The true part of the hot stove season has barely started, but it feels like one of the most pivotal offseasons in recent Pirate history. This offseason seems like there’s a sense of urgency amongst the fanbase to bolster the Pirates and ‘go for it’. The 2015 squad won 98 games, but due to what has to be overwhelming odds, finished behind a team that won 100 games. The Pirates ran into a scalding hot pitcher in Jake Arrieta and had one wild card game to show for six months of hard work.
Add in the rise of the Cubs and the metronome-esque precision of the Cardinals and it looks like the Pirates will be in a dogfight all season in 2016 in the NL Central. To further add to the sturm und drang, Andrew McCutchen’s contract has two more guaranteed years in 2016/2017 and then a club option in 2018. A scenario exists (and will be discussed in a future TPOP article) that the Pirates will need to trade McCutchen after 2017 to reap the most potential future value.
So all of that preamble brings us to this potentially odd suggestion for the Pirates to trade for Colorado Rockies’s RF, Carlos Gonzalez. It’s no secret that the Rockies are rebuilding, especially after trading franchise cornerstone Troy Tulowitzki to the Blue Jays last summer. Aside from Jose Reyes (who they received back from the Blue Jays), the only other salary commitment the Rockies have past 2016 is Gonzalez. By trading him (and I’m sure Reyes, especially in the wake of his domestic violence allegations), the Rockies can start with a clean slate — similar to what the Phillies will have after 2016.
Gonzalez has two years remaining on his deal — $17M in 2016 and $20M in 2017. That’s a lot of money, but hang in there with me and I’ll get to that. First we have to decide what Gonzalez is worth. His last three years of WAR are: 2.4 in 2015, -0.5 in 2014, 4.7 in 2013. He’s all over the place. But if you use a 3-2-1 weighted average on those three years, you come up with a 3.6 WAR average. That seems about right.
(**Editor’s note — actually it isn’t right. My idiot self didn’t divide by the weighted 6 seasons, so he’s actually 1.8 WAR. I’d still trade for Gonzalez, as his defensive deficiencies suppress his WAR and can be hidden in PNC Park. Glasnow would be off the table, though. KC — 11/29/15)
So Gonzalez could potentially generate 7.2 WAR over the next two seasons. At (conservatively) $6.5M/WAR, that’s $46.8M of production. Subtracting his $37M salary, you’re left with $9.8M of surplus value. That’s not a lot — basically a pitcher ranked #51-100 from our MLB Prospect Worth article. It’s hard to see the Rockies making that deal.
But what if the Rockies ‘bought’ some bad contracts from the Pirates in order to get themselves a better return? This also works for the Pirates to help offset the cost of Gonzalez in 2016. If the Rockies take on the contracts of Charlie Morton ($8M in 2016) and Michael Morse (total $8.5M in 2016, with the Pirates sending the $3.8M from the Dodgers also, so a net savings of $4.7M to the Pirates), the Rockies essentially bumped Gonzalez’s surplus value up to $22.5M ($9.8M + $8M + $4.7M). That is roughly either a pitcher ranked #11-25 (Glasnow) OR a hitter ranked #26-50 (Bell). So a potential deal could look like:
- RHP Charlie Morton
- 1B Michael Morse
- RHP Tyler Glasnow OR 1B/OF Josh Bell
- OF Carlos Gonzalez
How it helps the Pirates
- By trading the dead money of both Morton and Morse, Gonzalez only costs the Pirates $4.3M in 2016.
- As long as he’s healthy, Gonzalez can hit 25 HR’s rolling out of bed. Last year, he hit 40.
- The Pirates would have a legit cleanup hitter finally. In 2015, Gonzalez hit .320/.347/.610 (957 OPS) with 18 of his 40 HR’s in cleanup.
- Gonzalez’s power will replace the power going out the door with Pedro Alvarez’s probable departure, with the added bonus of a real option to protect McCutchen in the order.
How it helps the Rockies
- If they go for Glasnow, the Rockies continue to stockpile young power arms, with Glasnow being the best of the bunch. Tyler Glasnow, Jon Gray, and Jeff Hoffman would represent quite a troika of live power arms to potentially front a rotation for the typically pitching-awful Rockies.
- If they go for Bell, they get a prospect that I’m personally not as high on, but one that would have the potential to replace the offensive value of Carlos Gonzalez if he clicks in that environment. Bell wouldn’t be tied to 1B in Colorado, either, as he could man a corner OF spot for them, unlike in Pittsburgh.
But wait a minute…where’s Gregory Polanco in all of this? In 2015, Polanco put up a 2.3 WAR. He’s an average starter in MLB. But at times it felt like a grind with him in the lineup. He has a world of potential and I would be content to run him out to RF in 2016 if the Pirates didn’t (and most likely) make this trade. In fact, trading him in lieu of Glasnow or Bell would be too much return for Gonzalez, in my opinion. So instead, Polanco becomes the best 4th OF in baseball. Polanco represents a great insurance policy against a potential Gonzalez injury (usually a yearly occurrence) or when Marte/McCutchen need a rest. He gets to catch his breath at the Major League level a bit.
Carlos Gonzalez, of course, has his quirks. As mentioned, he is injury prone. Also, he has greatly benefited during his career from Coors Field. His home line of .324/.382/.604 (986 OPS, 137 wRC+) dwarfs his away line of .255/.310/.441 (752 OPS, 101 wRC+), but it’s not like he’s atrocious outside of Coors. Plus, the inviting RF porch in PNC could appeal to Gonzalez.
Now adding Carlos Gonzalez’s $20M in 2017 is a touch problematic for the Pirates’ payroll. They would then have about $64M of commitments to six players with six additional players in arbitration, including Gerrit Cole for the first time. It’s not as pricey an arbitration class as this current class, but it would still be approximately $30M. Assuming the 2017 payroll continues to rise over the projected $105M of 2016 that I’m forecasting, you can still see that the Pirates won’t have a ton of wiggle room potentially.
That 2017 season would be a real make-or-break season for the Pirates, as Gonzalez would depart as a free agent after the year and the Pirates could be trading McCutchen after the season, as well. But the silver lining is that by keeping Polanco, he can slide back in to a full-time starting spot. Additionally, OF prospect Austin Meadows should be ready to debut full-time in 2018, so the Pirates can still have a strong outfield. And that doesn’t even factor in what the returns may bring in a McCutchen trade.
This would be a win-now/win-in-2017 move. Essentially, the Pirates would be adding extra lottery tickets to the raffle drawing that is the MLB postseason for the next two years. Yes, losing either Glasnow or Bell would sting, but you have to give something to get something. Glasnow could probably help the Pirates in 2016 and would definitely help them beyond that, but all pitchers are injury risks themselves and he would have to endure growing pains and adjustments to the Majors. Gonzalez can step right in and mash.
The Pirates are attempting to build a sustainable model of a franchise, similar to the Cardinals, that is consistently in the postseason hunt. This move would be outside of what Neal Huntington has shown to date, in terms of parting with high end talent and bringing in name-brand players. But with McCutchen’s tenure on the team possibly coming to a close, it’s time to make a bold move to maximize this current window.