It’s hard to draw any conclusions about the projected 2011 roster this early in the off-season, but after two days of the MLB Winter Meetings there are two trends that suggest the Pittsburgh Pirates could be looking to add some trade depth to the major league roster.
The first trend is the focus on late inning relievers. The Pirates made an offer to J.J. Putz before he signed a two year, $10 M deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks. They’ve also made an offer to Kevin Gregg, who is drawing strong multi-year interest, and are strongly pursuing Jeremy Accardo. The Pirates were linked to all three players last year. Outside of those players, they’ve looked at Hiroyuki Kobayashi and Aaron Heilman.
The Pirates are strong in the back of the bullpen with Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek. They also have Chris Resop, who pitched well in 2010 after joining the Pirates. Guys like Gregg would likely command closer money, rather than middle relief money. That raises two possibilities: either the Pirates want Hanrahan and Meek freed up for the earlier innings, which can be a good strategy, or they could potentially deal one of their two internal relievers when their value is the highest.
The Pirates have said they aren’t shopping Hanrahan or Meek, but would listen if the right deal came along. Hanrahan would be especially valuable this year, considering the contracts that Putz (2/$10) and Joaquin Benoit (3/$16.5) have signed on the open market. Hanrahan has three years of control remaining, and would cost less per year than either reliever.
The other trend is the current starting pitching situation. The Pirates had Paul Maholm, Ross Ohlendorf, and James McDonald as locks for the rotation heading in to the off-season. They added Kevin Correia to a two year, $8 M deal, which locks him in to a spot. They also added Scott Olsen, who should compete with Charlie Morton, Brad Lincoln, and Jeff Karstens for the fifth starter job. Then there’s Rudy Owens, Jeff Locke, Bryan Morris, and Justin Wilson, who are all possibilities to arrive as early as June 2011.
The Pirates could afford to trade a starting pitcher. In fact, Neal Huntington’s comments, via the Post-Gazette, suggest they could trade one of their starters:
“We’ll always continue to find a way to upgrade,” general manager Neal Huntington said on an otherwise quiet second day of Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings at Walt Disney World’s Swan and Dolphin Resort. “Maybe it takes one of our established pitchers and makes them available in a trade. If we can add one piece via free agency, maybe we can add another via trade.
The most likely player to go would be Paul Maholm, who has two years of control remaining, including a $9.75 M option in 2012. Ross Ohlendorf could be an outside possibility, as he has four years of control remaining, and is at a higher value than Maholm. As for players who could be available via trade, some possibilities are James Shields or Matt Garza of the Tampa Bay Rays, and Kevin Slowey or Scott Baker of the Minnesota Twins. Garza and Slowey would be the most likely to be moved by their respective teams.
The Rays and Twins wouldn’t be looking for a starter in return for Garza or Slowey, which means the Pirates would need to sell them on Hanrahan or Meek, and give up prospects, possibly ones that they acquire from potential Maholm or Ohlendorf trades. What kind of trade value do the Pirates players have, and what would it take to land one of the external options? Using projected values (calculated as [(WAR*$4 M) – Salary]) and Victor Wang’s research on prospect values, we can figure out some estimates.
Joel Hanrahan - Hanrahan has three years remaining, all arbitration years, and at 1.4 WAR per season (his 2010 totals) he would have a value of $12.9 M. That’s the value of a top 51-75 pitcher, or a top 76-100 hitter.
Evan Meek - Meek has four years remaining, but his 2010 WAR (0.8) was lower than Hanrahan, which gives him a $13.2 M value. He would be worth the same as Hanrahan, although teams might favor Hanrahan due to the strong strikeout numbers.
Paul Maholm - Maholm has one year remaining on his deal, along with the option. If you include the option year, which might not be unreasonable if he can bounce back in 2011, then he’s worth around $9.4 M. Without the option year, he’s worth $6.6 M. That’s anything from a grade B pitcher or hitter to a top 76-100 pitcher.
Ross Ohlendorf - Ohlendorf is hard to project since he only has two seasons in the rotation, although he’s currently averaged a 1.0 WAR. That would project him to be around a $12.1 M value. If you bump him up to a 1.5 WAR, he becomes a $16.6 M value. He would basically be worth anything from a top 51-100 hitter to a top 100 pitching prospect.
As for the value of the players who could be available:
Kevin Slowey - He has three years of control remaining, and has averaged a 2.2 WAR over the last three seasons. That puts his value at $14.7 M. Based on the above projections, that would be Hanrahan, plus a grade C pitcher 22 years or younger. Most likely a deal would involve Hanrahan, one of Owens/Locke/Morris, and one or two lower level Aaron Pribanic types, due to the demand for young starting pitching. That wouldn’t be as bad if the Pirates could replace that talent with a return for Maholm or Ohlendorf.
Matt Garza - Garza also has three years remaining, but has been worth a bit more, with a 2.6 WAR average over his last three seasons. That puts him at a $16.9 M value, which amounts to Hanrahan and a grade B hitter (Tony Sanchez/Starling Marte) or two grade C pitchers (two of Owens/Locke/Morris).
If the Pirates could interest teams in Hanrahan, and deal Maholm for a few pitching prospects, they could pull off a deal for one of these two young starters without taking a serious hit to the farm system. Of course it’s not as easy as it sounds. Any team willing to trade for Maholm or Ohlendorf would likely try to trade for Garza or Slowey first, which means the Pirates would have to make their addition before dealing one of their existing starters. Getting Garza or Slowey wouldn’t be easy either, as competition from other teams could drive up the price, although that same inflation for starting pitchers would apply to Maholm and Ohlendorf.
This is all speculation, but if the Pirates do spend money on a late innings reliever, it increases the odds that they trade Hanrahan or Meek this off-season. They have said that their main target is young starting pitching, and that while they don’t wish to deal prospects away, they’re not totally closed to the idea. Based on the talk about their pursuit of relievers, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Pirates make a deal soon to add to their bullpen depth. If that happens, things could get very interesting, especially with the rotation options the Pirates have added, which crowds the scene in the early part of the 2011 season.