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Trading Vazquez Is The Best Worst Thing To Do

I think most of the people in the Pittsburgh sports media don’t really know baseball.

They barely know the Pirates and might not know anything about their farm system. They know nothing about the rest of the league and especially the American League. Ask some of your favorite bloggers or announcers which teams are in the American League Wild Card race and listen for crickets. Ask them how much trade value a prospect has or who Blake Treinen is and they’ll have no clue. They don’t realize the Cubs rotation is bad and Alex Cobb and Logan Morrison are terrible…or that Miguel Sano is in the minors… or how the Dodgers got Max Muncy. Don’t try to talk about contracts or arbitration years…or Rule 5…or July 2…or AFL/DSL. (You get it)

So when I have questions, I turn to a couple trusted sources. One of the best is Brian Cartwright. He has invented some sabermetric statistics. He’s paid by most of the MLB clubs for one or more of his analyses and best yet, he’s actually a Pirate fan, which isn’t the case with many of my sources. He’s also a Twitter hound so I don’t mind dropping his name (@blcartwright).

Today I had the following quick Twitter chat:

@ballandgutters You think we should shop Vazquez? I think EVERY playoff team would be interested and some might back up the truck and dump a ridiculous amount of prospects.

@blcartwright I’d hate to see him go but you are correct

Why this is the absolute worst time to trade Vazquez

I think this is the most obvious paragraph I ever felt the need to write. Let’s just say that the 93.7 Fan radio station would buy another frequency just to take all the calls murdering Huntington and his commitment to winning, Nutting is cheap, etc. It also would look pretty bad to have your lone All Star rep leave and with that the perception that you’re throwing in the season.

From a 2018 Pirates baseball perspective it would be harmful to the Pirates as Vazquez has been the only thing solid in a bullpen that has being as erratic as service at Eat ‘n Park. Vazquez hasn’t had the gaudy numbers he did last year, but he’s been good in a year where everyone knows how to use launch angles and how to beat the shift.

He’s also controlled for SO many years for SO cheap that the Pirates can go through a down year or two and he’d still be around.

Why this is the absolute best time to trade Vazquez

This is the part of the question where you need to turn to a national guy who has perspective on what’s going on in baseball, pennant races, prospects. There is an absolute perfect storm brewing for the Pirates to make a king’s ransom on Vazquez. A list of factors:

  1. The Astros have a super team, a loaded farm system and are only lacking a closer
  2. This might be the Indians best chance to win a World Series for the next 20 years (Kluber)
  3. The might be the Red Sox best chance to win a World Series for the next 20 years (Sale)
  4. The Yankees have the tremendous farm system to buy Vazquez away from other AL teams
  5. The Dodgers have a talented team, good farm and haven’t won the World Series since Kirk Gibson
  6. The Diamondbacks have a very good chance to win the division and one World Series would erase any second guessing from national media
  7. Nationals are about to lose Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and might need closer to win division/WC
  8. Braves and Phils have plenty of prospects and might live for today and go for it

Vasquez is currently one of the best 5-10 closers in baseball and being LH means he’s probably closer to 5 than 10. He’s also super cheap and has those years of control. Most importantly though, he’s the ONLY GREAT CLOSER that might be available.

Do you remember the last time there was a great closer available for a really desperate team? The Yankees sure remember as Gleyber Torres is now an All Star rookie for the Yankees and has 21 HRs. He’d be the starting SS for the Cubs right now and would be tormenting the Pirates for the next six years or more.

Would the trade return be more than the Gerrit Cole trade?

Most definitely yes. Gerrit Cole might have rebounded and is pitching like a stud, but there was no guarantee of that when he was traded. Cole only had two years of control remaining and the deal was made in the offseason where there wasn’t the added pressure of a playoff race. Also, there wasn’t known to be a lot of competition, other than possibly the Yankees. Everyone would offer something for Vazquez, as you can always use another top reliever, especially a LH one.

For the prospects nerds, names like Victor Robles, Kyle Tucker, Francisco Meija, Forrest Whitley, Alex Verdugo and Esteban Florial would ALL be on the table for Vasquez. Guys like Clint Frazier who aren’t exactly prospects but are very young, would be in the discussion as well.

A little Burdi told me that closers are fungible

Dump Hanrahan, make Grilli the closer. Dump Grilli, make Melancon the closer. Dump Melancon, use Watson as the closer. Dump Watson, use Felipe. A popular fantasy baseball show calls this “the closer carousel” with an accompanying sound of circus music.

Everyone knows that closers can often times be easily replaced and sometimes with a committee. This year’s Pirates’ team has the type of arms that might be good to harness the hot one and occasionally mix it up. Michael Feliz, Edgar Santana and Kyle Crick all have the makings of some good bullpen arms and would be in that rotation.

Another wildcard that many forget is that the Pirates nabbed former top 100 prospect and first round pick Nick Burdi in this year’s Rule 5 draft. Burdi is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery but should be back in the lineup by September. Before his injury Burdi had an 80 grade fastball and a 65 slider. That would be a fastball as good as Vazquez and a slider as good as Santana’s. He could be our best bullpen arm once he’s healthy again.

If we can trade Vazquez for the next Gleyber Torres and replace him, I think this would be the shot in he arm the franchise needs and could set us up for the next few years.

Michael is a Pirates contributor to The Point of Pittsburgh. Michael is former submarine officer and Naval Academy grad. He now runs a small consulting firm and does veteran related job fairs. He is a SABR member and regularly attends Altoona Curve games to scout the Pirate prospects.

18 Comments on Trading Vazquez Is The Best Worst Thing To Do

  1. Sec.143RowMSeat24 // July 10, 2018 at 8:07 AM //

    My only concern with this is the Cole trade you mentioned. Just the other day NH reiterated that they aren’t far off. My concern is he would pass on a higher ceiling package like the one the Yankees got for Chapman and instead look to acquire close to ready MLB talent with limited upside.

    • Kevin Creagh // July 10, 2018 at 9:35 AM //

      This is a completely valid concern. As I’ve mentioned recently, I would have been fine with Kyle Tucker straight up for Gerrit Cole from the Astros. I hope that the quantity-over-quality approach is shelved, but your concern is true.

    • If NH truly believes that, I have his choice of bridges I’d like to sell him. It seems he may have Dave Littlefield unpublished screenplay, which had the working title “How To Win Seventy-Five Games And Remain Gainfully Employed Without Really Trying”.

    • Can you say Colin Moran ?

  2. James Krug // July 10, 2018 at 8:18 AM //

    This is a really nicely written article, Mike. Great understanding of timing, and quality prospects on teams that could deal.

    Unfortunately, I think the big limiting factor here which the article doesn ?t discuss is Huntington himself. He is actually better being a buyer at the deadline than a seller, and the last few semi-contention years, he wasn ?t even a good buyer.

    As a seller like he normally is, he fails to see that the best returns actually happen well prior to the deadline. The Pirates continue to labor under the premise that if they wait until 3:59pm on July 31st, some team will panic and back up the prospect truck for them. Never has happened, never will happen.

    My *guess* is that the Pirates either value the ?cost control ? (which is o e of the only things that matter to them anymore) of Riviero, and don ?t even consider moving him in the slightest, OR they trade him for a non-top 100 prospect in an underwhelming trade with a few hours to go on July 31st.

    Hope I ?m wrong, but I ?ve entirely lost faith in Huntington as a GM. Good article though!

  3. I’m not sure the shots at Pirate fans–or at least a segment of them–is a bit of a cheap shot (listen to talk radio in NYC–what Pirate fans think about NH and Nutting is a love fest compared to the vitriol aimed at Alderson and the Wilpons)and not particularly germane to the question at hand, which is whether or not to deal Vasquez. As to that, I agree wholeheartedly; relief pitchers are fungible items, the Pirates 2018 is for all intents and purposes over, and the haul he would bring should be considerable indeed, as closers seem to be the one item that causes GMs to lose their minds.

    • Michael Bradley // July 10, 2018 at 2:06 PM //

      I just feel a lot of vitriol aim at the Pirates management and players from a demographic that doesn’t real know baseball or even tries to understand it.

      It’s a cumbersome task to understand all the business nuances with rosters, options, 8 levels of minor leagues, waiver and non waiver deadlines, salaries, supply and demand etc… without even mentioning the new saber metrics and statistics. I didn’t realize that a low minor league infield fly ball % was a good indication of bat to ball skills. I learned this because I’m trying to get better and learn more. The media and many fans are just lazy and quit trying to understand years ago.

  4. James Krug // July 10, 2018 at 9:45 AM //

    Yes. 100% true. NH would rather take a “MLB-ready” package of 2 AAA players that have never sniffed a Top-100 list and a MLB rookie RP than he would a Top-100 prospect at AA, and a quality prospect at High-A.

    Every time.

  5. Alan Posey // July 10, 2018 at 7:33 PM //

    I remember the Pirates tried to get Gleyber Torres in the Cole trade but couldn ?t get the Yankees to give him up. Didn ?t I also hear Victor Robles name in some other Pirates trade rumors? Many want to blame the Pirates for not getting quality but I ?m not sure if they didn ?t try very hard to get quality but just couldn ?t get a willing trade partner. Then they had to settle for the best they could get.

  6. Phillip C-137 // July 10, 2018 at 11:50 PM //

    You’ve sold me. Let’s do it. But let’s do it right.

  7. Alright. This is my kind of article. I think that Vasquez could be the best bet to replenish the farm, and doing it now would be a very forward thinking, smart move. My concern is that NH will see him as an integral piece to the NEXT window, rather than a piece to create that window. But we’re not doing that here. We’re talking about the smart move and that’s all that matters here.. so on to my points:

    I dabble in the Surplus Value calcs, and my current calculation for Vasquez puts his value at $37.95M, but I’ve read a few articles that tried to quantify the July premium and I settled on ~176%. I can find the articles if you’re interested, but I’m riffing right now.. let me go, ok? So that puts Vasquez in the $66.80M ballpark. Okay, so let’s look at returns mentioned (Note: These prospect values are a combination of Fangraphs, TPOP, and my own regressions.. take w/ grain of salt, please).

    Robles: $78.6M — As much as I would LOVE to give the Nats back Vasquez in exchange for Robles, I think that he’s too valuable. With Harper potentially on the outs, pairing Robles w/ Soto is too enticing for DC.

    Meijia: $60.7M — That value seems to make some sense, and it’s a position of little depth for Pittsburgh. Definitely an option, but I think that CLE balks because he’s the heir apparent and he could probably help w/ the run this year.

    Whitley: $53.5M — Another option where value syncs a bit. Give me another FV: 45 prospect or 2 and we’re in business.

    Verdugo: $25M — So I know Verdugo is a top prospect, but I’m not all that intrigued by him. In this scenario, I’d ask for him + C Will Smith ($25M) and another piece or 2.

    Florial: $25M — I’m a big Florial fan b/c I love toolsy, high upside outfielders.. just like everyone else. He’s a guy that needs to develop, something I wouldn’t necessarily trust would occur in Pittsburgh. But that’s just me being a pessimist.

    Alright, so lastly I wanted to put together a potential package or two for Vasquez and call it a day.

    Cleveland: Tristan McKenzie RHP ($20.1M, ETA 2020), Shane Bieber ($3.4M .. probably will need to be updated, ETA 2019), and Will Benson OF ($7.4M, ETA 2021)

    This return gives you two tall, projectable pitchers that should stay in the rotation and a behemoth that probably won’t be Aaron Judge, if I’m a bettin’ man, but.. he sure does look like him.

    Astros: Yordan Alvarez OF/1B ($25M, ETA 2020), JB Bakauskus RHP ($20.1M, ETA 2019) and Cionel Perez LHP ($3.4M, ETA 2019)

    I like monsters that hit for power, so what? Also 2 more pitchers w/ plenty of potential. I BELIEVE Perez could be a pen arm.

    Yankees: Florial OF ($25M, ETA 2020), Freicer Perez RHP ($20.1M, ETA 2020), Domingo Acevado RHP ($3.4M, ETA 2018) and UTIL Brandon Drury

    Alright, this one’s quality AND quantity. We’ve touched on Florial. W/ Perez and Acevado we get the twin towers of RHP. They are 6’8 and 6’7 respectively. Both are ready to go in the near future, so that would fulfill NH’s plan to stay competitive near term. And Drury is a personal favorite. He was recently acquired from Arizona, but w/ Andujar & Torres asserting themselves, he may be a man w/o a position. He’s got a great hit tool and he’s juust average enough across the diamond to fulfill that super utility position. He can play 7 positions on the diamond, so he’ll be Hurdle’s dream. A mega upgrade over S-Rod. If that comment is now moot, I stopped watching a few weeks ago.. so let it slide.

    In conclusion, thank you for writing this article. I think that it’s the right course of action to move Vasquez, if you can get a king’s ransom. I’d be happy w/ any of the options above. My favorite option would be Robles, but I just don’t think it can happen. If you disagree w/ the analysis or think I’m an idiot.. you’re probably correct.

    • Kevin Creagh // July 12, 2018 at 6:33 AM //

      This is a great use of Surplus Value and well sourced

      • The only thing that rankles me about surplus value is that it doesn’t make allowances for the fact talent isn’t evenly distributed–in other words, it assumes that seven 1.0 WAR players are worth the same as one 7.0 WAR player, which isn’t the case, because the latter is much harder to find, and certainly not available on the open market. Trading Vasquez is a chance for the Bucs to snag an elite talent, or at least an elite prospect. If they aren’t getting someone like a Whitley or a Robles if the Nats lose their collective minds, that’s the return they need to hold out for as opposed to a package of good-but-not-top-shelf types.

        • Kevin Creagh // July 13, 2018 at 9:51 AM //

          You’re correct about seven 1 WAR players vs one 7 WAR player, but Surplus Value tends to focus on the “big fish” elite talents you (and I) both want. If GM’s (ahem, NH) choose to take the return in 4 pieces rather than 1, that’s on them, not the model.

  8. The Yankees need a second baseman, why didn’t they send us Clint Frazier for Jayhay? Cashman is no dummy.

  9. I think Mejia from Cleveland would be interesting return. Then you can trade Cervelli.

    Padres should trade Brad Hand to the Astros.

  10. Like you said, most bloggers don’t know baseball Yeah Vasquez would bring in a large return.. but as you also said, the pen has been shaky this year (including felipe). so his return might be a bit less than what we’d want. Until recently the pen was giving up hits faster than a pipe in a crack house.

    Still a couple weeks away from deadline. if they lose all the ground they gained the past couple weeks.. consider every one available at the right price.. but there really isn’t anyone on the team that performed like they’re worth top 10s this year. (as a whole)

  11. Richard Hohmann // July 16, 2018 at 8:45 AM //

    Great piece. NH probably not bold enough to make such a move.

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