After Jason Grilli was signed, we waited for the other shoe to drop with a Joel Hanrahan trade. Now that the Hanrahan trade is completed, we’re left waiting for another shoe to drop. One of the big returns in the deal was Jerry Sands, who joins a crowded corner outfield/first base situation. That crowded situation already has a lot of people speculating about the next move for the Pirates.
The Pirates don’t necessarily have to make a move. They can afford to keep everyone currently on the roster. There are no space issues since they’ve got options on enough players to keep everyone. But keeping everyone doesn’t make a lot of sense. First of all, we’ve already heard Garrett Jones trade rumors this off-season. Also, the Pirates acquired Clint Robinson and now Jerry Sands. Robinson was a minor move, and the cost to get him was small. He could have been added for depth, but I don’t think Sands was added to be a bench player or play in Triple-A.
Trading Jones wouldn’t be a bad move. If you look at his numbers in 2012, they’re an outlier compared to 2010 and 2011.
2010: .247/.306/.414, 21 HR, 654 PA, 11.2% HR/FB
2011: .243/.321/.433, 16 HR, 478 PA, 11.0% HR/FB
2012: .274/.317/.516, 27 HR, 515 PA, 17.1% HR/FB
The key difference is his increase in power. That came as a result of his increased HR/FB rate. He had a 21.2% rate in his breakout year in 2009, which mostly came from a monster month in July. I think it’s more likely that his 11% HR/FB ratio in the 1132 plate appearances in 2010-11 is what we can expect going forward. That means he’s probably going to be closer to 20 homers than 30, and closer to a .400 slugging than .500. This would be a good time to sell high on him, since ultimately he’s a platoon player and not a regular starter.
If Jones was dealt, it would open up the first base position. The current projection has Jones and Gaby Sanchez splitting time. Clint Robinson or Jerry Sands could replace Jones. Both have hit for a lot of power in their minor league careers, but haven’t had much time to break out in the majors. They’re in similar situations as Jones pre-2009. That doesn’t mean they’ll have the same results, but they’re both interesting options because of that power potential. Sands isn’t really a platoon player. He’s right handed and doesn’t have any platoon splits. He’d be more of a candidate for regular playing time, but that would leave Gaby Sanchez without a role.
I don’t see Sanchez being dealt, especially after they acquired him for a first round compensation pick. I don’t think Starling Marte or Travis Snider would be traded, since they’re both young with a lot of upside, and both look like the potential starters in the corner outfield spots. I could see Jose Tabata or Alex Presley being possibilities, although that might not be necessary. The Pirates could just option Presley to Triple-A and have Sands in the majors, splitting time with Snider, Marte, and Tabata until two players step up for regular playing time.
Sands, Presley, and Robinson all have options remaining, which is why the Pirates don’t have to make a trade. They also currently have a payroll of around $66.5 M after today’s trade and the eventual Francisco Liriano signing. That’s a payroll they can afford. There’s also the current roster situation.
The Pirates have question marks on their team, but they don’t really have a need that is unfilled. They don’t have a regular first baseman, but have a platoon of Jones and Sanchez, with Robinson and Sands as alternatives. They don’t have an established corner outfielder, but have Marte, Snider, Tabata, Presley, and Sands. They don’t have an established fifth starter, and there are question marks with Liriano, but they’ve got Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson, and a bunch of depth options like Vin Mazzaro. Plus, Charlie Morton should return by mid-season and Gerrit Cole is expected to arrive in the majors by that point.
They’ve got question marks, but they also have options for those question marks. Trading Jones would be smart in that in would be selling high on his value. It would also free up more payroll space, allowing the Pirates to make one more big move and provide a better guarantee to one of those question mark positions. The downside is that it would make first base an even bigger question mark. They’d be going with Robinson or Sands, who might be the next Jones, rather than Jones, who is already there.
It will be interesting to see what the Pirates do from here. They don’t have to trade Jones or anyone else. A trade of Jones could be good or bad, depending on the return, and especially depending on what they do with the money saved. I don’t think it’s as inevitable as a Hanrahan trade, but I’d be surprised if the Pirates kept Jones. I just can’t see them adding Clint Robinson and Jerry Sands via trade only to send both to Triple-A for the entire year. Add in the rumors we’ve already heard about Jones, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he was the next to go.
Links and Notes
**The 2013 Prospect Guide is now available. Order your copy today!