2011 Pittsburgh Pirates Trade Deadline Preview

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.

Overbay has left a huge hole at first base.

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.

Untouchable Prospects

Taillon is the most untouchable prospect in the system.

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

Should the Pirates trade Hanrahan?

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.

Tim Williams

Author: 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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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FBCJ7BVQU3BDSLYCXZSANPD2HI p

    “Snyder and Doumit are due back by sometime in August.”

    Snyder is due back in August?!?!?!?

    I don’t think that is accurate.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      What are you hearing on his return date?

  • Scott Feldman

    Amen brtoher, Unless the deals are just too good to pass up then they should add.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OGCKUSO5MA5VUCJHW2YSJ2K3TM Bob

    I don’t agree with trading Maholm or Hanny.  

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OZG2IYY4UIJEND5745XPPUOSHY steve-O K

    I agree.  Trade Hanrahan and Maholm or several others if the deal makes the system much stronger in the long run.  We even have room to include a couple prospects if it makes the deal go through and helps the 40 man roster.  As I said, getting Profar and Philly’s power 1st baseman Jon Singleton would do wonders to the state of the system.  Singleton is stuck behind Howard and did poorly in the outfield.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y3EUOKXMVTANQA5H4TJXS7DTI4 Gillis

    “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.”

    Walker is on pace to hit about .265 with around 85 runs, 15 HR, 30 doubles, and 110 RBI.  On top of that, he does his best hitting with runners on base (almost .330) and has been solid defensively (over .990 fielding percentage).

    For a second year second baseman, that’s a great (if not outstanding) season. I mean let’s get a little bit realistic about our expectations of players people!

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      He’s got a .727 OPS.  That’s down from an .811 OPS in 2010.  A week ago he was hovering around .700, which is usually the level that separates starters and bench players.  You look at his doubles and homers, and they’re both down from last year when you look at the frequency per at-bats.  It’s not really a great season.

      • Anonymous

        I only think that Walker has hit a bit of a wall…. not surprising as he is just ending 1 complete year. He also must be feeling the pressure of needing to carry the team offensively. Let’s take it easy here.

        • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

          That’s pretty much my stance.  I don’t know about “take it easy”.  I don’t think it’s wrong to point out that a player is struggling.  That’s not saying Walker will continue to struggle.  Just that he’s struggling in his first full season.

          • Anonymous

            Walker is still the 2nd best hitter on this team right now, its his sophomore year Tim, relax.

            • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

              Again, Walker is struggling. It’s his first full season. Struggles for young players are normal. I don’t think it’s a problem to point this out. It’s not a doom and gloom/the sky is falling approach. It’s just pointing out facts.

    • Anonymous

      Right now, Walker’s season is being saved by his RBI total, a number dependent on many factors outside of a players control.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QD47QKVHMIU6YFVA7RTXBGMTOI Anonymous

        What IS in Walker’s control is his bat.  He hits with men in scoring position.  Stuff the sabermetrics and go with results!

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_VYNUESFH4DDXX6L5W5ZXB5ZPVU PAPOSSE

      Your comments echo mine – Neil Walker is the best second baseman that we’ve had for awhile – Freddie Sanchez was a favorite of mine, but I think Walker can be better than him in a short period of time.  For his short time in the majors, he’s doing better than that of others in the same category.  On the other hand, Pedro Alvarez is a major bust – he can’t hit, his defense is below par and he seems like he’s disconnected at times.  We need a power hitting 3rd baseman now, not later.  Alex Presley is one of the best overall smart hitters for a young man that I’ve seen in this organization in light years – he’s a well grounded young man, smart, has good speed.  I think “The Fan” needs to rethink his comments.  Good post though.

  • John DiVito

    I may be in the supreme minority here, but we need to get  few clubs to buy high on Maholm and Hanrahan!  These guys are not elite players, yet they are playing like it. 

    Even if we are competing this year, our minor league system only has pitching prospects.  We can replace these guys with our minor league depth! 

    Name me one elite hitting prospect in our system…  exactly!  We need to add some bats to our lineup so that we can have a competitive order for years to come, not just McCutchen and a bunch of average guys.

    • http://twitter.com/foxsharky Luke

      Dislike

      • John DiVito

        Well, if Maholm has finally figured it out, then we should keep him… unfortunately that means 9+ million dollars next year and then he’s a free agent.  The Pirates are a small market team, we can’t keep players making 8 figures, especially ones who have a history of playing well and then regressing (like Maholm). 

        So, either we keep him for one more year and then lose him after next year for nothing, or we trade him now when we can get a top prospect in return.  Remember that coming into the year, we were trying to basically give him away but nobody would take him for a legitimate return.

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_J773D2N5D635MNWTX5VC3AKT6E Bill

          I believe there is room for one eight-figure player on this team, and it would be great if they began to lock up the centerfielder sooner rather than later.

    • Anonymous

      Hanny is not Elite??? His stuff blows away that Brian Wilson whos considered elite. Get a clue

  • Anonymous

    Everyone is in too much of a hurry.  While a good trade shouldn’t be passed up, neither should a trade be done in haste with low return.  I think the Pirates have a plan and sticking to it and I hope they contine to do so.  It’s coming, just don’t throw the baby out in the wash.

  • Anonymous

    14th in runs and we have only 2 position of High need, leftfield is a need, catcher is a high need not only this year but next. Also your list of untouchables is a little wierd, tony sanchez and mercer untouchable come on .

  • http://twitter.com/hoosierIUdaddy Chris O’Rorke

    The Pirates starting pitching is not good enough to compete if they want to be contenders. If ownership is committed to winning they should make a move for King Felix.

    King Felix

    _________

    Paul Maholm
    Jose Tabata
    James McDonald
    Jordy Mercer
    Brad Lincoln

    • Anonymous

      hahahaha

  • http://twitter.com/graddy49 Tom Grad

    Taillon, Heredia and Allie CANNOT be traded per the CBA. They all must
    be under contract for one year before they can be traded.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      Actually, they can.  The CBA says that a player can’t be traded until 1 year after they sign.  However, they could be traded as a PTBNL.  A PTBNL doesn’t have to be decided until, at most, six months after the trade.  Of course, a July 31st trade would only need a few weeks.

  • http://twitter.com/foxsharky Luke

    I wouldn’t consider D’Arnaud an untouchable and his defense particularly his throwing has not been good at all. I know he has at least 5 errors without looking it up maybe more. Overall he is an exiting kid to watch but I would trade him in a second if it means bringing a bat in.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      Three of his errors came at third base.  He’s only played about a weeks worth of games at shortstop.  It’s a small sample size, no matter what your opinion is.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      And the reason he’s untouchable is the same reason for Mercer: upper level shortstops are hard to find, and the Pirates have a long term need at the position.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_J773D2N5D635MNWTX5VC3AKT6E Bill

    It bothers me quite a bit when the catching is refered to “as a mess”
    The Pirates are 15-6 with McHenry behind the plate. Yes, it’s 21 games, but if that keeps up, I’m perfectly fine with him catching 85 percent of the games. His bat is getting better and the pitchers have done well with him back there. Why is the offense so overrated and the actual team record and pitching stats overlooked?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_LXEMOYIKRSIEL2VOXCV65IMZSE Joe Mcdaniel

    You are kidding me about Hanrahan…it is fair to be worried about a guy like Maholm because he has little talent and is doing it with smoke and mirrors. But Hanrahan is clearly one of the most talented relievers in the game. It was a surprise when he wasn’t dominating in the past because his stuff is so good. Ask opposing hitters about him–all say he is really tough to hit. I think this is a case of a young guy finally figuring it out. I know we aren’t used to that as Bucco fans, but it takes time and when it does happen you’ve got the player you hoped for. Hanrahan is that right now.

    Furthermore, Resop close? He barely has a breaking ball. And Veras does not have enough control to be trusted.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y3EUOKXMVTANQA5H4TJXS7DTI4 Gillis

      Maholm has a sub 3 ERA in 120+ IP. Thats too low an ERA in too many innings to say he’s doing it with smoke and mirrors. His career ERA is 4.31 in over 1100 IP. That’s pretty good a SP that could be just entering his prime (just turned 29.) Also, assuming he makes 10 more starts, this will be the 6th consecutive season where he has made at least 29 starts. Its very hard to find that kind of durability when it comes to starting pitchers. And if we chalk up last year as being a fluke (even Halladay had a season where his ERA was over 10), then Maholm is a good deal at $6 million. Is he worth $10 million next year? That’s a tougher question, but its probably worth seeing what he can do the next three months to find out.

      As for Hanrahan, I think the point was that closers are a bit more unpredictable. Even the closers that look dominant one year can completely disappear the next year. There’s only a hanful of guys over the past 10 years that have been dominant for more than a 3 or 4 year stretch. The list of closers that looked amazing and fell apart a year or two later is much longer. Look at the list of top closers 10 in 2009 (not even two seasons ago):

      1.) Fuentes (No longer closing)
      2.) Nathan (Injury – no longer closing)
      3.) Rivera (Still closing/dominant)
      4.) Bell (Still closing/good)
      5.) Cordero (Still closing/5 blown saves this year)
      6.) Franklin (No longer closing or even pitching)
      7.) Aardsma (Injury – no longer closing)
      8.) Papelbon (Still closing/3.93 ERA this year)
      9.) Wilson (Still closing)
      10.) Hoffman (Retired/Dominant Career) 
      11.) Rodney (No long closing)

      So, excluding Hoffman, of the top 10 from 2009,  5 are no longer closers, and only 3 (Rivera, Bell, Wilson) are as good as they were two years ago.

      On top of that, with the plethora of arms in the minors, you could argue that Hanrahan is more easily replaced long term than Maholm – it’s easier for a SP prospect to become a RP than vice versa.

      I like Hanrahan and it would hurt to see him get moved, but if you can find a long-term option at 1B for him, it would be tough to argue against it.

  • Anonymous

    Presley, should not be untouchable. Yea you don’t know what you got, but neither does the other team acquiring him. Thats the risk your willing to take. If you get a legit player starting option at RF, 1st Base, 3rd base or SS then you do it. Presley could be very valuable piece to a package.