Today the Detroit Tigers announced something that many people could see coming weeks ago — they were going to “reboot” and cut their losses on the 2015 season by looking to move some of their soon-to-be free agents. The prime free agent they have is LHP David Price, who is a true #1 ace. Every team in MLB would love to have him in their rotation.
But should the Pirates try to get him by Friday’s trade deadline? I’m inclined to say ‘no’ and here’s why:
THEIR PLACE IN THE PLAYOFF RACE
Prior to the All-Star Break, the Pirates narrowed the gap to 2-1/2 games between themselves and the Cardinals for the NL Central race. But the Pirates stumbled out of the gate and the Cardinals did not, so as of this writing the Cardinals are 5 games up on the Pirates with 62 games to play. While it’s possible that the St. Louis Cardinals blow that lead (hi, 2014 Brewers!), it’s not likely that they do so.
So in effect, the Pirates are lining themselves up for another Wild Card appearance. That shouldn’t be minimized and swept under the rug. It would be the 3rd year in a row that the Pirates make the playoffs, which only 8 American League and 4 National League teams have done in the Wild Card era from 1995 to the present. The Pirates would be the 5th (and the Dodgers potentially the 6th).
As the Wild Card game is a potential one-and-done, is it worth it to expend both monetary resources and player asset resources for a two-month rental that may not even be used in the playoffs? It’s hard to see, even with how great Price is, how he would start over Gerrit Cole, potentially at home in PNC Park.
THE ACQUISITION COST
Even though Price is a two-month rental and may only be worth 2 WAR to the team that acquires him, his surface stats speak for themselves. His nearly 7 innings/start, 2.53 ERA/3.00 FIP are going to command at least two premium prospects and a mid-tier third. We’re big on surplus value here at TPOP, but even though there’s just a modest amount over his remaining $6.6M salary, the extra ‘trade deadline premium’ will come into effect for a bonafide ace.
The Tigers are weighed down by some bloated veteran contracts to Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, and Victor Martinez, plus big contracts to Anibal Sanchez and Ian Kinsler. They almost are forced to keep powering through this stretch with MLB-ready players, not long-term prospects. As such, the discussion between Tigers’ GM Dave Dombrowski and Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington would start with premium pitcher, Tyler Glasnow (recently promoted to AAA).
In a perfect world, it wouldn’t be hard to envision that Dombrowski would ask for Glasnow, Jameson Taillon, and Alen Hanson. But Glasnow is almost assuredly off limits, even for a talent such as Price, just because it’s not worth giving up 6+ seasons of Glasnow (himself a low-end #1/high-end #2 type pitcher) for just two months of Price. Additionally, Taillon’s lost season may be dinging his prospect value. In 2016, he’ll be 24 years old, still in need of shaking of Tommy John rust, and not having competitively pitched in nearly two full seasons. The potential addition of Hanson would just be the straw that broke the discussion’s back.
And if Glasnow and Taillon are off the table, who are the other pitching prospects available that are MLB-ready, healthy, and appealing to Detroit? Nick Kingham is out for most of 2016. Brandon Cumpton will be returning from Tommy John mid-season, but he’s a #4. It’s hard to see Adrian Sampson commanding much attention.
Perhaps a package could be built around OF Austin Meadows, if the Tigers would be fine with a High A player as the centerpiece of a deal, and 1B/OF Josh Bell. For me, that’s a lot to give up for just two months of a player (again) that may not pitch for the Pirates in the playoffs. And while I’m fine with dealing Meadows/Bell for players at the deadline, it should be for players that are under control past 2015, at least.
The first two reasons were built around the viewpoint that the Pirates have a 50-50 shot at winning the Wild Card game. But what if they do win it and advance to the NL Divisional Series? Wouldn’t David Price be a huge asset?
Of course he would. The bar for any pitcher potentially acquired at the non-waiver July deadline or even by the August deadline should be this one question — would this pitcher start over any of Gerrit Cole, A.J. Burnett, and Francisco Liriano in the playoffs? With the way scheduling happens, you really only need three starters in the playoffs, maybe a fourth pitcher one time.
There is value in the Pirates acquiring a lower-wattage pitcher so that they can upgrade over Morton and/or Locke for the remainder of the regular season, but I wouldn’t want to waste the few premium, healthy trade chips we have on a guy that wouldn’t displace one of the top 3 pitchers.
David Price, obviously, would displace either Burnett or Liriano for a playoff run. Burnett has shown signs of regressing from his unsustainable start to the season in his last two starts, giving up 11 runs in 11.2 innings pitched. It’s possible that some of the pixie dust is wearing off and he may not be as dominant down the stretch. Perhaps Price would shift Liriano out of the playoff rotation if Hurdle didn’t want two lefty starters for whatever reason.
A playoff rotation in the NLDS of Cole-Price-Burnett/Liriano would be fearsome and stack up against whatever the Dodgers, Giants, Cubs, Nationals, Cardinals, or Mets would potentially throw out there. But the calculus behind whether to game giving up significant assets is too much of a gamble for my tastes.