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 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.
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
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