Do the Pirates Need to Add at the Deadline?

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.

FIRST BASE

The Pirates could use an upgrade at first base.

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.

THIRD BASE

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.

OUTFIELD

Should the Pirates add an outfielder, or stick with guys like Tabata?

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.

BULLPEN

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.

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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  • Anonymous

    I think Pence is a good ballplayer, but I suspect the Astros think he’s great, and would expect the proverbial king’s ransom for him.  Even if the ‘Stros would trade him in division, I think they would expect a great deal more for him in return than he’s actually worth.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ELCL3KCDU5CL5W3ON2YPYKZJSA ScottT

      I agree the Astros would want plenty for him, but I think Pence is someone you put in RF for the next 6-7 years and get great production. He hits for average, drives in runs, hits for extra bases, runs well, and is a plus defender with a plus arm. I’m not saying the Pirates should, but why not trade for a guy with those skills? We’re all hoping some of our minor leaguers turn into this type of player so why not go get the proven player.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AGRPLJJRC5GNBYXDY6LHF2U6DU white angus

        you make a great argument.  well said.

  • Anonymous

    While I agree with your choice of only going after the big fish if a trade is made,  I believe your are wrong when you suggest that true contenders really don’t need to make a trade. Teams like the Yankees and RedSox annually fill in weak spots and the Phillies and Giants have solidified their roster the last few years withupgrades. The Brewers were stronger because of Sabathia and now Rodrigus, the Reds with Rolen, and the Cards with Holliday. The Bucs are doing well, but there is still glaring holes there.  A impact player in right, 3rd or at 1st gives the Bucs a chance.  Like I stated I agree with you that a top player is needed. That player is currently on a tear playing 3rd for the Cubbies. To win one must spend $’s. A trade with Ramirez can always be remedies by moving him in the off season and sending some millions to the receiving club.

  • Anonymous

    Great write up Tim. I couldn’t agree more. If they are going to make a move, pick up a real upgrade. For me it’s Beltran for the outfield. I’d love to have Pence, but it’s not happening. If they could get him without parting with a top prospect, that would work. Ramirez could work in theory, but of all the potential moves out there, has the most potential to blow up. I think you said it earlier Tim. The last thing we want to do is close the path back to the majors for Pedro. First base is a clear need, but Jones/Pearce isn’t awful, not the best solution, but not the worst. If they need a bullpen upgrade, bring up Bryan Morris.

  • Anonymous

     yes we need a true set up man, I watch the games and the team sometimes struggles to get the ball to hanrahan. resop is shakey on back to back nights and verres is not a “with a lead guy” .

    • Anonymous

      With the exception of the last 2 games, they’ve done well getting the ball to Hanrahan. The fact they have several guys they’re willing to throw out there in the 8th speaks volumes about the depth they currently possess. If they need more, I’d bring Morris up and Moskos back up before I make a deal. Not to mention, they still expect Meek back sometime in August.

    • David Lewis

      “Resop is shakey on back to back nights”

      Resop has pitched 12 games on days after he’s pitched the previous day.  He’s gone 11.1 innings and given up 4 runs for a 3.18 ERA (better than his season ERA of 3.40), given up 7 hits and 4 walks for a WHIP of 0.97 (season 1.228), and struck out 12 for a K/9 of 9.5 (not quite as good as his season average of 11.1, but pretty good).  He’s only allowed runs to score (his own or inherited runners) in three of those 12 games, including last night’s HR.

      “Verres (sic) is not a ‘with a lead guy’”

      Veras has entered games with the Pirates in the lead 30 times.  In 26 of those times, he left the game with the Pirates in the lead.  What more do you want??

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6EETLMCYZ754U2G7TFYJMCFPGU HankS

    From a Business stand point the Pirates Have to BUY, They see the seats getting filled and if they dont buy then all those new fans are going to say “same old Pirates”  and then they are gonna wear their dumb green shirts and do a walk out, so if thinking is like that then you have to buy.  But I like your other write up to where the Pirates can be buyers and sellers at the same time and I now agree its time to trade Paul, we dont want his 9.5 mill contract next yr.  Seems like the Pirates have a bunch of options the can do, I just want this deadline to be over with already!!!

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

      I disagree, if you’re a Pirates fan you already should know that this isn’t the same old Pirates.  They keep talking about Willingham and Conor Jackson and I don’t see this as an upgrade in any fashion. If they do get a real upgrade it might cost us the future and that cannot be risked at this point. 

      • http://twitter.com/Hammerin_Hank Hank Stull

        I do agree with what you said last.. I dont think we should give up to much for any of these deals.. Our system is just now getting good and I would hate to trade guys for a rental player

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

          Lol, my last name is Stull too, don’t see too many.

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6EETLMCYZ754U2G7TFYJMCFPGU HankS

            And spelled the same way to  def dont see that much

  • David Lewis

    I respectfully disagree.

    If the Pirates buy – anyone short of Carlos Beltran – and don’t keep winning, the fans are going to say “Same old Pirates” and go watch Steelers’ training camp.

    If the Pirates don’t buy and keep on winning, the fans will keep coming.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6EETLMCYZ754U2G7TFYJMCFPGU HankS

      Well I hope fans keep coming its great when its a packed house!!  I dont think its a big buyers market this yr and getting Beltran doesnt mean more wins and Pence would cost to much.  Im not sold on Pena either,  I like the Josh Willingham idea if we could move him to First..   Either way this is a huge huge week for the Pirates and I cant wait for the game tonight!!
      LGB

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AGRPLJJRC5GNBYXDY6LHF2U6DU white angus

        you, my friend, have my favorite post thus far…  i dont think Pena is the answer either, and i also dont think Jones is an upgrade on Overbay.  in fact, his numbers are going south while Overbay’s are slightly rising.  if willingham truly were an option, he could fit fine at 1B while we keep an outfield of tabata/cutch/presley.  that speedy outfield would cause serious issues for opposing teams.

        • http://twitter.com/Hammerin_Hank Hank Stull

          Well thank you,  The Tabata/ Cutch / Presley OF is what I was going for.  If Tabata starts performing like he did last yr we would have our top of the line up stacked with ppl that gets on base and with speed

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

     Pearce > Willingham, Conor Jackson, Overbay

  • Anonymous

    How much do you think it would take to get Chris Davis from Texas or (hold your nose) Ty Wiggington from Colorado?

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

      Davis wanted to be traded from Texas back in March. Basically he told the team “play me or trade me.” He doesn’t seem to fit into Texas’ long term plans and Texas is loaded with bats – both in the majors and in the minors, so they should be looking to move him.

      At one point in his most recent Triple A stint he had 20 HR in 150 AB. That’s madness. Yes, I know its the minors, but still impressive. Factor in a short rightfield in PNC and he could be a great piece (both this year and long-term) for the Bucs.

      But to answer your question, “how much would it take to get him?”, I don’t know the answer, but I am eager to find out!

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

      Wigginton…really?  He’s about as worthless as Willingham.  Only upside to wiggy is that he could play mulitple positions, about the same hitter though.  

      • Anonymous

        .245 average with 22 home runs vs Wood and Harrison combined. Wiggington is an upgrade who can play first and third from the right side of the plate.

      • Anonymous

        .245 average with 22 home runs vs Wood and Harrison combined. Wiggington is an upgrade who can play first and third from the right side of the plate.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3G6S3MLR7RKSHPBY62TA5KKR4A michael

    Tim; you summed up the Buc’s situation very nicely.  I’m not big on picking up Pena; he would be an upgrade but not by enough to merit the move.  I’d love Aramis back but it mucks up Pedro’s situation, plus ARam gets hurt a lot so it’s risky.  A younger Beltran might be worth going after, but not the one the Mets have now.  And the bullpen is fine, but would be nice if Meek pitches again this season.   I think a healthy Pearce can add a lot.

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

    While I agree that the bullpen has done better than many people imply, I think there is a concern that Veras/Resop/Hanrahan are ‘overworked’:

    Resop has pitched 46 games/42.1 innings.
    Veras has pitched 47 games/42.1 innings.
    Hanrahan has pitched 41 games/41.2 innings.

    Hanrahan may be alright, but Resop and Veras have never pitched this much in the majors. If the Pirates keep competing, its going to likely be a lot of close games. Plus, the last thing you want going into the playoffs is a bullpen full of tired arms.

    I agree it would be too expensive to add Bell or a big name guy, but I think it would be good to add one or two veteran arms to give Resop and Veras more space in between appearances. And from what I have read, the reliever market is a buyer’s market this year, so they should be able to add depth for when the rosters expand pretty easily. (Off the top of my head, the Marlins and A’s have nice bullpen pieces and they should both be sellers.)

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/DZTPQRGTPEAWJ3G4S5PLNIQ6AY Jacob J

    Addition of Hunter Pence is equal to or even better than the addition of Andy Van Slyke was to the pre 1990-92 Pirates.
     
    They have no player in the minors who could equal the overall play of  Hunter Pence, even in 3 years. How can anyone see getting Pence as mortgaging the future? Getting and keeping Pence would GUARANTEE a future.

  • Anonymous

    Tim ~ Your point is quite insightful; the Bucs are in 1st  today, so isn’t the team already prepared to contend?  Well, of course, YES it is.  Last nite’s game is a classic example.  A back end starter, Chrlie Morton, no. 4 on our depth chart, pitched against the number 1 offense in the league.  He and three relievers threw a shutout.  We scored all of two runs.  But it was enough, as has been the case all season long while winning series against the Phillies, D-backs, Red Sox, Tigers, et al.  Good pitching will beat a good offense; even the best offense in the league.