran player they were acquiring. 

McCutchen didn't make it through a full season with the Giants, but he provided plenty of highlights, most memorably in an April game that will air on NBC Sports Bay Area tonight at 8 p.m. McCutchen had six hits in his seventh game in orange and black, ending it with a memorable walk-off against the Dodgers. I won't spoil it all, but here's a reminder that the celebration is certainly worth waiting around for ... 

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McCutchen became the second player in MLB history to get six hits and a walk-off homer in a game. The final at-bat was remarkable and showed the kind of talent the Giants had acquired. The trade came at the wrong time for the organization, but he was the right type of player, and he did manage to make an impact before moving on.