A Price the Pirates Can’t Afford to Pay

The Pirates can afford to give up money, but they can't afford to give up top prospects like Taillon.

You could easily make the case that Pittsburgh Pirates fans are obsessed with money.  Maybe not when it comes to their personal lives, but definitely when it comes to talking about moves the Pirates make.  Discussion of every move, whether it’s actual moves, or potential moves, comes down to money.  A big reason for this is because the Pirates are a small market team.  They can’t afford to spend like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, or even the Philadelphia Phillies and St. Louis Cardinals.  That’s not saying they can’t spend at all, but a lot of their spending has to be very calculated.

When it comes to the trade deadline this year, adding payroll isn’t as big of a deal for the Pirates as it is for other teams.  A look at the 40-man roster shows that the Pirates will have a projected year-end payroll of $46.4 M.  Even if they take on a big salary, such as a Carlos Pena, who is owed $6.5 M for the remainder of the year, they’ll end up at $53 M, which isn’t a huge amount.  That said, there is one price the Pirates can’t afford to pay on the trade market this year: their future.

Yesterday, the New York Mets traded Carlos Beltran to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler.  Wheeler is a a 6′ 3″, 180 pound right hander who throws in the 94-97 MPH range, and has the upside of a number one starter.  The 21 year old has dealt with some control issues this year in high-A, although he’s put up some dominant outings.  The Mets paid $4 M of Beltran’s salary to get a better return, and passed on deals where they could have gotten three prospects in order to get a guy with Wheeler’s upside.

To put that return in perspective, Wheeler falls in between Jameson Taillon and Luis Heredia.  He’s not as polished as Taillon, but he’s further along than Heredia.  Value wise, he falls closer to Heredia, as both are young pitchers who can throw in the mid-90s, with top of the rotation upside.  If the Pirates wanted to beat the Wheeler offer, it probably would have cost Taillon, or Heredia and a marginal prospect.  That’s a massive price for the Pirates to pay in order to get two months of Beltran, with no draft pick compensation coming in return.

The Pirates do have some prospects they can trade, but they can’t give up their top guys, especially not for a rental.  If they’re ever going to assemble a rotation with one or two true aces, those aces are going to come from within.  If they want above average position players under control for several years, those players are going to come from within.  The Pirates can’t afford to trade potential aces or potential above average position players for a short term solution.

I’ve said a lot in the last month that the Pirates should focus on trades where they can upgrade the team while giving up salary relief as the big return.  I’m not against them trading prospects in general, but I would rather see them making 3-for-1 deals, rather than one top guy being sent out for an upgrade.  Unfortunately, as we saw with the Mets, teams prefer one top guy to a package without that impact talent.  In some cases, it’s impossible to make a deal without including a top prospect.

This might limit what the Pirates can do in the short term, but dealing away top prospects can limit what the Pirates are capable of in the long term.  We’ve seen that it’s hard for fans to consider long term goals.  In 2008, there were some fans who wanted to trade for pitching in order to capitalize on the offensive production the Pirates were seeing.  Had the Pirates put short term goals ahead of long term goals, they would have had to trade Andrew McCutchen to get that pitching help, and they would have missed out on the chance to get Jose Tabata, Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens, and Daniel McCutchen in the Xavier Nady trade.

It’s easy to focus on the short term goals and say “let the long term sort itself out”, but that’s not a realistic option for professional teams.  If the Pirates want to compete in the long run, they can’t afford to be giving up a lot in prospects, in exchange for short term rentals.  That doesn’t mean they can’t make moves.  It just means they can’t make short sighted moves.

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/_J773D2N5D635MNWTX5VC3AKT6E Bill

    http://buccobillblog.blogspot.com/2011/07/in-neal-we-trust-breakdown-of-deadline.html

    If they had done Allie for Beltran (if Beltran would have let them), I’d have been OK with that. But certainly not Taillion

  • http://twitter.com/AvoidLloyd95 Mike Adamson

    Well I agree the price was to steep but the NL is getting better and the Pirates are staying the same. I’ve seen this before and the Pirates will end up with the guy leftover after every other team makes there play. We needed Pence… He was long term and if it cost Heredia and Marte then the Pirates needed to make it happen. The bottom line is a big bat would have us in 1st place. To many very good outings wasted this year.

    • http://twitter.com/cbar30 Corey Barcus

      Finally, someone that makes sense:)

  • http://twitter.com/KraigK KraigK

    Not for a rental, now talk Hunter Pence and things change.

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

    I agree about Beltran but with Upton we get him for another year and he hits for better power than Willingham with better upside in field and on bases.  I would give up Heredia and another minimal prospect for him.  

  • http://twitter.com/cbar30 Corey Barcus

    If not now, then when..Whats the use of having a #1 pitcher in 3 yrs on a last place team. We will just trade him before arb. or free agency anyway. At least make a run now, who gives a sh*t about three years from  now. Thats the problem with all the goofs on here. Its crazy, this team hasn’t won in 18 yrs and all they need is a couple power bats. It just sucks to lose 2-1, people are worried about a PROSPECT, that may never even be a BIG league pitcher. Just f-ing crazy how you people think. I hate being a Pirates FAN.

  • http://twitter.com/thecrow124 Bill Harvey

      While I agree for the most part, we have quality prospects we are going to lose after the season wether we want to or not. The time for playing for the future is over and it is time to play for now. I understand the want to maintain a championship franchise for years to come, but in every rebuild there comes a time to get over the hump.
      Anyone remember a few years ago when Lou Pinella pulled Zambrano after the 5th inning of game 3 of the NLDS so that he could have him pitch in game 5? Well, the Cubs ended up losing game 3 and never saw a game 5.
      Just because we have a good farm system, does not mean we will have the opportunity to win the Division again, it only increases the chances of it happening. We need to be p-laying for a WS Championship this year since we have the chance, not playing for a championship in 2014.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5DVAJ5QUBOUPCJTF73YPIKHRME Richard

    Could not disagree more. Tim Williams sounds like a Nutting/Huntington apologist. I heard they may be looking at Carlos Quinton. Asking price high but we never hear what exactly is supposed to be high. If Quinton is under control past this year then any 1 of our “elite” prospects except for Taillion and any other 3 players in the organization should be made available. That goes for Pence even more so since we know we have control over him for at least 2 more years. Nuttington, Coonley and Huntington have been blathering us with comments like “This team deserves some help” for a month and a half. Time to put up or shut up and cop to the fact youve been leading the fans, the players(who have worked their butts to the bone) and this town around with nothing but a way to get the fans to turn out, which we have to maximize their profits as they have done since they have been here. This team is in a position it hasnt been in 18 years and may not be for another 4or5. Keep your word Nutting, the players and the fans have done our part time to do yours. And if your not going to sell this team to someone who will. We all deserve that

  • Anonymous

    The team isn’t built to be a serious playoff contender this year.  Pence isn’t enough to get the Pirates into the playoffs.  They’d need Pence, Pena and Ludwick to have a real shot at staying afloat.  The Pirates should be sellers this year.    The Pirates have a surplus of 3rd outfielders, 4th Starters, and relief pitchers (and can obtain more in the off season)  all are going for premium prices for the next week.  If they can help the Pirates become more competitive next year it would be worth it.  Acquiring more minor league talent will put the team in better position to make deadline trades when the Pirates could actually benefit from the upgrades.

  • Anonymous

    The team isn’t built to be a serious playoff contender this year.  Pence isn’t enough to get the Pirates into the playoffs.  They’d need Pence, Pena and Ludwick to have a real shot at staying afloat.  The Pirates should be sellers this year.    The Pirates have a surplus of 3rd outfielders, 4th Starters, and relief pitchers (and can obtain more in the off season)  all are going for premium prices for the next week.  If they can help the Pirates become more competitive next year it would be worth it.  Acquiring more minor league talent will put the team in better position to make deadline trades when the Pirates could actually benefit from the upgrades.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with Tim. Trading high-value prospects for a rental player makes little sense for the Pirates. The 2011 ML team isn’t strong enough to make a World Series run. The minor league system is not deep enough that the Pirates could afford to trade any of its best prospects for a rental. Additionally, trading a top prospect for a Pence makes no sense because Pence is not that good that having a few years of him is worth an Allie and an additional player or two.

    This organization is building for the future — and rightly so. I want to see a World Series victory. The FO wants to win a World Series. The fans who can look more than a few weeks ahead want to win a World Series. It’s been 32 years. That’s already too long a time. Build for the World Series win. That won’t happen in 2011 no matter who the Pirates acquire in a trade.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5DVAJ5QUBOUPCJTF73YPIKHRME Richard

    Have any of you apologists ever even been to a game? Doesnt matter if they are built for a World Series win this year, they are winning. And for the fans who turn out every game, myself included, and the players, playing above their heads granted, deserve that the major league squad be given every opportunity to get there this year. Its well known that once you get into the playoffs all bets are off. I keep hearing from some of you guys and management especially that we should wait and build for the future. Is there any guarentee that if we do nothing or sell instead of buy that it will posatively produce a winner down the road? It doesnt and you know it. This may be the best chance we have at it for the next 4 or 5 years. Thats reality folks. We are not just all of a sudden going to start spending 70 or 80 mil a year on salary, not with this regime. They are all about maximizing their profits. I say go for it now, let the chips fall where they may. We can at least say we gave it our best shot. Guys like Cutch and Walker are not going to stick around here if they can see that when we have a shot they meaning management will not take a chance on getting us over the top. With the exeption of the Yankees, RedSox, Cubs etc, meaning big market teams who have the money and spend it and can be competative every year, this is the way a team like the Pirates are going to make it. Have a year like we are having, go all in, and show their own players they have enough faith in them to do what it takes to get the playoffs and let the chips fall where they may. Like I said once they get to playoffs anything goes. With this pitching staff pitching like they are, I like our chances in any series if they can get some help in the way of bats. Look at what this staff has done this year so far, 2 out of 3 against pwerhouses like Boston, Phils, Cards etc etc. They havent been overmatched against anybody except maybe the Brewers. Back to needing more help with hitting. Even this past 4 games they matched the Braves pitch for pitch against one of the best staffs in the league and if they had just a little more hitting could have swept that series. So in closing all you apologists who say we should be thinking about the future are one of a couple things, either not true fans who actually go to the park, two dont know crap about the sport or this town or are family memebers of Nutting,Coonley or Huntington, certainly not true fans.Embrace this team Pittsburgh! Because if management doesnt do something we may not be in this situation agaain for another 4 or 5 years. Stand up and yell” We are mad as hell and we are not going to take it anymore!” Nutting put up or shut up and sell this team to someone who will love it like I and real Pirates fans do!

  • Anonymous

    The Pirates can win the whole thing with what they have already, they still have not played to their abiities, some of their starting position players should improve as the year goes along. If a deal comes along that can help the team and is a smart deal, take it, but the idea that they can’t win with what they have in this organization right now is ludicrous, they have beaten the best pitchers in baseball and most of the best teams in baseball, they are not winning because they are a bunch of individuals, they are winning because they are a team of good players. If anything this team is not overachieving and not playing over their heads.