I’ve always loved the trade deadline. If you enjoy the business side of the game, then the trade deadline is for you, with the winter meetings a close second. The amount of news that comes out that day is huge, and the amount of speculation and build up leading to that date is pure entertainment. Despite the fact that the MLB trade deadline is one of my favorite events in sports, there’s one thing that has always confused me about the approach teams take. Around the trade deadline, you usually get contenders who “need” to make a move.
This has always been confusing. Why do contenders “need” to make moves? If the team is winning already, why do they need to add an upgrade? Upgrades can’t hurt, and I don’t think there’s a team in the majors that can’t use an upgrade somewhere. But if a team is already contending with their current roster, wouldn’t an upgrade be more of a “luxury” rather than a “need”?
The Pittsburgh Pirates haven’t been in this situation much over the last several years, but now they find themselves contending for first place in the NL Central, in what is looking like a three team race with St. Louis and Milwaukee, with Cincinnati currently 3.5 games back, and a game below .500. Since they’re contending, they’re faced with the situation that most contenders run in to: the “need” to add pieces at the deadline.
In the Pirates case, there are some definite holes. I detailed the team needs in my trade deadline preview last week. There is a sentiment that the Pirates “need” to make a big splash at the deadline, and add an impact player. Part of that comes from comments that the team has put out, saying they can take on salary. Part of that comes from the fact that the team has lost for so long, meaning that people are expecting them to play by different rules than other contenders, and take full advantage of this opportunity, like there won’t ever be another one.
This has me thinking about the issue that has always confused me at the trade deadline. If a team “needs” to make a big splash at the trade deadline, are they really contenders? The Pirates are currently competing for first place, sitting at half a game back in the standings. Obviously a big acquisition would help any team, and if you’ve followed the site, you know that I’ve pointed out several guys the Pirates could add. But the idea that they “need” to make a big move suggests that the current performance is a fluke that can’t be sustained (and we’ll find out more about that over the next two weeks).
The situation got me thinking: do the Pirates need to make a move? I decided to look at four of the biggest needs on the team: first base, third base, outfield, and relief pitching (I don’t really think relief pitching is a need, but there’s certainly an outcry for an 8th inning reliever, and apparently that feeling also exists in the organization). Note that I left out the catching and shortstop positions due to the eventual returns of Ronny Cedeno and Chris Snyder/Ryan Doumit, combined with the good performances of their replacements in their absence.
The Need - Lyle Overbay is hitting for a .241/.312/.365 line this year. It’s worth noting that he’s on a good run over the last two weeks, going 14-for-38. However, most of those hits have been singles, and two weeks doesn’t really counter the first three months of the season. There’s also the talk going around that Overbay is a second half player. In his career, he has an OPS of .807 in the first half, and .780 in the second half. His second half numbers have been better the last three years, but nothing extreme like Adam LaRoche, and they’re not to the point where the Pirates couldn’t find an upgrade.
The Big Move - Carlos Pena could be acquired simply by taking on the rest of his salary. He’s got a .237/.345/.522 line since the start of May, with 19 homers in 232 at-bats. He strikes out a lot, but he gets his value from power and walks. The big knock against him is that he struggles against left handers, although he dominates right handers, and would provide an upgrade from Overbay.
Analysis - Pena isn’t the best first baseman ever, but he could be had simply by adding payroll, and he’s a clear upgrade. Another thing I find interesting about the deadline is the idea that if a guy isn’t a star, the team shouldn’t add him. I say, if the player is an upgrade, you consider the move. But the Pirates have an interesting situation here. They’ve got a lot of first base options, with Matt Hague and John Bowker having success in AAA, and Steve Pearce having a lot of success on a rehab appearance. Garrett Jones is also an option, and while his defense has struggled at first base, Overbay’s defense hasn’t been enough to see a big downgrade if a switch was made. You could make an argument that the Pirates would be better off with some sort of platoon of their internal options, such as Pearce and Jones.
The Need - Pedro Alvarez has struggled this year, including during his rehab assignment after going down with a quad injury. There’s no guarantee that he returns this year, unless he can turn his numbers around at the AAA level.
The Big Move - Aramis Ramirez would be the big name here, although that comes with two issues. First, Ramirez has a no-trade clause, so no deal is guaranteed. Second, Ramirez is owed a ton of money, especially if his 2012 option for $16 M is picked up. The Pirates could afford his option, but they wouldn’t be able to afford Paul Maholm, and they might have to make some minor cuts and adjustments.
Analysis - The current third base options are Brandon Wood and Josh Harrison. Each player looks more like a bench option, rather than a starter. But potentially spending $21 M on Ramirez over the next two years might be too much for an upgrade, especially if Pedro Alvarez can return. Unless other options hit the market, the Pirates could be looking at a choice between two below-average starting options, or spending a ton of money on a guaranteed upgrade.
The Need - Garrett Jones and Matt Diaz have struggled in their platoon, and are risks to lose playing time completely when Jose Tabata returns. Tabata hasn’t been the most consistent performer this year, with a .705 OPS. With the emergence of Alex Presley, there’s not much of a need for an outfielder, depending on how you feel about Tabata going forward, and how comfortable you are going with an unproven player like Presley.
The Big Move - Carlos Beltran could be had for very little if the Mets decide they don’t care about prospects, and just want to cut payroll. We’ve heard the Pirates linked to Josh Willingham and Conor Jackson, although either player seems more like a bench option than an upgrade to the starting trio. Beltran seems to be the only upgrade that is available, when you consider the potential of Tabata, and the performance of Presley.
Analysis - If the Pirates could get Beltran, I would be fine with having Tabata and Presley split time. That would really strengthen the bench, and Beltran would provide a huge boost to the outfield. Anyone outside of Beltran, and the Pirates would be better off going with Presley and Tabata. The exception would be a guy like Hunter Pence or Andre Ethier. We heard today that the Pirates have looked at Pence, although that doesn’t guarantee the Astros would deal him, especially in the division. The same goes for Ethier. We haven’t heard whether the Pirates are interested, or whether the Dodgers will deal him, which makes it more of a Pirates fan wish list.
The Need - There really isn’t a need here. People are calling for an 8th inning option after the struggles from Jose Veras the last two games. That’s just overlooking the fact that Veras, and Chris Resop, have provided the Pirates with some great work this year in the 8th inning. Consider the following:
To those who feel that Veras is a roller coaster ride who gives up walks and hits in every outing: Veras has put runners on in just 25/47 outings (53.2%) this year. By comparison, Joel Hanrahan has put runners on in 23/41 outings (56.1%) this year.
If you feel the above doesn’t matter because Hanrahan gets out of jams with his strikeouts: Hanrahan has 37 strikeouts in 41.2 innings this year. Veras has 44 in 42.1 innings.
If you’re still unconvinced about Veras: Consider this from Cory at Three Rivers Burgh Blog: Veras is second on the team in WHIP, has only allowed five of 27 inherited runners to score, and has only allowed a run in 10 of 47 appearances.
I’m in no way saying that Veras is better than Hanrahan. I’m just pointing out that he’s good, and that he’s been good the entire year. In fact, all of this talk about how Clint Hurdle showed he needs bullpen help by going to his closer in the eighth inning just shows how good Veras and Resop have been. The fact that Hanrahan hasn’t been needed for a multi-inning save since April 17th shows that the 8th inning has been strong.
The Big Move - The big splash would be a guy like Heath Bell. The Padres are shopping him, and he holds about $6 M in value for the remainder of the year, mostly due to his Type A status, which would fetch two compensation picks at the end of the year. The return for Bell would have to be someone like Starling Marte.
Analysis - Bell would be an obvious upgrade, but I’m not sure I give up a top prospect to land him, especially when Veras and Resop have been doing well this year in the eighth inning. I would much rather use those trade pieces on position players, rather than an 8th inning upgrade over two pitchers who have been good so far in the eighth inning.
Do the Pirates Need to Make a Move?
The Pirates could definitely use a move, but only a big move, and ideally something that upgrades the offense. They could land guys like Carlos Pena, Aramis Ramirez, or Carlos Beltran for a discounted price just by taking on salary. They could add more of a long term upgrade, like Hunter Pence, although that would cost a lot in prospects.
Something like a bullpen addition would seem unnecessary. The bullpen has gotten the Pirates to this point so far. Any upgrades would be more in the “luxury” category, rather than qualifying as a “need”. The same could be said of bench options, especially with guys like Steve Pearce, Jose Tabata, and Ronny Cedeno returning, which should only strengthen the bench by potentially adding Garrett Jones, Pearce, and Chase d’Arnaud to the mix.
Again, the idea that contending teams “need” to make a move at the deadline is a bit of a conflicting idea. If the team really is a contender, then a move wouldn’t be a “need”, it would be a “luxury”. That’s not saying that the Pirates don’t have an upgrade that they can make. It’s just saying that right now, the current team is contending. Suggesting that they need to make a move to continue contending is saying that the current team is more of a fluke. If we’re saying that, then how much should the Pirates spend on a move? Should they sell the farm to support a team that might not be the real deal? Or should they play it safe, keep their prospects, and only go after moves where the big return would be payroll space? Personally I would go for the latter, but only for big guys like Pena, Ramirez, and Beltran. Guys like Willingham, Jackson, or bullpen help wouldn’t really provide much of an upgrade over what the Pirates have internally.