The Pittsburgh Pirates are currently sitting at 41-39 on July 1st, a record that no one would have expected at the start of the season. The record has some questioning whether the Pirates should be buyers at the trade deadline this year. While I’ve remained cautious about labeling the Pirates as contenders, it’s hard to argue with the facts:
-They just finished a month of June where they went 16-11, while winning against Philadelphia, Boston, Toronto, and Arizona.
-They finished interleague play with an 8-7 record.
-They are currently 22-19 on the road.
-They are 16-10 against divisional opponents.
-They are two games out of first place in the NL Central.
To the first three points, the Pirates have struggled in the past on the road, during interleague play, and they’ve usually fallen apart around the month of June. This year they had a winning record in interleague play, they’re winning on the road (more than at home), and the month of June was their strongest month, despite the schedule looking like the toughest month of the year. They’re also beating divisional opponents, although they’ve lost to the Brewers in all five matchups, and they’ve only faced the Cardinals three times this year.
The month of July looks easier than June. The Pirates have four games against the Nationals (who are also having a surprising year, record-wise), followed by three games each against the Astros and Cubs to take them in to the All-Star break. After the break, they have three more against Houston, three against the Cincinnati Reds, then a tough stretch which features St. Louis, Atlanta, and Philadelphia.
If the Pirates can repeat their June success in the month of July, there would be little question on whether they should be buyers. The question then should be, how much should they spend? Do they trade some top prospects to add big name players? Or do they go for minor additions, saving the farm system? I say option C. They trade for big names that have high salaries, take on those salaries, thus allowing them to save their top prospects, all while upgrading the team.
Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors had a similar idea in his chat the other day. When asked in his live chat about whether the Pirates could add Carlos Beltran and Carlos Pena, Dierkes said:
If any team can tack on rental salary it’s got to be the Pirates. I imagine it would appeal to Huntington to make two huge additions like that and not affect the rebuilding plan. I have to admit getting both would really energize the fanbase even if they ultimately fell short.
That got me thinking, what would it cost to add Beltran and Pena? To answer that question, let’s go to the next installment of the Trade Values series.
NOTE: The purpose here isn’t to suggest the Pirates are pursuing these players. The purpose is to see the value of these players, using projected values (calculated as [(WAR*$5 M) - Salary]) and Victor Wang’s research on prospect values.
Here is Beltran’s trade value:
Explanation: Beltran is having a great season this year, and I currently project him for a 5.2 WAR, based on his current WAR doubled. His salary is tricky. It’s $18.5 M in 2011, although $5.5 M is deferred, so I’m not sure how that works. My guess is that a trading team assumes part of the $5.5 M, and makes the deferred payments. For now, I listed his salary without the deferred amount. He’s currently a Type B, according to the latest Elias projections, and he’s on the edge of Type A status. However, this is irrelevant and doesn’t add to his value, since his contract stipulates that he can’t be offered arbitration. All values assume he is traded on July 31st.
What He’s Worth: According to Victor Wang’s research, Beltran would be worth about two Grade C pitchers that are 22 or younger. You’re talking about two of the recent high school pitchers, such as a Zack Dodson, and maybe even a guy like Zack Von Rosenberg or Colton Cain. He’d also be worth one B-level prospect. Depending on how they’re ranked (and they’re all in down years, so the current ranking might not be this high), someone from the Rudy Owens/Jeff Locke/Bryan Morris/Justin Wilson group might get it done. If you pair one of them with a Zack Dodson type pitcher, you’ve most likely got your value.
My Opinion: Beltran would provide a huge boost to the lineup. He has a full no-trade clause, but has said he would waive the clause to join a contender. I’d imagine he would be in high demand, and even if the Pirates were contenders on July 31st, he’d probably opt for a team like the Yankees. It wouldn’t be hard for other teams to add him, as two C-level pitching prospects wouldn’t be hard to give up, especially for teams like the Yankees, who build through free agency. Beltran also has a history with the Pirates, making the comment in 2009 that the Mets should feel embarrassed to be swept by the Pirates, after a sweep occurred. That led to a feud with Adam LaRoche. Obviously this is a different team, but we have to consider that Beltran might not have the perception that the Pirates are legit.
As for the actual deal, if Beltran did want to come here, the Pirates could definitely pay the proper value without selling the farm. They wouldn’t lose any top guys like Jameson Taillon, Stetson Allie, Starling Marte, or Tony Sanchez. There’s always the risk that someone like Dodson or Von Rosenberg breaks out, which is a scary thought, especially when you’re adding a two month rental. If the Pirates have a strong month of July, similar to their month of June (and the July schedule looks easier), then the risk would be worth it, as there would be no debate at that point on whether the Pirates were contenders.
Next up, Carlos Pena…
Here is Pena’s trade value:
Explanation: Pena is making $10 M this year. He slumped early in the year, but had a .919 OPS in May, and a .924 OPS in June. Pena has never been a batting average guy, but he hits for power, and draws a lot of walks. I set his value at 2.5 WAR, which is pretty much double what he’s currently at. He’s currently a Type B, according to the latest Elias projections, although he’s on the edge of losing Type B status. Also, a raise over his $10 M salary might be a lot if he accepts arbitration, so it’s questionable on whether he should get the $2.5 M value that a Type B player gets. Let’s just say that $3.8 M is his max value, and leave the disclaimer that he might come cheaper. All values assume a trade on July 31st.
What He’s Worth: According to Victor Wang’s research, Pena would be worth a C-level pitcher that is 22 or younger, and a C-level pitcher that is 23 or older. If you take out his Type B status, you’re talking about a C-level pitcher that is 23 or older. Pena probably wouldn’t cost much, since he’d basically be a salary dump. He would cost next to nothing if his Type B status was removed, and when you consider that he’s at risk of losing that status, and he’s not really a guarantee to fetch compensation, it makes it easier to remove the extra value. This would be a good opportunity for the Pirates to deal a few of their fringe 2011 Rule 5 players, and basically upgrade the team by adding on salary. Or, they could deal a few recently added college level pitchers like Tyler Waldron (right) and Nate Baker.
My Opinion: I would go for it. I’m a fan of Pena. His low average doesn’t bother me, since his value is always going to be his power production, and that seems to be working in the last two months (.557 SLG in May/June). His trade return would almost be like what the Pirates received for Adam LaRoche in 2009, mostly because Pena is in a similar contract situation. He will be an upcoming free agent, and while he’s eligible for arbitration and compensation, his current contract is pretty much at maximum value. Any raise over that contract would make it hard for Pena to provide value in 2012, which is why arbitration isn’t a sure bet. The Pirates could upgrade first base, upgrade the middle of the lineup, take some pressure off the younger bats, and they really wouldn’t have to give up much to do it. The only question is, would the Cubs deal with the Pirates? Considering it’s a two month rental, and the Cubs aren’t contenders, I don’t see why not. It’s not like the Pirates haven’t been doing the opposite for years when the situations were reversed.
In either case, the Pirates could easily add a top hitter if they are willing to pick up some salary. As far as salary goes, the Pirates would be adding $3.3 M for the remainder of the season with Pena, and $4.29 M for the remainder of the year with Beltran. That’s $7.59 M total for two offensive upgrades that will only be with the team for two months each. I don’t think any increased ticket sales over the final two months would cover that amount, although that’s not to say that the Pirates can’t afford it. It’s just saying that the old argument of “the increase in ticket sales would pay for the move” wouldn’t work.
As for the finances, I currently have the Pirates projected for about $46 M on the 40-man roster and payroll page. Adding Pena and Beltran would take them up to $53-54 M, a figure which is definitely in their price range, especially if the team is competitive. If the Pirates could find a way to unload Lyle Overbay (who wouldn’t be needed if they added Pena), they could cut about $1.65 M off the total payroll. Matt Diaz would save about $659 K this year, so unloading him wouldn’t really make much of a difference.
Overall the Pirates could realistically add Pena and Beltran, while taking on $7.59 M in salary for the final two months of the season, and saving their top prospects. It might hurt to part with a guy like Zack Von Rosenberg, Colton Cain, or even Justin Wilson to get Beltran for two months, but if the Pirates are in position to compete at the time, it’s a move they definitely should consider. My preference would be Pena, who would cost much less, prospect-wise, and who would be a huge boost to the middle of the lineup.