Starkey: What are Penguins, Pirates up to? | TribLIVE.com
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Capitals defenseman Jack Hillen (38) slashes Penguins center Maxim Lapierre (40) while battling for the puck in the second period Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015, at Verizon Center in Washington.

The worst time to judge a trade is the immediate aftermath as reaction normally runs hard in one of two directions:

1. Greatest thing that ever happened.

2. Worst thing that ever happened.

I get it. It’s a TRADE, after all. It’s big. It’s Twitter-flammable. In the five minutes after it’s announced, a trade is nothing less than the salvation or ruination of a franchise — even if Maxim Lapierre, Marcel Goc and Travis Snider are the centerpiece figures.

It’s especially intoxicating when deals arrive unexpectedly, 83 minutes apart, on a frigid Tuesday night in January as we’re watching Pitt basketball implode in a conflagration of Jamie Dixon timeouts.

This all probably felt bigger than it was, but let’s take a deep breath now that we’re a day removed from the Pirates sending Snider to the Baltimore Orioles for a minor league pitcher and a player to be named and the Penguins dealing Goc to the St. Louis Blues for Lapierre.

Both trades, for better or worse, could have significant impact.

Let’s start with the Penguins, and let’s not mistake the message general manager Jim Rutherford sent to his team. Four words will do: Still not nasty enough.

The Penguins traded one of the league’s nice guys for one of its not-so-nice guys, and that’s a compliment. Lapierre long ago forged a reputation for agitating and infuriating opponents, although Blues broadcaster Darren Pang told me Wednesday in a radio interview that Lapierre has matured, moving “from an agitating style to being a real honorable player.”

I’m not sure honorable is what the Penguins need, though Pang said of Lapierre’s crazy days — which included a butt-end to Sidney Crosby’s stomach — “It’s clearly still in him.”

Lapierre’s advanced stats won’t wow anyone (they’re horrible), but his playoff past is littered with Max Talbot-type moments, including two crucial goals in the Montreal Canadiens’ seven-game upset of the defending Stanley Cup-champion Penguins in 2010. The series that sent the Penguins reeling for five years.

No offense to Goc, but that is precisely what he provided: no offense. Lapierre won’t provide much of that, either, but when he’s right, he offers size, speed and an improved faceoff percentage. Most importantly, he offers an edge that seems to sharpen at the dawn of spring. Another big moment was notching Vancouver’s only goal in a Game 5 victory over the Boston Bruins in the 2011 Cup Final.

On the downside, Lapierre has suffered periodic bouts of Zac Rinaldo Disease (mindlessly hitting opponents from behind). And it’s worth noting, as far as his playoff value goes, that other teams’ star players might not be as easily irritated as the Penguins’. It takes two to make the whole “get-under-your-skin” thing work.

Still, this was a deal worth making. Rutherford has consistently reeled in guys who profile as playoff-type performers. That’s the idea, right?

Nobody seems quite sure of the idea behind the Pirates’ jettisoning of Snider, who was coming off a productive season. One suspicion is they were simply cutting payroll at the expense of putting their best team on the field.

I’m thinking there’s a method to their madness. They have earned the benefit of the doubt in recent years. They’re spending nearly $5 million on two backup infielders, for goodness sake. Their payroll is creeping toward $100 million. There is plenty of time and now a bit more money to add a player.

And remember, we’re talking about Travis Snider. Not Duke Snider.

Maybe Snider becomes the left-handed Jose Bautista. Maybe he fulfills Sean Casey’s “dripping with power” predictions. In the meantime, I’m thinking Jose Tabata, Andrew Lambo or somebody not yet here can approximate Snider’s contributions. Nobody had Snider penciled as a major contributor this time last year, did they?

Just two years ago, Tabata was vital to the Pirates’ stretch drive (.848 OPS in 157 at-bats in August and September).

We’ve all seen other trades like this, panned at first but ultimately praised. One involved a guy named Travis Snider, acquired in July 2012 for Brad Lincoln, then having an impressive season out of the Pirates bullpen. You should have heard the howls.

What are they doing?

What about NOW?

This trade stinks!

In time, it turned out fine. Lincoln’s ERA rose faster than the national deficit. Snider became a useful part-time player. Every trade must percolate before any sane verdict can be rendered.

The only thing we know for sure: The worst time to judge one is the immediate aftermath.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at [email protected].

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