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Confusion Abounds Following Pirates’ 2016 Trade Deadline

If Liriano pitched better this year, the Pirates trade deadline probably would have been a whole lot different. Photo by Gene J Puskar/AP

If Liriano pitched better this year, the Pirates trade deadline probably would have been a whole lot different.
Photo by Gene J Puskar/AP

On Sunday morning, I started writing a piece on how the Pirates should sit the 2016 trade deadline out and wait to pursue waiver deals. Boy, am I wishing I had finished that piece 48 hours later. Even when I include the Melancon deal in the mix, the Pirates didn’t quite sell, but they didn’t really buy either. In some cases they dumped salary, but they also took on Antonio Bastardo’s busted contract. The Pirates did obtain more control for players about to depart, but they could have parted way with so many more like David Freese, Sean Rodriguez, Neftali Feliz and part-time superstar and ber-expendable Matt Joyce, but they hung onto all of those guys and didn’t really move the current club any closer to winning the World Series.

Couple of caveats, though, before I move on. First and foremost, I thought the trade market sucked in the areas the Pirates needed help for some time. It shouldn’t surprise anyone when Neal Huntington and Friends had a hard time finding anything of value for a reasonable price. As much as some of the deals were head scratchers, I’m glad that they elected to make a similar caliber offer for Matt Moore as they made for David Price a couple of years ago. Ultimately, it would have taken close to that to land him as it took the Giants a package centered around the reigning rookie of the year runner up in Matt Duffy. Moore is under control for three more years, but would he really been much better in the short term than Ivan Nova? Probably not.

Still, it’s hard not to walk away from today’s deadline deals puzzled and disappointed. It might even be fair to feel pandered to or even betrayed. The Pirates were a fringe contender and it doesn’t appear on the surface that they improved this year’s club much. Let’s look at it trade for trade.

Mark Melancon for Felipe Rivero and Taylor Hearn

I know Kevin and I are in the minority when we say this, but we really like this deal. When the Nationals were first connected to the Shark, we knew the formula the Pirates wanted in return was:

Controllable Major League Set Up Man + Solid Prospect = Deal

I skipped over Felipe Rivero as even a possible candidate for inclusion. I was very excited to find out he was involved. As we learned this past weekend in Milwaukee, closers can’t help if you’re not winning and while I think they’re an important piece to any bullpen, I think the fan’s mind tends to exaggerate the value of the position. The trade market for relievers with scant control cooled considerably over the last couple of years, reflecting that front offices got it as well, only to catch fire after the Aroldis Chapman deal.

The Pirates did what made sense. They sold an overvalued player in a favorable market. Yes, he was an All-Star. Yes, he was one of the best as what he did. However, his skills don’t help you when the starting pitcher goes 3.1 IP and yields 7 runs anyway. The same can be said for Rivero, but he has plenty of time to see better days given that he’s under control for five more years. Hearn is an absolute lottery ticket with the a chance to pitch towards the top of a rotation or at the back end of the bullpen. If you project him out as a starter, I see him as a B- prospect right now.

Ivan Nova for ?

Here is the sad truth of Ivan Nova. As nonplussed as I was when the Pirates announced the trade, he immediately became the third most effective starting pitcher. He’s not going to make anyone think World Series thoughts, but sadly, he improves the rotation. The Pirates are no stranger to taking pitchers from the AL and seeing them pitch closer to their xFIP in the DH-less National League. In truth, fans might be glad to have him if he pitches to his peripherals. However, it’s impossible for me to fully evaluate this trade without knowing what the Yankees have coming their way. If any prospects higher than my top 15 are involved, I’ll probably be pretty disappointed.

Jon Niese for Antonio Bastardo

I know I’m alone here, but I actually like this trade. Bastardo had some success with the Pirates and maybe they think they can fix him. If they can, they’ll have a flexible lefty for this year and next when the bullpen gets unquestionably thin. Jon Niese’s days were numbered and if August 2nd were baseball Groundhog Day, Phil may have popped out of the hole, failed to see a shadow and declared that a DFA was just around the corner. This feels like a much more amicable way to part with a failed player.

Also please stop with the transitive property of the Neil Walker deal now equaling Bastardo. Fact. The value of b has changed over time. Niese was a fair return at the time of the trade and as Huntington hinted during his post deadline news conference, many of the other options would have disappointed as well. It’s very possible that people were overvaluing the return Walker should yield.

Liriano and What?! for Drew Hutchison

This is where the day got weird. I would have called the deadline disappointing prior to this deal, but as I write this four hours after I learned of the deal, I’m still trying to make sense of it.

If I look at each piece of the deal, I get why they were involved in some kind of trade, but it’s the putting it all together at the end that’s troubling. While Liriano was been excellent in his first three years as a Pirate, he has sucked hard this year. He was hurting the team far more than he was helping. Every time you thought “there’s the old Frankie,” he almost went out of his way to prove you wrong his next time out. He wasn’t getting better and the front office decided to mitigate any financial risk that he would tank again next season, thus freeing up salary to spend in other ways. Makes sense. It also makes sense to trade Reese McGuire and Harold Ramirez. As you’d know from reading any comment section on TPOP of any article involving prospects, you’d understand that our valuation of McGuire is way outside the norm. My feeling with the former first round backstop is that Ryan Hannigan is his ceiling and that the Bucs should trade him before the rest of the world figures that out. I was higher than most on Ramirez but with Austin Meadows’s jump into elite status and Gregory Polanco’s long term deal, it made the Colombian somewhat expendable. I can even see why the Pirates would see Drew Hutchison as a solid buy-low candidate. He’s posted outstanding peripherals at a young age that suggest he could turn the corner and become a middle of the rotation pitcher in his prime. He’s also controllable for two, possibly three more years (depending on service time accrued this year). Why not take a shot?

So here’s my best shot at putting in all together. The Pirates wanted to dump Liriano’s salary and he may have been a problem in the clubhouse. Let’s not pull any punches. That’s what this is. A deal of struggling Liriano for struggling Hutchison makes sense in a vacuum, but Hutchison has extra control and Liriano has extra salary that the Pirates didn’t want to eat. Let’s say as the better of the two prospects, Ramirez covers the control. That means McGuire gets thrown in to cover the nearly $15 million in salary difference committed to both players assuming Hutchison moves to arbitration-2. I have no problem trading McGuire for $15 million in flexibility.

That’s one way to look at it and it’s the only way I’ve figured out to make me want to stop poking myself in the eye. Another, more damning way is the Pirates traded their best potential remedy for all that ails their starting pitching, if Liriano rebounds quickly in Toronto. Trading for Matt Moore or Andrew Cashner or Drew Smyly or Nathan Eovaldi or the rest of the expensive hot garbage with control wouldn’t have fixed the Bucs rotation the same way the Liriano we’ve gotten used to the last few years could have. None of the above give the Pirates the pitching needed to make a deep run in the playoffs. The front office decided not to be patient with Liriano, but they had to be certain that they couldn’t fix his issues before they dumped him. If there was an iota of hope, they should have hung onto it.


In the end, the Pirates moved a high profile major league reliever for a couple of talented pitchers with upside and control, acquired a mediocre but stable pitcher in Nova, swapped some bad contracts and then blew all of our minds with a crazy deal. I have no problem with the team adding and subtracting at this or any deadline if the market dictates it as this deadline did.

They may have improved their current situation as Nova is better than crap Liriano. However, they may have also limited their immediate postseason potential by removing a high upside pitcher in favor of a low upside one. The Pirates have enough talent to scrap into the wild card, but do they have the pitching to stand up in a seven game series? The answer is unquestionably no and in fact, they seem less likely to salvage that type of rotation with the remaining pieces than they did 24 hours ago. To me, the Pirates might as well have traded the entire lot of free agents-to-be if they are going to sell the one piece that can bring everything together. Again, I get why they ditched Liriano, but I can’t say why they didn’t ditch a lot of other players as well.

About Steve DiMiceli (93 Articles)
Steve is a naturalized yinzer hailing originally from just north of Allentown, PA. He came to Pittsburgh to attend Duquesne University and decided to stick around after graduation. Steve is best known for his contributions to Duquesne hoops community as the owner of the Duquesne Dukes forum on Yuku and as the former editor of We Wear the Ring on the Fansided network. He is an avid Pirates fan, home cook and policy nerd. He is the co-founder of the Point of Pittsburgh. Easily irritated by people who misuse the word regress.

5 Comments on Confusion Abounds Following Pirates’ 2016 Trade Deadline

  1. I am as die-hard as they come, but this one is still not sitting well with me. My concern about “financial flexibility” is what is going to be done with it? The money that was saved on Charlie Morton went…where? (If it went to Gregory Polanco, then I”m okay). I don’t think the Pirates should ever just spend money to spend it, but I felt like they were in a position to take on salary, not dump it. So if they just DFAed Liriano (which I realize they wouldn’t do…but they should have the financial resources to do something even that crazy), then they traded two guys who were at a minimum perceived as being top-tier for a guy who is not. Perception matters a lot in the industry and in trades. And I can’t help but think the Pirates blew this one.

    For all the numbers (stats, salaries, projections), this is a personnel move. If Clint Hurdle is okay with this, then that makes a difference. If Dan Fox is okay with this, then that makes a difference. If the players are okay with this, then it makes a difference. But we’ll likely never know those things. In my profession, sometimes personnel decisions are made for me and then I need to make it work. But I know the success of my organization is based on the people I have around me. This feels like the quality of the people around the team went down…both now and in the future. Hurdle will never say that he doesn’t like this. The players will probably not say anything other than that they’ll miss their buddy Frankie. But I’d love to know if there is any other reason. Because if there isn’t…this one hurts as a fan. They should have had the means to do better.

    • Steve DiMiceli // August 2, 2016 at 9:08 AM // Reply

      I’m not happy with what happened yesterday either, but I can’t say I’m as outraged as the MSM’s click bait headlines suggest I should be. As for financial flexibility, I think it helped the Pirates acquire anyone who they nabbed after the Morton deal. People heard ‘flexibility,’ thought they would go big for a 3/4 and tuned out after it was Vogelsong. That left a bad taste in people’s mouths but they also added Freese, Feliz, Roedriguez and Joyce, IIRC, following that deal. Only a couple of those may have been possible if they were stuck with Morton.

      Next offseason’s starting pitching free agent crop is the worst in a long time which explains why the trade market was so jacked. The good news is that there are a ton of free agent relievers stashed on contenders, which also jacked that market up. I think the Pirates could conceivably cobble together a solid set up man and a few other pieces to improve the bench again for what they’re saving on Liriano. Nothing is guaranteed and I wouldn’t expect flexibility to mean splashing the cash on one big name FA, but I don’t think that free agent is out there anyway.

  2. Alright, here’s my $0.02.

    On the Melancon deal, I have to say I’m extremely happy w/ the haul. I know it’s not the king’s ransom that Chapman rec’d, but your logic and key points are spot on, in my opinion. They rec’d a high leverage pitcher that they control for 5+ years and Hearn. I was ecstatic about Hearn. It’s not often that you can trade for a lefty w/ blazing velocity and a plus breaking ball. Many believe he only has value as a starter. That’d be awesome. But what if he’s converted into a late inning reliever where he can uptick that velocity? I don’t want to compare that to anyone, I just think a 6’5 lefty coming in for the 8th/9th w/ dominating velocity is a remarkable asset.

    I don’t think you’re alone w/ the Niese trade. I think a lot of people love that trade. I actually laughed when I heard the Pirates got a controlled (through ’17) asset AND money for Niese. That’s next-level bonkers, and we all know it. Bastardo took some time to come around and garner trust w/ Hurdle & crew, but I think he was pretty solid in Pittsburgh. Getting anything for Niese is a godsend and getting another lefty to put in that 2017 bullpen is awesome, in my opinion.

    If were discussing buy-low guys, then Nova is the buy-low candidate. I don’t love the trade, it’s about as vanilla as you can get… so long as that PTBNL isn’t Newman or Hayes or something ridiculous. So as the trade deadline struck midnigh.. er 4:00PM, this is where we stood, right? The Pirates added a lefty flamethrower on the roster that’s controlled for 5 years(+ a flamethrower on the farm), they added a familiar lefty controlled through ’17, and a flyer, vanilla SP to their ’16 ball club. If this is where the trades stopped, I think I would’ve been relatively happy w/ the haul. But that’s not where it stopped.

    “I can even see why the Pirates would see Drew Hutchison as a solid buy-low candidate.” This is the sentence that bothers me most about the Frankie trade. I think I agree w/ your assessment and I think he fits the bill as reclamation project for this team. I just can’t see the price as “low.” JA Happ was a buy-low candidate. If you give your 8th-10th best prospect at a POSITION for a buy-low guy, then that’s a fair price. But when you trade your struggling ace PLUS 2 top-15 (in the org) prospects for a buy-low guy, it doesn’t add up. You trade prospects to upgrade a weak position on your big league club, you don’t trade prospects to entice a team to take a burdensome contract. This team has been frugal, almost to a fault, with prospects up to this point.. but I just can’t wrap my head around this one. David Todd said yesterday that no one would bat an eye if it was Frank/Ramirez for Hutchinson. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but if you could keep it to one prospect, it’d obviously be an easier pill to swallow.

    Looking forward to 2017, the Pirates have ~$85M committed to the roster including all raises and arbitration estimates. I actually didn’t do this math, I’ve heard it on other sites/podcasts.. it could be off by a few million, but it’s for argument’s sake. That number includes a pitching staff that costs the team ~$8-9M TOTAL?! Are you kidding me? I’m not asking NH to pay just to pay. I’m not asking him to reach an arbitrary number just to say they increased their budget again. But if they go out and sign next year’s Ryan Vogelsong and bank $18M of that $20M or so in ‘savings,’ that they rec’d in this year’s deals, they better be prepared for the pitchforks from the Bucco faithful.

    • Kevin Creagh // August 4, 2016 at 1:43 PM // Reply

      Joe –

      I haven’t sat down and fine-tuned my arbitration estimates yet, but he’s some back-of-the-envelope estimates based off our 25/40/60% scale, using this year’s current salaries as the base point.
      Watson — $5.25M
      Locke — $4.85M
      Nicasio — $4.5M
      Hughes — $3.6M
      Mercer — $3.33M
      Cole — $5M
      That’s $26.53M for arbitration. Obviously Hughes and Locke are looking as if they might be non-tenders, so that would take it $18.08M

      The Pirates have $52.7M committed next year to 9 players. On the low end of committed + arbitration would be roughly $70.8M to 13 players. If all are back on high end it is $79.2M to 15 players. If payroll is not at or above $110M to start next April, commence getting the pitchforks and torches out at PNC.

    • Steve DiMiceli // August 7, 2016 at 11:33 AM // Reply

      Regarding Hutchison vs Liriano, is it possible that Hutchison simply had more trade value than Liriano? I think as the week wears on the answer to that question is an almost irrefutable yes. You have a young pitcher, rushed to the majors, who showed some early value, but is in the minors likely because the Jays simply have better options. That player is cheap and when it all shakes down will be under control for three more years for a player who is doing what he’s always done with less control, a higher salary and in all likelihood lower results.

      The Sawchuk piece pretty much spells out a lot of what I had assumed about this deal, but didn’t say. The Pirates like Hutchison and how had a two – seamer that he mysteriously abandoned a couple of years ago. It’s not a plus offering, but it’s another tool in the tool box and the Pirates have shown they’re pretty good at developing that pitch. On top of that they simply don’t think Liriano will get better for them next year. Even more damning is that Liriano is doing exactly what he’s been doing to be successful, but hitters have made the adjustment by being more patient. If you ask him to throw strikes he’s simply not as effective.

      I went from being confused by this deal to actually liking it. Don’t get me wrong, I too would have preferred one prospect (though I’d have preferred it be McGuire without question), but it’s actually looks sharp in the sense that they shed one player who wasn’t effective for one who’s been marginally effective, but who they could potentially fix.

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