2009 Pirates Preview: To trade or not to trade?

Last year the Pirates made two major trades, dealing outfielders Jason Bay and Xavier Nady, plus left handed reliever Damaso Marte, in an attempt to give the farm system a quick boost in the rebuilding process. In return for those deals, the Pirates received eight players.

Those eight players include starting third baseman Andy LaRoche, starting right fielder Brandon Moss, number four and five starters Ross Ohlendorf and Jeff Karstens, bullpen arm Craig Hansen, plus top prospects Jose Tabata, Bryan Morris, and Daniel McCutchen.

Obviously there’s a difference between being on the major league roster, and being successful on the major league roster. However, the Pirates received five pieces to the 2009 roster, plus three prospects for the future, in exchange for their three players. It made it easier to trade Bay, Nady, and Marte with Andrew McCutchen and John Grabow on the team, plus Jose Tabata coming over in the trades.

The 2009 season will see plenty of rumors about potential free agents Adam LaRoche, Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez, and John Grabow. Unlike Bay and Nady, the Pirates don’t have any suitable long term replacements for these players. So with a lack of depth at 1B, 2B, SS, and left handed relievers, should the Pirates trade these players?

Adam LaRoche

The Pirates sent Steve Pearce down to work at first base. With a future outfield of McCutchen, McLouth, and Tabata, plus Brandon Moss and Nyjer Morgan in the mix, Pearce doesn’t have a spot outside of first base.

The best option for the Pirates would be Andy LaRoche or Neil Walker working out this year, allowing the Pirates to bring up Pedro Alvarez as a first baseman in 2010 to replace LaRoche. If Andy LaRoche or Neil Walker don’t work out, Alvarez would likely take over at third in 2010, leaving Pearce as the only option to take over at first.

If Andy LaRoche, Neil Walker, and Steve Pearce flop this year, I’d hold on to Adam LaRoche and try to sign him for a cheaper price next season (maybe he would take a discount to play with his brother). However, I’m assuming one of Pearce, Andy LaRoche, or Walker will work out this year, meaning LaRoche is a prime trade candidate at the deadline.

Jack Wilson

Brian Bixler seems to be the only reasonable replacement for Wilson above A ball. Bixler’s struggles last year at the major league level show that this is not a viable option. Wilson has approached the Pirates about an extension, but what are the chances the Pirates take him up on those talks?

Prospects like Jarek Cunningham (out for 2009), Jordy Mercer, and Chase d’Arnaud are three to four years away, which means that Bixler is the only hope for a replacement for Wilson. If Bixler doesn’t improve this year, I can see the Pirates re-signing Wilson.

Freddy Sanchez

Like Wilson, the Pirates lack options at second base. Shelby Ford is viewed as the second baseman of the future, but isn’t exactly an upgrade over Sanchez. Comparing the two in the minors:

Sanchez: .309/.371/.441 52.40 AB/HR in 524 AAA ABs
Ford: .285/.335/.458, 79.75 in 319 AA ABs

Ford has yet to play in AAA, and is currently 24 years old. If he doesn’t have a successful AAA season this year, I can see the Pirates holding on to Sanchez, at least for another season. Sanchez has an option for 2010 for $8 M, which guarantees at 635 plate appearances. My guess is the Pirates give Ford another year to develop, and keep Sanchez through the 2010 season.

John Grabow

Grabow had a career year last year, but I have my doubts that he will repeat that 2008 success. Unfortunately the Pirates don’t have a replacement for him at the major league level, unlike when they traded Marte and replaced him with Grabow.

Sean Burnett has proved to be nothing more than a LOOGY in his one season in the bullpen. Donald Veal is a Rule 5 selection, and would be better served as a starting pitching prospect if the Pirates could hold on to him. The farm system is thin, with everyone’s favorite prospect Daniel Moskos leading the group of left handed relievers. The Pirates also recently got Kyle Bloom back, giving them another left handed relief prospect.

Grabow was a borderline Type A free agent at the end of last season, and is almost a guarantee to be a Type A or Type B free agent after 2009. The Pirates would be best served to keep him. They would have to offer him arbitration for the 2010 season. If he accepts, they keep him at a raise from his $2.3 M 2009 salary. If he declines, they get a first round compensation pick if he is a Type B free agent, and if he’s a Type A free agent, they’d get a first round comp pick, plus the 2010 first round pick from the team that signs him for 2010. That’s more than they would receive in any trade.

Matt Capps

No one is talking about Matt Capps, but let’s take a look at the situation. Capps is signed through the 2009 season, and has two years of arbitration remaining. Based on contracts to closers like Huston Street, Capps can expect to receive $10 M total for those final two seasons.

Capps is a successful closer with a reasonable salary, making him the top trade chip the Pirates have. They could spend the $5 M a year to keep him for the next two years, but a top position prospect would help the Pirates more than a successful closer at this point.

The Pirates have a few candidates, most notably Evan Meek. Meek will likely make it to the majors this season, and his success could determine Capps’ future. Other options include Craig Hansen, who has been very wild in his major league career so far, Jeff Sues, and Ronald Uviedo. The amount of options available makes Capps my sleeper choice for “Player Most Likely to be Traded in 2009″.

Next in the 2009 Pirates Preview: B.U.C.C.O. Fans.com 2009 Top 30 Prospects

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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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Updated 2009 win projections

  • Lee Young

    Couldn’t agree more. I’ve been with Tim W on his closing argument….hey, that almost makes him sound like a lawyer…lol

  • szielinski

    It was due to his hat.

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