Last time I said the Pirates should sell and start a hard rebuild in July, they promptly rattled off an 11 victories in a row, sneaking back into contention and becoming one of the bigger buyers at the deadline. Unfortunately, winning the trade deadline doesn’t always translate into actual winning and the Bucs have lost ground rather than gained in August. On paper, Pittsburgh doesn’t look like they’re too far out of it. Being 5.5 games from the second wild card doesn’t seem impossible to overcome, but that’s 2.5 games further back than they were on July 31st. They also trail four teams now instead of three when they added Chris Archer and Keone Kela. Fangraphs puts their chances of actually making it at roughly 6%, down from when they were only at 16% at the deadline. Neither chance was very good, but their light chances have more than halved.
Now, I’m going to dial back my rhetoric from my last post on selling. I wouldn’t go full rebuild and I think Archer and Kela on the roster is enough of a game changer that suddenly the Pirates can compete during the window. I’ve noted they needed a front end of the rotation pitcher and they got one. Not a true ace, but they got a guy significantly better than average. He plugs a hole I didn’t think the Pirates would fill externally. Now, they need a couple of more pieces, and I do mean big pieces. The front office will need to fill them for their 2018 deadline moves to make any sense, but I’ll have more on that another time. They also need the young pieces already in place to continue to get better. Blowing it up makes almost no sense now as they have the framework for a more consistent competitive team in place.
That said, the Pirates have a few expendable players who for the right deal could go. Generally, I don’t favor trading anyone who has multiple years of control at this point as they’ll likely help the team moving forward. This significantly limits who’s available on the roster. Also note, I’m also not expecting anything earth shattering in return. This is not going to be a franchise altering September, but it will hopefully allow the Pirates to shed assets for something rather than nothing.
Jordy Mercer may avoid getting traded thanks to his stint on the disabled list, but should he come off before the waiver deadline, the Pirates should at least test the waters. The team’s lone free agent to be, Mercer could help a contending club in need of depth up the middle. Problem is, he may not fetch more than salary relief at this point. I put his value at a C prospect in The Value of Blowing it Up and he’d lost a month of control in the meantime. If they get money and a guy with a pulse at this point, they should grab it and run.
The Pirates still control Josh Harrison’s offseason destiny, but they’d surprise the baseball world if they picked up his 2019 option. Not saying it won’t happen and if they think he can bounce back to 2017 Harrison or even just average Harrison of the last four years, $10.5 million for the year would not be the worst deal in the league. Chances are the Pirates don’t, but stranger things have happened. One way or the other, it’s impossible to assume any surplus value to Harrison’s option, but he likely has more short term value than Mercer, albeit not a lot more. I think Harrison could net a C prospect and maybe slightly better if the Pirates pick up much of his salary.
Adeiny Hechavarria we hardly knew you. Now, you could get swapped again. The Pirates are in an interesting position in the sense that most of his salary burden has stayed in Tampa, freeing them to move him for nothing but the prorated league minimum. He’s also been playing well enough that his stock may have gone up enough that the Pirates can get a player in return. Really, the Rays giving him up for essentially nothing is a little puzzling as I think he could have more value. Of course, when a claim comes in for a player, the seller doesn’t have much leverage. If Pirates can’t find a dance partner here, I’d have no problem with a DFA.
In the end, I’d like to see one middle infield position open up whether it’s shortstop or second base, so they can get a look at a prospect there. Could be Max Moroff, Kevin Kramer or Kevin Newman. Doesn’t matter, I’d like to see them get some regular reps. The Pirates will likely have some questions on how to fill both middle infield positions this offseason. Seeing what they have would internally first makes sense before having to buy.
The Pirates control Ivan Nova for one more year beyond 2018 and at a pretty reasonable salary, too. With the acquisition of Archer and the breakouts of Trevor Williams and Joe Musgrove, he has been relegated to the role of really good fifth starter. Pitching hasn’t been effective enough this season over the entire season and the Pirates will need to do better. Since they don’t have a proper ace, the Pirates need one more middle of the rotation at worst starter to have a contending rotation. Best case scenario, Mitch Keller or Nick Kingham are ready to assume that role. Next best scenario, the Bucs invest some of the salary coming off the books this offseason into a late free agency signing on a one year deal. Think Lance Lynn if the Lance Lynn signing didn’t go poorly. If they want to bridge to a prospect, Chad Kuhl would serve roughly as well as Ivan.
Nova does have some value and could fill in nicely for a team with injury questions down the stretch. It’s likely his actual true value would play slightly higher than his surplus value. I would think the Pirates could get a couple decent pitching prospects for him or one hitter with some upside a long way off. Of course, they could also wait until the offseason to make a move. One way or another, I don’t see Nova back in Pittsburgh next April.
First and foremost, I hope today’s offering serves as reverse jinx the same way my last sell piece did. I’ll gladly look bad if it helps push the team forward. Again, I don’t see a major return for any of these players nor do I see the same sense of urgency. Nova would likely yield the most. Harrison, Mercer and Hechaverria would likely all fill the same role on a contender as a back up infielder. Sadly, the Pirates will be competing against themselves and it seems more likely that they move one or two rather than all three even if they go into full seller mode. Something is normally better than nothing and salary relief is better than nothing if that’s what it comes down to. I don’t like that it’s come to this again in 2018, but the outlook moving forward is considerably better in the short term. The Pirates would do well to supplement the system when they have the opportunity to do so.