First Pitch: Some Poor Roster Management by the Pirates

In minor news today, the Pirates lost Zach Stewart through waivers to the Chicago White Sox. It was the second time this off-season that the Pirates completed a string of moves where they traded down from a prospect and eventually arrived at next to nothing in value. In this series of moves they dealt Kyle Kaminska for Stewart, then lost Stewart for nothing, essentially giving Kaminska away for nothing. Earlier this off-season they dealt Yamaico Navarro for Jhondaniel Medina, who has a cool double first name, but isn’t much of a prospect. That came one year after acquiring Navarro for Brooks Pounders, who wasn’t a top prospect, but was a prospect.

The move today got me thinking about these two decisions, and what it means for the Pirates in the long-term. Neither of these moves are franchise destroying. Odds are that none of the players involved here really make any kind of impact. But I’m not looking at this in a hyperbolic “it’s the worst move in the world and the Pirates will regret it forever” way. I think you can point out something that’s wrong, even if it might not have huge implications, just like you could point out a minor positive without suggesting the Pirates were going to the World Series as a result.

So here is a breakdown of the two strings of moves, followed by why I think the Pirates are taking a bad strategy here, which could eventually hurt them.

From Gorkys Hernandez and a Compensation Pick to Gaby Sanchez and Nothing

The Pirates eventually got nothing in return for Kyle Kaminska. Image Credit: Bradenton Marauders.

The Pirates eventually got nothing in return for Kyle Kaminska. Image Credit: Bradenton Marauders.

The Pirates traded a compensation pick and Gorkys Hernandez to the Florida Marlins at the trade deadline for Gaby Sanchez and Kyle Kaminska. At the time of the deal, the move was questionable. The Pirates just received the compensation pick, and giving it up for a platoon player who was under control for 3.5 years and was in the middle of a down year didn’t seem smart. Considering they took Wyatt Mathisen and Barrett Barnes with picks that were lower than the current compensation pick, it seemed like they were selling the pick value at a low price.

Coming over in the deal was Kyle Kaminska, who didn’t look like he was bringing any value. The 23-year-old right-hander had a 5.11 ERA in 49.1 innings in Double-A, with a 7.7 K/9 and a 1.6 BB/9 ratio. The Pirates immediately made a change in his mechanics, moved him down to high-A, put him in the rotation, and the results improved. He had a 1.69 ERA in 16 innings in Bradenton, with an 11:2 K/BB ratio. He had a 3.00 ERA in 12 innings in Altoona, with an 11:0 K/BB ratio. The Pirates sent him to the AFL, where he had a 1.61 ERA and a 21:4 K/BB ratio in 28 innings.

After all of that work, the Pirates left Kaminska un-exposed in the Rule 5 draft. He wasn’t selected, but shortly after was sent to Boston to complete an earlier trade for Zach Stewart. Last week the Pirates designated Stewart for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster. Today Stewart was claimed by the Chicago White Sox.

From Brooks Pounders to Jhondaniel Medina

Pounders was drafted in the second round of the 2009 draft. He was one of many prep pitchers taken in the draft, although he wasn’t over-slot like Zack Von Rosenberg or Colton Cain. In 2011, Pounders posted a 3.68 ERA in 66 innings in low-A. He paired that with a 9.8 K/9, a 1.9 BB/9, and a 1.2 HR/9 ratio. He also saw a velocity increase, throwing consistently in the low-to-mid 90s.

The Pirates traded Pounders last off-season to the Kansas City Royals for Yamaico Navarro. Pounders repeated low-A with Kansas City, moving to the rotation this time. He put up strong numbers, then was promoted to high-A, where he had a 4.32 ERA in 83.1 innings, along with an 8.1 K/9 and a 2.7 BB/9.

Meanwhile, Navarro hit for a .279/.366/.491 line in Indianapolis, which was consistent with his Triple-A numbers from the past. He only received 50 at-bats in the majors, and hit for a .160/.232/.220 line. The Pirates traded him over the off-season to the Orioles for Jhondaniel Medina.

Medina is coming off a year where he had a 3.72 ERA in 46 innings in the GCL at the age of 19. He had a 9.2 K/9 and a 3.3 BB/9. He only throws 88-91 MPH with a below average slider and an inconsistent changeup which can be above-average at times. He’s also on the small side, at 5′ 11″, 158 pounds.

To sum it up, the Pirates traded Pounders, who was looking like one of the better prep pitchers from a performance standpoint in West Virginia during the 2011 season. They got Navarro, who obviously is highly regarded since about 20 teams have traded for him thus far. But they only gave Navarro 50 at-bats before deciding to part ways with him, and in return they got someone who doesn’t really look like a prospect. At best, Medina jumps to West Virginia next year at the age of 20 and puts up the numbers that Pounders put up at the same level and at the same age in 2011. Even then Pounders has the advantage in size and stuff.

Other Situations to Watch

**The Pirates traded Luis Santos and Luis Rico to Kansas City for Vin Mazzaro and Clint Robinson. Santos is a hard thrower, throwing 94 MPH during instructs. Both pitchers are making the jump from the DSL this year, and profile as relievers, so neither are in Pounders territory. Mazzaro provides the Pirates with some depth, and Robinson has a Garrett Jones feel to him, as he’s always hit for power but has also been blocked at the major league level. I don’t envision the Pirates regretting this trade, although it will be interesting to see how much of a chance Mazzaro and Robinson get.

**Jeanmar Gomez was acquired by the Pirates recently for Quincy Latimore. Latimore doesn’t have much of a chance of cracking the majors with his plate patience issues, while Gomez is more of a 5th/6th starter. I can’t see this situation turning out poorly, even if Gomez eventually leaves. That said, I don’t think I’d pick Gomez over Stewart, which is what the Pirates did when they DFAd Stewart.

The Conclusion

Ultimately we’re not talking about top prospects here. Brooks Pounders was around the mid-30s when he was dealt. He’d probably be higher than that if he would have stayed and put up the numbers he put up in high-A with the Pirates. Kaminska didn’t look like a prospect at all when acquired, but his numbers after the adjustments, and the AFL success put him as a fringe prospect. He would have been around the 40 range in the Prospect Guide if he wasn’t dealt.

Neither prospect is irreplaceable, so this isn’t the biggest issue in the world. However, this does bring up an issue of managing assets. The Pirates thought enough of Navarro that they gave up Pounders to get him, rather than waiting and seeing if he could be acquired on waivers. One year and 50 at-bats later they traded Navarro for a guy who doesn’t look like a prospect. So how do they go from trading for Navarro to giving up on him after just 50 at-bats?

Then there’s Kaminska. They thought enough of him to add him, adjust his mechanics, give him time as a starter, and send him to the AFL. They dealt him for Zach Stewart, which wasn’t really a mistake since Stewart has more upside than Kaminska. But why would they later designate Stewart for assignment? This isn’t a situation where they claim a guy for the sole purpose of waiving him later in the off-season and hoping he passes through waivers. There’s a reason they originally traded for Stewart. They didn’t feel he would make it to them via waivers, likely because another team would claim him. So wouldn’t he have the same chance of being claimed about a month and a half later?

This is another situation where it’s not a huge loss. Stewart is an interesting pitcher. He’s a former top prospect who has been hit hard in the majors. He’s the type of guy you try to acquire for cheap, hoping that you can make a quick fix and get him back on track. But he’s also a dime a dozen type player. There’s tons of guys in similar situations who hit the waiver wire — 26 years old, former top prospect, struggling after a few looks in the majors. Trying to add those guys and turn them around isn’t a bad strategy, but giving up players to get them, then not even giving them a chance could be a bad strategy.

These moves remind me of the Matt Herges trade back in the Dave Littlefield days. The Pirates traded two players to get Matt Herges during the 2002-03 off-season. One of those players ended up being Chris Young, the pitcher. Considering the numbers Herges eventually put up, it might not have been horrible to lose Young. In hindsight it would have, but at the time he was only in A-ball. However, those numbers that Herges posted didn’t come with the Pirates. Just three months after trading for him, the Pirates released Herges. He was signed by the Padres and had a pretty strong season.

I don’t know if Pounders or Kaminska will become the next Chris Young. I would say that Kaminska has no chance of that happening, although I do like Pounders the best out of all of the names mentioned in the above trades. The problem isn’t so much the risk that the Pirates could be giving up someone who might eventually be good. The problem is that they’re giving up these guys, and they’re not really giving a chance to the guys they’re getting in return. Navarro got 50 at-bats. Stewart spent a month on the 40-man roster in the off-season. You add these guys and give them a chance, hoping that they finally figure it out on your roster. Most of these types of guys will fail, and it really pays off when that one success story hits. But if you’re not giving them a real chance, you’re not going to find that success story. Then you’re just dealing prospects for nothing, and the more that happens, the more likely you eventually give up the next Chris Young.

Links and Notes

**The 2013 Prospect Guide is now available. The 2013 Annual is also available for pre-sales. Go to the products page of the site and order your 2013 books today!

**The eBook version of The 2013 Prospect Guide is also available through our publisher. They also have a discount code during the month of January that allows you to save 20%. Use the code JANBOOKS13 to get the discount. This code is only valid on the eBook on the publisher’s web site, and not the books on the products page of the site.

**Pittsburgh Pirates 2013 Top Prospects: #7 – Barrett Barnes.

**Breaking Down the Justin Upton Trade to the Braves.

**Alen Hanson Named One of MLB.com’s Top 10 Shortstop Prospects.

**Zach Stewart Claimed off Waivers by the White Sox.

**Winter Leagues Recap: Two Homers For Welch.

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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  • kevin21

    Is there an archive list out there breaking down old trades of the Pirates?
    Ie. Joel Hanrahan + Lastings Milledge For Sean Burnett + Nyjer Morgan

    • http://battlingbucs.wordpress.com battlingbucs

      Not sure if there is an actual list anywhere but I have done my best to keep a spreadsheet of all NH trades. I’m sure it is far from complete as I have found a few recently I’ve had to add but I have 61 trades in total listed so it is a decent reference at least.

      • kevin21

        Is that a personal vendetta? How is he been fairing so far?

        • http://battlingbucs.wordpress.com battlingbucs

          Not a vendetta. Just something to do. Although the MLBTR transaction tracker makes it seem pretty moot at this point. Anyway a lot of noise with his trades.

          The trades I see of significance fall into 4 categories:

          Key Piece Traded Away: Bay, Nady, McLouth and Sanchez

          Surprising Return: Burnett, McDonald

          Disappointing Give Away: Bautista

          Last Trade Deadline: Snider, Sanchez, Rodriguez

          To me the other 50+ trades of his are just noise. There are no names that just pop out at you. We could quibble about the LaRoche return or about the Paulino/Jaramaillo swap or about quite a few others but at the end of the day, IMO the 10 trades above is what defines his trade record.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ToddSm66 Todd Smith

      MLB Trade Rumors has a transaction tracker that allows you to filter by GM…shows all of his transactions since 2007.

  • NorCal Buc

    ONLY Gorkys was ever a Top 30 Prospect within this system. The others were all lower end prospects, as you stated. So, the trade of Gorkys for Gabby could prove beneficial to both teams; however, I like the upside of Gabby over Gorkys. Plus, Gorkys was blocked by Jose Tabata, Starling Marte, and Alex Presley.

    Most of these other trades, then were changes of the minor league depth chart. At some point, Tim, I would like to see a depth chart at each position, which you’ve alluded to but never clearly stated. This would be helpful to more fully understand the insignificance of trading Pounders, Gorkys, Stewart, Kaminska, et al.

    BTW, your view of the Chris Young deal is well taken. A perfect example of the previous regime, IMHO.

  • elgaupo

    I think I’d take Genmar over Stewart. He’s young and could be another Karstens in a year or two. The Sox mustn’t think much of Stewart to trade him for KK

  • TNBucs

    I thought Navarro could be a good player for us, an upgrade over Harrison and the kind of solid utility player that every good team seems to have. But then I also like Mercer, another guy that was given very little opportunity last season.

    The only explanation for Harrison getting so many PA’s over Mercer and Navarro is his clubhouse presence (even AJ alluded to JHay “holding court” in the clubhouse). How else do you explain giving 276 PA’s (more than double what Navarro and Mercer got combined) to a guy with a .280 OBP who is not known for his defense?

  • TNBucs

    On a more positive note, I think part of the explanation on Stewart is that the Pirates couldn’t have expected to end up with Karstens, Liriano, Melancon, and Pimentel at the time they acquired Stewart (and I can’t see much difference between Gomez and Stewart to say one is clearly a better option than the other).

    On a related note I’ve wondered if they would have given up the pick for Sanchez had they known that they would acquire Snider and Sands. The Gaby deal looks worse now given the depth at RF and 1B.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

      Good points

  • duckwoes

    A puzzling series of moves indeed. I was disappointed to see Kaminska moved, even more so in light of the Stewart DFA and subsequent claim. I was not really keen on giving up Ramon Cabrera for Andy Oliver either. With minimal catching depth at the upper levels this move seemed odd as well

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

    Considering Pounders didn’t make Mayo’s Top 20 list, I ain’t losing any sleep.
    http://kansascity.royals.mlb.com/mlb/prospects/watch/y2012/index.jsp?c_id=kc

    They thought Navarro was going to be an upgrade, so they took a shot. He wasn’t…nothing much lost.

    As for Sanchez and that comp pick. Going back on prospects drafted at that position, Brad Wilkerson was the best name to come up. They obviously felt that Gaby was good value and I agree.

    I love Mathieson and Barnes’ potential, but they haven’t done anything yet. And, going historically, they probably won’t. (of course, I hope they do better than historically). Approx 80% of those comp picks become, well, not good.

    • http://wkkortas.wordpress.com wkkortas

      That’s true, but a 20% chance of a good player has, in my mind, more value than a bench piece with very limited if any upside who, by himself, is not a lock to have more career value than Gorkys Hernandez. The Pirates, as Tim writes, clearly undervalued the worth of the compensation pick.

      • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

        wk…when Brad Wilkerson is the BEST player to come out of that position, well….not sure he is any better than Gaby. HE is part of that 20%.

        odds are you’d be lucky if the pick ends up as good as Sanchez…and for all the “win now” talk that went around, even if that player ends up as good as Sanchez you won’t see him for about six years.

        • Happydude1

          The Wilkerson argument is pretty misleading. Johnny Damon was picked 35th overall, Randy Johnson and Johnny Bench were drafted 36th overall, for example. So to imply that the best player the Pirates could get at 33rd overall is a Brad Wilkerson type is just blatantly false.

          • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

            I’ve never liked the individual draft slot comparisons for that reason. It’s saying that the 36th spot is more valuable than the 33rd spot, just because someone made a great pick at number 36 at one point in time.

            I think this type of analysis could be used on more of a wide scale basis. For example, you could take a round by round approach like this and have something meaningful. But pick by pick doesn’t really say much about the chances of those same picks resulting in good value in the future.

            • elgaupo

              Round by round isn’t a good idea either. Since the the preponderance of all players come from the top 50 picks and there’s a dramatic drop off as you go. I’d go 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, etc. Send me a prospect guide and I’ll do it for you.

          • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

            happydude….I am using Baseball Ref’s comp pick data. What are you using?

            Plus, I never said that you couldn’t get a star. Just that the odds were pretty darn good you were getting Brad Wilkerson at best.
            Here is the historical data

            https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B-772wlhxPhPNjUyY2JiMmItYzJlYi00Yjk5LThlOTUtODkwN2IzMTU5ODIx/edit?hl=en_US&pli=1

            82.67% chance you were gonna get a bench warmer or worse. That is for ALL the comp picks

            Here is a list of players picked with that 33rd spot.

            http://www.baseball-reference.com/draft/?overall_pick=33&draft_type=junreg&

            • Happydude1

              The odds are against every draft pick, comp. picks included. And my main point was that continually bringing up Wilkerson simply because he has the highest WAR of any 33rd pick is misleading.

              • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

                you may think it is misleading, but it continues to be a valid point when folks try to inflate the value of the pick.

      • http://www.ashevilleroadbowling.com hunter

        Sanchez is 29, has two solid MLB seasons as a starter with a decent OPS and 19 HR’s each time.

        The odds of him turning back into that since he is still in the prime of his career in terms of age seem much higher than the odds of a compensation round pick making the majors and being anything more than a bench bat or reliever.

    • Ecbucs

      the idea that no one drafted in the comp spot was any good so it is valueless is just stupid. To say that you are saying that any picks after that are even lower valued.

      the real error in this series of events is that the Bucs mis-evaluated Navarro. YOu take a shot at someone because you think they have enough talent to contribute and improve the club and it didn’t take the Bucs long to decide he wasn’t very good.

      • Happydude1

        I agree – by that logic the 36th overall pick has more value than the 33rd because Randy Johnson and Johnny Bench were picked 36th overall.

      • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

        I’ve never said it was valueless. I just stated that, with 82.67% of the picks being a bench warmer at best, the ODDS are that we will do better with Gaby as Hunter states above.

        Here is the historical data

        https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B-772wlhxPhPNjUyY2JiMmItYzJlYi00Yjk5LThlOTUtODkwN2IzMTU5ODIx/edit?hl=en_US&pli=1

        82.67% chance you were gonna get a bench warmer or worse. That is for ALL the comp picks and not just the 33rd pick.

        .

        • Ecbucs

          maybe better if Sanchez performed in 2012 like he did in 2010 and 2011 but he went in the tank in in 2012 and so it is a gamble that he will bounce back.

          the odds that the pick will not be benchwarmer are not good but still there is a chance he could be a star too. the chance of Gaby being a star are ZERO.

          • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

            EC…point noted.

            This comp pick ‘thing’ is quite polarizing.

            ;)

  • chenzt

    When can you place players on the DL? Unless we can place Morton onto 60-day before needing to add Liriano, there will be another DFA in the near future that will surely be lost as well…

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      That’s usually in the final weeks of Spring Training. So when Liriano becomes official they will have to DFA someone.

  • leadoff

    Most of these moves are time related, releasing a low end prospect acquired over the winter without giving them a chance is not new, teams all over baseball are doing this with regularity, sometimes they have to make roster moves they did not foresee when they got the player and then the depth chart comes into play.
    As far as 50 games for Navarro is concerned, with Hurdle, he is lucky he got that many. Hurdle is not going to give any young kid any where near the chance he is gong to give a veteran. For a young kid Harrison did a pretty good job coming off the bench, most young kids don’t do as well as he did, but IMO, sitting Mercer for Harrison was a mistake by Hurdle, Mercer is a SS.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

      leadoff….agree….and a lot of these moves were predicated at the time of not knowing we were getting Sands, Karstens, Pimental etc, etc.

      Much ado about org filler. That comp pick LOOKS real valuable at first blush, but in reality, at best, we are talking about relief pitchers, util guys and ‘potential’ # 5 starters here… I mean these guys are replaceable…

  • http://www.facebook.com/kirk.vandergrift Kirk Lee

    I was really disappointed in the entire Gaby Sanchez trade circumstances. Taking an even wider perspective, we parted with that pick not for 3.5 years of a platoon player, but for 3.5 years of a very slight upgrade of platoon player. We could have kept McGehee and the comp pick and given Chad Qualls’ bullpen spot to one of the many major-league ready arms in AAA (Morris, for instance). I never understood that series of moves in the slightest.

    • Happydude1

      Exactly, my biggest problem was that best case scenario, Gabby Sanchez is a marginal upgrade as a RH platoon option over guys like McGehee then or Sands now. Obviously, chances are the 33rd pick turns out to be nobody, but the upside from that pick far outweighs replacing McGehee/Sands with Sanchez.

      • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

        ” the upside from that pick far outweighs replacing McGehee/Sands with Sanchez.”

        Now THAT I will agree with! But, I think NH was just ‘playing the odds’. And I agree with THAT, too, probably more so.

    • http://www.ashevilleroadbowling.com hunter

      McGehee was so great that not only did he end up getting shipped to minors with the Yankees but he had to sign with a Japanese team.

      Sanchez had a .720 OPS with solid D. That’s more than a marginal upgrade IMO for a draft pick that you’d be lucky if they end up a backup 1st baseman.

  • leadoff

    I have to agree, also the Pirates must always look for high upside players and Sanchez is a high upside player.

  • tempman89

    This is the problem with the trade….
    The 33rd pick is worth over 1 million allocated draft dollars. Now our budget is smaller for signing people for over slot. That is the fallout from this

  • jg941

    Good job on this issue, Tim – I know it seems like a small thing to some, but its worth this kind a deeper look at whether ALL of the details and deals are being managed effectively. That’s a very big deal with this team, no matter how small the actual deals are. Great stuff.

    • http://twitter.com/beatembuccos21 beatembuccos21

      I agree with jg941 – many thanks for the in depth look at this.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

    Tim…I agree with the accolades of jgp41 and beatem….Your stuff is always top shelf.

    On what Tempman89 said…..how much fallout is there on losing this pick as far as dollars go?

    Since losing this pick appears to be polarizing, I’d love to read your take on it from both the pick itself AND the dollars.

  • jg941

    Following the bouncing ball……White Sox just officially outrighted Zach Stewart to AAA. Wonder if he’s starting to dread hearing his phone ring…….