Bucs balancing present, future

PITTSBURGH – Just hours remain until baseball’s non-waiver trading deadline expires, and Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington must feel like he’s glued to his cell phone.

Huntington is looking for ways to improve the 2014 Pirates without putting the 2017 team at risk.

It isn’t easy. Huntington doesn’t have the luxury that some GMs do, to shoot the works for now and let the future take care of itself.

He can’t afford to trade a prospect who might be a future building block with the idea that he can just go out and sign a major free agent to replace that player in the future.

The Pirates don’t operate that way, and they won’t as long as MLB has its current system. There’s always a balance to be struck between today and tomorrow, and that’s what makes Huntington’s job a lot so complicated.

The Los Angeles Angels needed a closer, so they got Huston Street, the best one on the market. They gave up a couple of their best prospects, but they didn’t mind.

The Pirates could have used Street. They need another reliable, experienced arm in the bullpen. They need a quality starting pitcher even more.

But prices are high this year. A lot of teams are looking for the same things, so the teams that have players to sell are asking for a lot in return.

Ever since MLB added a second wild card spot, a lot more teams have hopes of reaching the postseason. A lot more teams consider themselves contenders.

The Pirates’ minor league system is loaded. The Pirates have done a good job of finding and signing players. They’ve also benefited from the losing years that brought prime drafting position.

Those prospects are assets. A lot of them will come to Pittsburgh, as Starling Marte, Gerrit Cole and Gregory Polanco have over the past three seasons. Some of them will be used as trading chips, as Vic Black was last year.

To get a quality starting pitcher, it’s going to take more than borderline prospects. When the Pirates acquired Wandy Rodriguez from Houston a couple of years ago, the cost was modest – Robbie Grossman and Rudy Owens were the main players sent to Houston.

Although both had success in the Pirates’ system, neither was considered a major prospect. Grossman and Owens have both played for the Astros, but neither has had any kind of impact on a team that needs a lot of help.

When teams call about trades, they validate the quality of the Pirates’ farm system. They want Nick Kingham and Josh Bell.

The Pirates consider every deal, always looking at 2014 as opposed to 2017. If the Pirates use their best minor league players to get a two-month rental like Boston’s Jon Lester, is it worth it?

More than 20 years ago, the Pirates got Zane Smith, a lefthanded starter they needed, by trading Moises Alou, who had a long career in the major leagues.

Does that kind of deal make sense in this age, when salaries rise quickly and significantly every year?

That’s Huntington’s dilemma.

The vote here is that 2017 is just as important as 2014 and the Pirates can’t give away the farm for temporary help.

Mehno can be reached at