Surging Pirates come up empty at trade deadline

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PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Pirates will receive some welcome additions to their roster in the coming days.


The faces, however, will be familiar.


The Pirates failed to add a big name at Thursday’s trading deadline, though general manager Neal Huntington remains bullish with his team in the thick of the race in the NL Central.


“We wanted to add to this club,” Huntington said. “We looked at various points to add to this club … but in the final decision process we felt that our best move was to stay as we were at this point.”


Huntington pointed to the impending returns of outfielder Starling Marte from a concussion and budding ace Gerrit Cole from a back injury as reasons to be optimistic as the Pirates try to emerge from a crowded three-team division race with Milwaukee and St. Louis.


While the Cardinals upgraded their depleted starting rotation by acquiring Justin Masterson from Cleveland and John Lackey from Boston and the Brewers brought in outfielder Gerardo Parra from Arizona, Pittsburgh’s attempts to make a splash fell flat.


“We felt like we were close a couple of times but obviously at the end of the day weren’t able to push it across the line,” Huntington said.


The Pirates have one of baseball’s top-ranked farm systems but little to offer in terms of major league-ready talent. That made it tough going on a day the Cardinals sent outfielder Allen Craig and right-handed starter Joe Kelly to the Red Sox while the Oakland A’s gave up slugging outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to Boston in exchange for Jon Lester.


“It was more kind of an NBA environment where it was established guys for younger established guys,” Huntington said. “We were engaged on a ton of fronts. At the end of the day, we could not find the right situation for us.”


The Pirates have recovered from a bumpy 12-20 start to climb within two games of the first-place Brewers despite significant injuries to starters Cole and Francisco Liriano and a bullpen that isn’t quite the dominant force it was a year ago when Pittsburgh won 94 games and advanced to the NL division series.


Star outfielder Andrew McCutchen is in contention for a second straight NL MVP award, and utility player Josh Harrison was an unlikely All Star. Pitching reclamation projects Edinson Volquez and Vance Worley have helped keep the rotation from crumbling.


“We’ve got guys that are starting to put some things together, we’ve got some guys that have carried us all year long,” Huntington said. “We still like the foundation of our rotation … we’ll still see where we can add.”


The Pirates were quiet at the non-waiver trade deadline in 2013 but were active in August, landing outfielder Marlon Byrd and first baseman Justin Morneau in late-August. Huntington isn’t ruling out making similar plays this time around.


“It’s going to be a challenge but we thought it was going to be a challenge a year ago,” Huntington said.


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