The writing is on the wall for John Grabow’s future as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Grabow is in his final year of arbitration, making $2.3 M this year, and will most likely be seeking a multi-year contract at that level. The Pirates already have a possible plan in place to replace Grabow with Will Ohman in the event of a trade.
The problem with that scenario is that any team wanting to trade for Grabow could easily just sign Will Ohman for about the same amount that Grabow would receive, without having to give up any players to get Ohman. That means the Pirates have two options.
The first option is to sign Ohman, and trade Grabow later. The problem with this option is that this would give the Pirates three left handers in the bullpen, with Ohman, Grabow, and Burnett. If the Pirates wanted to keep Rule 5 pick Donald Veal, that would leave them with four left handers, which is unlikely. This means the Pirates would most likely have to offer Veal back to the Cubs, or hope for a trade like they did with Evan Meek last year.
The second option would be to find a team that would rather trade for Grabow, than sign Ohman. The only way I can see this happening would be if that team didn’t have a lot of payroll to spend, and the Pirates ate Grabow’s salary. This provides an advantage to the other team, as they get their left handed reliever for free, which is reason to choose Grabow over Ohman.
This scenario provides a perfect match for the Pirates: the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Rays owner recently announced that with their payroll going above $60 M this season, they lacked any financial flexibility to make an in-season move. Their bullpen currently projects to have two left handers, J.P. Howell and Brian Shouse. With their payroll tight, and two left handers, the Rays aren’t likely to spend any money on a guy like Will Ohman.
However, the Rays’ fifth starter battle could make a trade between the Pirates and Rays work. Currently the Rays have Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Matt Garza, and Andy Sonnanstine locked in as starters. That leaves top prospect David Price, Jeff Niemann, and Jason Hammel as options for the fifth starter role.
Niemann and Hammel are both out of options, meaning that the Rays would have to either put them in the bullpen, or place them on waivers if Price made the major league club on Opening Day. Even if Price doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, he is likely to be taking the fifth spot in the rotation after some work at AAA, which leaves the Rays in a similar situation with Niemann and Hammel.
The biggest need for the Pirates is starting pitching. Jeff Niemann would be a great addition to the starting rotation. Niemann reminds me of Chris Young. He’s a 6’9″ right hander, 260 pounds, 26 years old, and in his minor league career has a 9.1 K/9 ratio, a 3.4 BB/9 ratio, and a 0.9 HR/9 ratio. According to Baseball America, he is the #10 prospect for the Rays this year, and ranked in last year’s top 100 prospects at #99.
The ideal trade would have the Pirates sending John Grabow, and paying his 2008 salary, minus Niemann’s salary, in exchange for Niemann.
The Pirates benefit from the deal because they get a solid starting pitching prospect who is currently tearing up Spring Training with a 0.82 ERA, 8 strikeouts, and 3 walks in 11 innings. They have set a budget of $54 M this season, and even while taking on Grabow’s salary, they have about $2 M remaining to sign Will Ohman to replace Grabow.
The Rays benefit from the deal because at some point this year, they are going to have David Price in the rotation, which means they will either lose Niemann to waivers, or place him in the bullpen. If they go with the latter option, that would give them four right handers, and two left handers. Since Niemann would be a bullpen arm, swapping out Niemann for Grabow gives them an additional left handed arm in the bullpen. With the Pirates picking up Grabow’s salary, minus Niemann’s salary, they don’t add anything to their 2009 payroll. And finally, according to the Elias ranking projections at Detroit Tigers Thoughts, John Grabow is a projected Type A free agent, and almost certainly a Type B free agent.
Overall, Niemann isn’t in the Rays’ long term plans, especially with guys like Wade Davis and Jeremy Hellickson in the minors providing starting depth. That makes Niemann expendable. In this trade idea, the Rays get a free left handed arm, and at least one compensation pick in the 2010 draft. The Pirates would be cashing in on that compensation pick early by getting Niemann for Grabow, filling a hole in their rotation, and replacing Grabow in the bullpen with Will Ohman, all while staying within the $54 M budget.