Trading From the Bullpen in 2010
The Pittsburgh Pirates have made a ton of trades in the last two seasons, dealing away seven of their eight starting position players from Opening Day 2008, along with plenty of other players on the roster or in the organization at the time. A lot has been said about how the Pirates won’t be dealing anyone away this year, although anyone who believes a team with a 25-50 record will, or should, keep the team together isn’t facing reality.
Frank Coonelly recently said that this year’s trade deadline won’t be anything like the previous two deadlines. Looking at the current 25-man roster, it’s not hard to believe that statement.
THE POSITION PLAYERS
The Pirates currently have a lineup full of young players who are under control for several years, and who aren’t even in to their arbitration years yet. The Pirates aren’t trading any of these guys away. The only position player who don’t really qualify here is Ryan Doumit.
If the Pirates were to trade Doumit, they’d be taking a risk. Doumit hasn’t been the best all around catcher this year, but the Pirates don’t really have many other options. Jason Jaramillo is struggling at the plate, and not really showing that he can be a starting catcher. Erik Kratz is unproven at the major league level, and his AAA success is in question due to the amount of time he’s spent at the level. Tony Sanchez is the future at the position, but if this year has taught us one thing, it’s that the future is not guaranteed.
Sanchez has dealt with a shoulder injury this year, and has been hit in the head with a pitch on two occasions, the second incident breaking his jaw in two places and forcing him to miss six to eight weeks. I have no doubts that Sanchez has the ability to make it to the majors, but I’m not sure how soon that will happen, and it’s certainly far from guaranteed, as Sanchez’s injuries show that ability is not the only factor involved here. There’s also luck, good and bad, to consider.
On the pitching side, the Pirates don’t have much of value. Paul Maholm and Zach Duke would normally be the biggest trade chips, but each pitcher is struggling. Duke currently has a 5.49 ERA in 80.1 innings pitched, and is on the disabled list with a minor elbow injury. Duke had a big year in 2009, but his 2009 numbers are the only time he’s had success in the last four years.
Maholm has a 4.24 ERA in 87 innings, with a 5.1 K/9 and a 3.7 BB/9 ratio. Those numbers don’t look bad, although that ERA won’t stay that low if his 1.57 WHIP doesn’t improve. Maholm’s WHIP is due to his 10.4 H/9 ratio. Unfortunately, Maholm has had a similar ratio every year from 2006-2010, with the exception of his 2008 season, which stands out as his only good year.
Duke and Maholm have identical stories. They’re both left handed innings eaters. Both had an impressive debut in the majors that raised hopes for their future. Both struggled following their debuts. Both put up one really good season, which made people think that they had finally arrived and realized their potential. Both have since struggled, although their struggles look like their career norms before their “breakout season”. In short, they’re back of the rotation starters, each with one good year, both able to pitch a lot of innings, and both with elevated values to the Pirates due to the weak state of the rotation.
So to recap, the trading chips on the Pirates are:
-A catcher who is poor on defense, probably best as a DH in the American League, and who the Pirates have no replacement for.
-Two back of the rotation starters who are struggling this year, lowering their trade value.
Where would the Pirates trade from in 2010? The answer may lie in the bullpen. The Pirates have a good situation in the bullpen this year. Not only do they have some productive relievers, but they also have talent at AAA which could step right in as a replacement.
There are two guys who the Pirates should either hold on to, or demand a king’s ransom for (or at least as much as you can demand for a reliever). They are Evan Meek and Joel Hanrahan. Meek has four years of control left after this season, and has been excellent this year, putting up numbers that could make him a candidate as the future closer. Hanrahan has three years of arbitration after this season, and while his ERA has struggled, his 13.1 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 ratios are outstanding.
Outside of that, the Pirates have a few guys who could easily be moved and replaced.
Octavio Dotel – Dotel has been good as the Pirates’ closer this year, saving 14 of 17 games. Since the end of April, he’s put up a 2.33 ERA, and a 24:12 K/BB ratio in 19.1 innings of work, with 11 saves in 12 attempts. That’s important when you consider that Dotel got off to a late start in Spring Training, which could have contributed to his poor start to the 2010 season. Dotel has an option for 2011 at $4.5 M, although if he’s traded, that option goes from a team option, to a mutual option, which means Dotel isn’t locked in to his new team. That could hurt his trade value, although I doubt Dotel turns down $4.5 M, as that’s more than what he’d make on the open market.
Brendan Donnelly – Donnelly is a free agent after the year, and has struggled this year, after putting up great numbers with Florida in 2009. Donnelly wouldn’t bring much in return at this point, although a team like Florida, Boston, or the Los Angeles Angels, who know how good he can be, might be interested in taking a flier on him.
D.J. Carrasco – Carrasco could be a valuable reliever, as he is versatile, and capable of handling a big workload. He’s also under control for two more seasons after the 2010 season, due to get a raise over his $950 K salary through arbitration next year.
Javier Lopez – Lopez has had a bounce back season, with a 2.86 ERA in 28.1 innings. He’s been good against left handers, with a .237 BAA and a .730 OPS, and even better against right handers, with a .246 BAA and a .656 OPS. Lopez has one year of control left, which might give him the most value in the pen, considering he’s a left handed reliever.
The Pirates can afford to trade any, or all of these guys, due to their depth at AAA. They’ve got Vinnie Chulk and Wilfredo Ledezma looking good at AAA, Justin Thomas who was recently called up, and Jose Ascanio returning from the 60-day disabled list at some point this year. Looking forward to next year, they could have Daniel Moskos and Diego Moreno entering the mix. Plus, Meek and Hanrahan are anchoring the bullpen, which leaves little need for established arms like the ones mentioned above.
Normally teams don’t get much by trading bullpen arms, but the Pirates might have an advantage this year, as the relief market is very thin, according to Buster Olney. In fact, the conditions could present a scenario where an Evan Meek trade might not be a bad idea, assuming the Pirates could get a big return. I’m thinking of something like the Mike Gonzalez/Adam LaRoche deal, which netted the Pirates their everyday first baseman for two and a half years. Say what you will about LaRoche (most Pittsburgh fans under valued him due to his April slumps), but anytime you get an everyday player for a reliever, you’ve made a good deal. If the Pirates could get a starter (first base, outfield, shortstop) for Meek, they should run with the deal.
I don’t expect this year to be like the last two seasons on the trade market. That said, I don’t expect a totally quiet trade deadline. The Pirates have a few struggling trade chips in the rotation and the lineup, but the real value could lie in the bullpen. With the weak market, and replacements available within the organization, dealing bullpen arms is a move that makes sense for the Pirates.