Why A Trade Isn’t Likely at This Point in the Season

The Pittsburgh Pirates need offensive help. Their offense is the worst in the majors. I could go in to detail with talk of how they’re on pace for a record low in runs, how they have the most strikeouts of any team, and so on. But I’ll keep it simple and just say that the offense has been very bad.

The immediate reaction in this type of situation is always going to be a call for a change. That call is usually going to be for a trade. Unfortunately, just saying “make a trade” ignores the reality that trades don’t usually take place in baseball at this point in the season. In the last two years there have been three in-season major league trades that took place before the month of June. Those deals saw Fred Lewis, David Purcey, and Scott Sizemore traded, as well as a deal involving Rule 5 pick Brad Emaus.

This year there have been three trades made. One of them sent Josh Bell to Arizona (the other Josh Bell). Bell has yet to play a game in the majors this year. The second trade was a swap of Marlon Byrd for Michael Bowden and a player to be named later. Since the move, Byrd has put up a .618 OPS with the Red Sox. Sadly, that number probably looks good to Pirates fans right now, but it’s not going to solve any problems. The third trade sent reliever Ernesto Frieri to the Angels for two of the 20-30 ranked prospects in the Los Angeles system.

You can extend this discussion throughout the month of June, and you’re not going to see any changes. For some reason the magic date seems to be the end of June.

Last year, the trades I mentioned above were the only in-season trades before June 30th. On the 30th, the Rockies acquired Mark Ellis from Oakland. The next trade for a bat came on July 19th, when the Giants added Jeff Keppinger, then July 20th, when Detroit added Wilson Betemit.

In 2010 the most notable trade prior to June 30th came on June 26th, when the Mariners added Russell Branyan. Branyan hit for an .802 OPS with Seattle. There were no trades on June 30th, but the Rangers added Bengie Molina on July 1st.

In 2009 there was one notable trade that was made before the end of June, and that was the Nate McLouth trade. Prior to that move, the only major league deals included Ramon Castro, Lance Broadway, Jody Gerut, Tony Gwynn Jr., and Delwyn Young. After that move, the Cardinals acquired Mark DeRosa on the 27th of June, and then the Pirates traded Eric Hinske to the Yankees on the 29th, and made the Lastings Milledge/Joel Hanrahan for Nyjer Morgan/Sean Burnett swap on the 30th.

It’s not realistic to expect a trade at this point in the season. We’ve seen the results of the one major trade that took place before the end of June. The Braves paid a big return for Nate McLouth. McLouth was good for them that year, but to get him that early they dealt Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke, and Gorkys Hernandez. Forget about what those guys are doing now, McLouth included. A few months before the deal, Atlanta refused to trade a package containing those guys in a deal for Jake Peavy, who was coming off a year where he had a 2.85 ERA in 173.2 innings, and was a year removed from a Cy Young award. A few months later, the Braves dealt those guys for Nate McLouth.

Here is the reality of the situation. Trades aren’t made at this time of the year. In the rare case that trades are made, you have to give up a pretty big return, arguably bigger than you’d be giving up a month later. And too often, trade ideas are viewed in a way that ignores the fact that there’s other teams out there looking for help.

The Pirates have a bad offense, but so do the Oakland Athletics. Oakland is 21-21, five games out of first, and two games out of a wild card spot. Their team average is a point lower than the Pirates, and their OPS is only 20 points higher. There’s Seattle — four and a half games out of a wild card spot, with the 27th ranked OPS. There’s Miami — actually tied for a wild card spot and holding the 26th best OPS. And it’s not like teams with good offenses won’t be looking for players. Jerry Crasnick noted that the Indians and Phillies have been scouting Kevin Youkilis, who could be dealt from Boston this year due to his struggles and the emergence of Will Middlebrooks. Cleveland and Philadelphia have the 13th and 18th best OPS’ in the league, respectively.

That’s why early trades cost so much. If there is a player that becomes available, it’s not like the only option is the Pirates. This isn’t a video game where you pull up the other team on the screen, grab the player you want, then either figure out the combination of players that will get a deal done, or switch on “force trades” and give up the struggling Clint Barmes, an un-needed relief pitcher, and one of Rudy Owens, Jeff Locke or Justin Wilson, all while getting an impact player in return. In real life you’ve got a lot of teams looking for offense. And if there is a seller this early in the season, they’re probably not looking at the situation with the same “MAKE A TRADE NOW!” urgency that Pirates fans have.

The important thing to consider is that trades are a two way street. When it comes to discussing trades, no one considers this. No one considers that teams don’t typically make big trades this early in the season. No one considers that, even though a struggling team has a valuable player, they might not be looking to deal that valuable player. As an example, even though the Twins are 14-27 right now, and have Josh Willingham making $21 M over three years, that doesn’t mean they’re looking to deal Willingham just because he would be an upgrade for the Pirates.

When it comes to trades, everyone turns in to Donald Trump. Ignore any legit reasons why a trade can’t be made, and just slam the table and demand that a move be made now. The reality of the situation is that trades aren’t likely to take place at this point in the season. If the Pirates want an upgrade, that upgrade is going to have to come from within, or it is going to have to come through a minor move, such as the addition of a Triple-A player in another organization. Once late-June and July roll around, we can start discussing trades. Until then, trades just aren’t likely.

Tomorrow I’ll take a look at who can help the Pirates from within the system.

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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, 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.

Weekly Prospects Chat Transcript 5/21

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  • Andrew Smalley

    Good article, Tim. Your analogy of Trump banging the table (re: throwing a tantrum) is appropriate for the article that Dejan Kovacevic wrote this morning. He was ranting, throwing a tantrum, and completely divorced from reality. For someone who Pirates fans look at as ‘reasonable’ – at least in comparison to Smizik, Collier, and Cook – he sure didn’t sound reasonable this morning.

    We’re in a bad spot, offensively. No doubt. But, if we act out of desperation to attempt to cure that position (ie: trade some young stud pitchers), we could also destroy our future starting rotation. Despite Dejan’s complaints and beliefs, we don’t have nearly the quality of depth that he seems to think we do at the Major League level or AAA.

    • Tim Williams

      That wasn’t really aimed at Dejan’s article, since I didn’t read the article. That’s just my perception of the general attitude. I have a constant search on Twitter for “Pirates trade”. Occasionally it brings up news from other team’s beat writers, before the Pirates announce a move. But for the most part it’s fans demanding a trade.

      • Andrew Smalley

        Understood. I didn’t say you were aiming it at his article, I was simply saying that it could be aimed at his article.

        I expect frustrated fans to call for trades w/o any basis in the feasibility or likelihood of it happening. I don’t expect journalists to do the same.

  • David Flaherty

    Alas, although I usually enjoy the “calm down” perspective, I couldn’t disagree more. Certainly, no one knows what other GMs might offer, and maybe it’s true that Huntington has no good options. But you picked rather selectively by only considering the last three years of trades. In 2006, for example, the Rangers traded Phil Nevin to the Cubs for Jerry Hairston. It was a change-of-scenery kind of trade, and Nevin ended up with an OPS of .832 with Chicago.

    But rather than cherry pick other examples from ten years ago, I would even look at your own examples. Trading for someone like Gwynn, Jr., even, would markedly help the Pirates’ cause at this point. When your carrying dead weight at the back end of the roster, even minor upgrades like that are worthwhile. Taking a flyer on a down-on-his-luck prospect, while only spending the equivalent of Jody Gerut (maybe Juan Cruz? Gorkys Hernandez?) hardly seems like an “unreasonable” proposition, to quote Andrew’s comment from earlier.

    • Tim Williams

      I could continue and point out the trades every year. But it would be the same. There might be the occasional exception. I think if you have to go back to 2006 for a good example, then that further proves the point about how trades are rare this early in the season.

      As for Gwynn, that doesn’t really say a lot. He’s a career .648 OPS guy. The current team’s performance shouldn’t be the barometer of a trade. That’s a pretty low bar. You can get a guy like Gwynn from the minors for nothing.

      • Richard Ya’Zhynka

        Gwynn’s lowly .648 OPS would be a Herculean upgrade over McLouth’s catastrophic .392.

        • Tim Williams

          Agree. But you don’t need to make a trade for that kind of production.

  • Richard Ya’Zhynka

    They don’t need to trade for a Kevin Youkilis type of hitter. Quad-A players like Jake Fox and Jeff Larish (or similar players in other organizations) have a legitimate shot at being a big upgrade over what has been provided by Nate McLouth and Casey McGehee.
    Wasn’t Drew Sutton worth a try over Yamaico Navarro?

  • ecbucs

    my biggest problem with the offense is that this isn’t really a worst case scenario. The odds of the teams offense being bad were pretty high going into spring training. NH had to know that (or he is incompetent). There were a ton of question marks on offense coming into the season and so far none have been answered positively.

    To me this is the biggest indictment of NH as gm. He did make a move to trade Pounders in off season but apparently for a player that is considered a utility type player and who the team is not willing to try at short. That is a pretty much of a failure of a deal. McGehee was a gamble, the Brewers could have used a bat but valued Veres more for the same money. So NN didn’t really do much to help the offense other than to hope that those on the team would improve and that maybe a retread could have a bounceback year (that is wishful thinking and I’m glad my stockbroker isn’t NH)

  • Randy Linville

    Agreed that trades of significance – especially recently – rarely happen this early in the season. But if the Pirates front office believes that this team can contend this year with some offensive help, then they simply can’t sit back and say, ‘we won’t pursue a trade because trades don’t happen this early in the year.’ That would be unacceptable. If they look for some trade partners but don’t find anything worth pursuing (due to having to overpay or they are underwhelmed by what is available) then that is a different story.

    If they think this team can contend with the current offense, well, that too is a different story.

    • Tim Williams

      I don’t think the Pirates are sitting back and saying this. I’m only saying this to point out why you shouldn’t expect a deal to be made this early. The Pirates should definitely try. But it would be understandable if they don’t make a move.

      There are moves they CAN make right now, and they should. That’s tomorrow’s article.

      • Randy Linville

        Looking forward to tomorrow’s post.

  • Luke

    Its always a bad thing when the incompetent Huntington tries to wheel and deal. Bautista for Robinson Diaz. Who could forget future HOFers Brandon Moss & Andy LaRoche. Out of all the trading we only have 3 productive players, 4 if you count Tabata, which I don’t.

  • Kevin_Creagh

    The Twins are on the brink of having an epically bad season, it appears. Looks like they do this full-scale flush once every 10 years, so last year was the start.
    They released Marquis, demoted Liriano to the bullpen, and have 4 (4!) pitchers with ERA’s over 8.37.
    They should be looking to trade Josh Willingham (3 year – $21M) for any cost-controlled pitcher with upside immediately. What team has a lot of young cost-controlled arms that floating around AAA?

  • John Lease

    It should have come as no surprise. If it did, he’s not doing his job. There are guys out there who can be picked up for cash. The only indefensible option is bringing up Gorkys Hernandez. He can’t hit in AAA, he’s not going to hit in the majors.

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