The Pirates are in a challenging position as they approach the 2015 trade deadline. On one hand, they have an already solid roster with a solid pitching core and a deep enough lineup to win a World Series. They have holes that they could fill at the trade deadline that would help considerably. On the other hand, they’re a small market team with limited resources whose performance on the field has outstripped their performance at the ticket office over the past three years. It’s easy to say that winning will help the city of Pittsburgh play up in its market stature as it has with the Penguins. However, evidence to this point doesn’t suggest they’ll get out of the middle third in attendance. With that in mind, the Pirates need to manage their assets both at the major league level and in the farm system with great care.
Neil Huntington is charged with winning now and winning later and it’s difficult to manage such harmony on a budget. Right now, the Pirates are near the top of the NL in terms of wins and run differential, but they also have one of the deepest, most promising minor league systems. This gives them some room to trade, but with “can’t miss prospects” rarer than a clean Yahoo search of any mispelling of “Holdzkom,” there is not much room to compromise quality or quantity.
The Pirates are in a position where they don’t have any glaring holes. They have positions where they can improve, which I’ll get to shortly, but in general, they could stand pat and be just fine. That’s not a position many fans would be happy with, but if they are going to make a trade, they should really make one that counts. They’re going to need to spend big to actually make an splash that worth the investment of prospects.
On the sellers, there are likely two teams who would sell the farm right now, the currently of Philadelphia, Phillies and the formerly of Philadelphia, Athletics. Both teams’ GM’s are regarded as a little unconventional. Billy Beane of the A’s seems willing to deal at anytime where the Phils’ Ruben Amaro, Jr seems willing to sign any 35 year old to any contract at any time. Billy Beane trades major league pieces when the team is contending and, in the end, Amaro appears to understand that a complete overhaul of the franchise is inevitable. Seven other teams, the Brewers, Marlins, Mariners, Braves, Diamondbacks, Rockies and Reds will likely be out of contention and possibly looking to deal by the trade deadline. The White Sox will also be out of contention but will likely have a bad case of loser denial, so they’ll wait until the non-waiver deadline before acceptance.
So now that we know who else might be coming to the party, even if they’d prefer not to be there, let’s look at the Pirates opportunities.
Let me start by saying this starting rotation collectively is outstanding. Gerrit Cole, AJ Burnett, Francisco Liriano, and Charlie Morton all have pitched very well most of their opportunities. However, the pitchforks and torches have come out every fifth day when Jeff Locke takes the hill. He has pitched poorly relative to the rest of the Pirates rotation but not to every other 5th starter. The average FIP of the number five on the eight NL teams with winning records as of Sunday 6/14/15 was 4.33. Locke’s was 4.26 even if his ERA is elevated.
The Pirates don’t have to make a move here, but they could do better. For me, there really are two options. Add someone in the final year of their contract who will slot in as a very good number four ahead of Morton and Locke, but would fit as a three in most rotations or shoot for the moon and get a top pitcher with multiple years of control. My rationale is that any upgrade is a luxury. In the short run, all they need is a middle to back end pitcher to go from a great to an elite rotation. If they’re going to go for broke with a superstar, they might as well get someone who will be around to replace AJ Burnett in the number two spot next season. Short run, a superstar would cost too much and not serve future needs. They’ll pay for multiple years of control, but it’ll be worth it. Long run, a back of the rotation guy would cost too much and not serve future needs. Ultimately, the Pirates should have Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow to bring along in a lower pressure environment.
Names I Like
Scott Kazmir, Oakland – Might be the perfect fit and as a bonus, he’s a lefty.
Jeff Samarjkdjfha, Chicago White Sox – The Pirates always seem to be in the hunt for him. He might come cheap as his peripherals outstrip his traditional stats.
J.A. Happ, Seattle – I can’t believe I’m advocating for Happ but he’s having a nice season and he’ll be someone else’s problem after the year.
Cole Hamels, Philadelphia – This comes with a caveat. The Phillies need to pick up a lot of contract here, which in truth they’d probably be happy to do to improve their return. Hamels could be a boon the next season and half, but an anchor after that.
I see a lot of people advocating for change in the bullpen. Kevin is one of them. Here, I will firmly argue that the Pirates should stand pat. They have four above average late inning arms to choose from, but imperfection has led to them being questioned at every mildly flawed performance. You’re not going to get clean innings every time out with these guys or anyone for that matter. While Mark Melancon hasn’t been striking guys out and the stuff really isn’t there, he’s still not making many mistakes and generates weak contact. He’s issued one walk since April 26. Tony Watson’s talent is undeniable. While he’s a bit overused, remember he was a starting pitcher most of his minor league career. Jared Hughes is as susceptible for his ground balls to get caught up in the infield grass or find a hole. His bump in strikeouts and the BAPIP north of .375 suggests the best is yet to come for him. It’s mind boggling to me that Arquimedes Caminero was just sitting out there in no man’s land. On top of that, Rob Scahill has mostly been solid and Vance Worley could slide into a high leverage role if needed.
Simply put, the Pirates pen is good. Why waste the resources?
Pedro Alvarez might be in his final season wearing black and gold, but I wouldn’t abandon him entirely just yet. While the glove hasn’t played well at first and the bat isn’t quite what you want it to be over longer spans of time, Alvarez is without question the kind of guy who can provide almost enough offense to win a playoff series. He’s worth having around in case he gets hot at the right time. The Pirates do need help finding an alternative for him when he isn’t faring well. Sean Rodriguez doesn’t have the pop in his bat to be the full right side of the platoon. Corey Hart started out on fire, but a prolonged slump extinguished any desire for me to see his name on the 25-man roster much longer.
Names I Like
Aramis Ramirez, Milwaukee – He’s not having a great year and he’s not exactly a 1B but he’d make an excellent reserve and a solid potential DH in the World Series.
Logan Morrison, Seattle – He would provide a nice compliment for Alvarez, but don’t look for him to upgrade the defense.
The Pirates could sell the farm if you want for the sake of this year’s team. Truthfully, the Pirates will need to give up a nice size chunk if they hope to make a considerable improvement. As they stand they’re probably good enough to win the whole thing, but an extra middle of the rotation pitcher and a back up guy for the corner could help them now and not hurt them too much moving forward.