The Pittsburgh Pirates are six wins from their first presentable baseball season in 21 years. While the Pirates of Coonelly, Huntington and Hurdle have reminded us organizational maladies don't die without a fight and a few tears, and while the Pirates of McCutchen, Alvarez and Burnett just spent a glorious four weeks leading the NL Central, "presentable" doesn't sound so acceptable anymore and besides, as of Tuesday morning, they were no longer in first place.
The Pirates know better than most that relevant Septembers – followed by bright-light Octobers – are more often somebody else's entitlement. So the seasons pass, and the ascent is slow (and occasionally not an ascent at all), and the final few indignities (8-22 two Augusts ago, 7-21 last September) can be sadder than a whole generation spent losing.
Because of that, general manager Neal Huntington could not let the summer pass without doing something. Not when a four-game division lead was gone in two weeks. Not when the roster that helped build that four-game lead was without left fielder Starling Marte (hand), backup catcher Michael McKenry (knee), closer Jason Grilli (elbow) and starter Wandy Rodriguez (forearm). Not when the St. Louis Cardinals were getting hot, and not with six games in 10 days coming against the Cardinals, and not when the final nine games of the season includes six with the Cincinnati Reds.
There's more, of course. With the Pirates, there often is. For one, their right fielders have given them almost no offensive production. (It's not like the Pirates haven't tried, either: They've started eight different ones.) For another, the pitching staff hasn't been what it was in a first half when Bucco relevancy was being established, so Clint Hurdle's fellas might have to hit their way to more than a few wins.
It wouldn't be at all surprising to see the top three from the NL Central divvy up one division championship and both wild cards. Nobody wants a one-and-done scenario if it can be avoided, however, and the Pirates on Tuesday took a shot at improving their first postseason experience since the Alex Cole era. At the end of a 16-game stretch in which the Pirates lost 10 times (and scored 26 runs in the losses), Huntington acquired outfielder Marlon Byrd and catcher John Buck from the New York Mets in exchange for minor-league infielder Dilson Herrera and a player to be named.
Byrd, who at 35 has a career-high 21 home runs and batted a reasonable .287 with runners in scoring position, becomes the regular right fielder or falls into a platoon with Garrett Jones or Travis Snider. He has crushed left-handed pitching, as have the Pirates, so the lineup gets more dangerous on that side of the plate. Jose Tabata stays in left until Marte returns, expected to be a week or two into September. Of recent, the Pirates' right fielder had been a little Andrew Lambo, a little Jones and a little Josh Harrison.
Buck becomes Russell Martin's backup, who was McKenry until about a month ago and has been rookie Tony Sanchez since. Buck had nine home runs in April and has six since, and most recently was seen batting .170 in August. He knows the league, knows a clubhouse and, as April showed, can run into a baseball from time to time. The Mets sent cash to Pittsburgh as well, in part to cover about $1.2 million due Buck over the rest of the season.
Byrd and Buck will be eligible for the Pirates in the postseason, as the trade came before Saturday's waiver trade deadline.
So, the Pirates took a chance. Not a big chance, but a chance. Herrera is an A-ball second baseman. Yet he is only 19, is more than surviving the South Atlantic League and is regarded well enough to be on the World roster at this summer's Futures Game. There's another player involved, too.
In return, the Pirates get Byrd and Buck for a month. More, if this thing ends well for the Pirates, and the odds improved with a couple sturdy veteran types who shouldn't be prone to disappearing on, say, a Saturday afternoon in St. Louis.
It's good that Huntington won't settle for "presentable." He might have made a trade or two a month ago, and perhaps saved everyone from a rather ordinary August and the angst that follows. But, hey, with 32 games left and nothing but the past to expel, with a half-game to make up and a month to do it, there's but one last question to be answered in Pittsburgh: