The 2011 trade deadline is a little over two weeks away. In previous years, we’d be talking about guys the Pirates would be selling off, and it would almost be a guarantee that the Pirates would be dealing most of the guys we were talking about. This year, with the Pirates in contention for the NL Central, we can actually focus on how to improve the team.
The Pirates are in an interesting situation. They are technically contenders, which means they should be looking for upgrades. However, the team doesn’t look like a team built for the long term, so they can’t afford to give up any top prospects. The ideal trades would involve taking on salary in exchange for an upgrade. On that same note, the Pirates will have a tough choice if they get a big offer for one of their major league players, as the long term benefits to the organization might outweigh the short term benefits to the major league team.
With that said, let’s break down the Pirates’ approach, focusing on their needs, untouchable prospects, and a few guys who could be traded away from the major league squad.
Needs by Position
Catcher - The catching position has been a mess this year, with injuries to top catchers Chris Snyder, Ryan Doumit, and Jason Jaramillo. Michael McKenry and Eric Fryer have provided a strong replacement combo, and Snyder and Doumit are due back by sometime in August. LEVEL OF NEED: Medium.
First Base - Lyle Overbay has been bad this year, with a low average and no power, along with poor defense. He’s left a huge hole at first base. Garrett Jones could step up and take the role, although he’s more of a platoon player, rather than a guy you want starting. LEVEL OF NEED: High.
Second Base - Neil Walker hasn’t had the best season, with some inconsistent performances at the plate, but he’s not performing at a low enough level to replace him. LEVEL OF NEED: Low.
Third Base - Pedro Alvarez was recently demoted to AAA, after struggling early in the year and spending time on the disabled list. He’s currently being replaced by Josh Harrison and Brandon Wood, showing the lack of true third base options in the upper levels. LEVEL OF NEED: High.
Shortstop - Ronny Cedeno is currently out with a concussion, but should return shortly after the All-Star break. Chase d’Arnaud performed well in AAA, and has filled in nicely for Cedeno in the majors while he’s been out. Neither player has been hitting, but their defense has been good at the position, which is the most important thing with this pitching staff. The Pirates could try for an upgrade to get a guy who can hit and field for the final two months, but it’s not a huge priority. LEVEL OF NEED: Low.
Left Field - Jose Tabata should be returning from the disabled list shortly after the All-Star break. Like Neil Walker, Tabata has been inconsistent at the plate. However, he hasn’t been bad enough to warrant a replacement, and he’s a guy the Pirates need to stick with for the long term. LEVEL OF NEED: Low.
Center Field - Two words: Andrew McCutchen. LEVEL OF NEED: None.
Right Field - Alex Presley has played very well since getting the call to the majors. It’s too early to assume that he is this good, although he’s certainly warranted a starting role. The Pirates would be better off letting him start, and focusing on other needs. LEVEL OF NEED: Low.
Bench - The bench has been crowded with actual prospects, with guys like Josh Harrison, Chase d’Arnaud, and Eric Fryer. It also has guys like Brandon Wood and Xavier Paul, who are risks to be cut when players start returning from the disabled list. The only upgrade the bench might need is a power bat, although that could happen if Garrett Jones moves full time to the bench. LEVEL OF NEED: Low.
Starting Pitching - The heart of this team has been starting pitching. Ross Ohlendorf will return in August, Brad Lincoln looks great in AAA, and Justin Wilson is putting up good numbers, despite having some control issues. In previous years, all three would be a lock to join the rotation. This year I don’t think anyone would be comfortable replacing the current starting five. LEVEL OF NEED: Low.
Bullpen - Like the rotation, the bullpen has been strong. It is anchored by one of the best closers in the game, Joel Hanrahan. Jose Veras and Chris Resop are looking like strong set up men, and both have the talent to close. Daniel Moskos and Tony Watson are providing the Pirates with two young left handed options, and Joe Beimel is set to return soon. Those are typically the three areas teams trade for, and the Pirates are set in each area. LEVEL OF NEED: Low.
Tomorrow we will detail some of the prospects at each level that could be expendable in a deal. Here is a short list of players who I absolutely wouldn’t deal, as the long term loss wouldn’t be worth the short term gain.
Stetson Allie - Right now he falls third behind Taillon and Heredia, but that doesn’t make him expendable. His likely value is a power closer in the long term, but that’s not a guarantee.
Chase d’Arnaud - He hasn’t been hitting well in the majors, but his defense has been fine. Shortstops are hard to come by, and the Pirates can’t afford to give up a guy who is major league ready and profiles as an average starter or better.
Luis Heredia - He’s got way too much upside, and any deal now would be selling low.
Starling Marte - He’s the best bet to serve as a long term option next to McCutchen and Tabata. He’s also a rare talent to find, with a lot of speed, great contact skills, and a strong arm and strong defense in center field. He’s easily the top position player prospect, and the Pirates are in no position to be dealing away top position prospects that are close to the majors.
Jordy Mercer - Like d’Arnaud, Mercer is an upper level shortstop, which is hard to find. He’s also got some power, which is rare for a shortstop. Until one of these two steps up as a long term solution, the Pirates can’t afford to trade either.
Alex Presley - What are the Pirates trading? I don’t think anyone knows the value of Presley, because no one really knows how legit he is. Are they trading away a guy who is at his highest value, or a guy who is a starter for the next six years? Since he’s starting now, I’d keep him around.
Tony Sanchez - He’s having a down year, but there’s a difference between a down year and lacking talent. Sanchez has the talent, and with the lack of long term catching options, the Pirates can’t afford to trade that talent away.
Jameson Taillon - The number one prospect is also number one on the “untouchable” list.
If the Pirates Become Sellers
I don’t like the term “sellers” because it carries a certain implication. It implies that the team is going out with the intention of trading a certain player for the best offer, and that they will trade this player no matter how good or bad the best offer is. I can’t see the Pirates taking that route with anyone, outside of guys like Lyle Overbay, Matt Diaz, and possibly Garrett Jones. However, I’ve been saying for weeks that the Pirates could deal Joel Hanrahan and Paul Maholm at their highest values and get a big boost to the farm system, all while replacing them with Jose Veras/Chris Resop and Ross Ohlendorf/Brad Lincoln and seeing very little drop off.
The idea of trading Hanrahan or Maholm is unpopular with the Pirates a game out of first place in the NL Central. However, they have a tough schedule at the end of the month, and if they struggle down that stretch (against teams like the Phillies and Cardinals), it would make a decision easier. I’m not saying the Pirates should be “sellers” with these two players, going with the intentions of dealing them no matter what. I’m just saying the Pirates should keep an open mind.
If the Rangers, for example, offer up top shortstop prospect Jurickson Profar in exchange for Hanrahan, the Pirates have to take it. Yes, Hanrahan is looking like one of the best closers in the league right now. But we’re only two years removed from a season where he was removed from the closer role twice. That same year, people complained when he was added in exchange for Sean Burnett. We’re less than six months removed from people having doubts about whether he can close at all. So the idea that Hanrahan will never blow a save, and will always be at this top value is just wrong. That rarely happens with closers, and Hanrahan has shown this in the past. Also, the idea that Jose Veras or Chris Resop can’t close is very similar to what we heard about Hanrahan before this season. We talk about the “ability to close”. How much of that is talent related, and how much of that is just code for “the fans aren’t comfortable with this guy until he becomes established”? Because I don’t think Hanrahan really changed his talent level from last year to this year, but we no longer hear the “ability to close” arguments against him.
As for Maholm, the same situation applies. If a team offers a massive overpayment, the Pirates need to take it. They have Brad Lincoln having success in AAA, and Ross Ohlendorf due to return from the disabled list in August. Either player could step in for Maholm and help the current team, while Maholm could help load up the farm system.
In either case, I’m not saying the Pirates should be “sellers”. They shouldn’t go with the intention of trading Hanrahan or Maholm regardless of the return. I’m just saying that the Pirates should have an open mind, and if they get a huge return for one of these two, they should take it. That doesn’t prevent them from adding pieces at the deadline, which means they could still improve the team, all while improving the farm system, at the same deadline.