The Pittsburgh Pirates made their first round of cuts today at the major league level. Two of the players who were cut were Jerry Sands and Stolmy Pimentel, who made up half of the return for Joel Hanrahan over the winter. Almost immediately the complaints started on Twitter about the Hanrahan trade. Most of them were something along the lines of the trade being a disappointment because the Pirates cut two of the players they got in return, showing that the Pirates didn’t have any use for either player. That ignores the details of each player, and the purpose behind the trade.
There should be no surprise that Pimentel was cut. He’s never pitched above Double-A, and has struggled at the level. He was once one of the top prospects in the Red Sox system, and is still young enough to put it together. He wasn’t added for an immediate impact, but with the hope that he could turn things around in the minors this year.
Sands was added for a more immediate impact, but that doesn’t mean he had to make the team on Opening Day. He was battling for the starting right field job with Jose Tabata and Travis Snider. All three players are in similar situations. They’re all former top prospects who haven’t made the successful jump to the majors, although all three are still young enough to turn things around. The key difference with Sands is that he has an option remaining, while Snider and Tabata are both out of options. None of those players really stand out from the others, although Tabata is making the most noise this Spring. Therefore, it makes sense to send Sands down. You can keep all of them this way, give Tabata and Snider the first shots, and have Sands playing every day in Indianapolis as a backup plan. You’d hope the Pirates wouldn’t need him, because that would mean that Marte, Tabata, and/or Snider were holding down the corner outfield spots.
So it made sense to send both players down today, since neither player had a strong chance of making the majors. But what about the purpose of the trade? Why deal Hanrahan for guys who aren’t going to make an immediate impact?
That’s not exactly an accurate assessment, since one of the key pieces in the trade was Mark Melancon. He’s a year removed from being one of the top relievers in the National League. He had a down year in 2012, although his advanced metrics suggest he was unlucky — almost exactly how Joel Hanrahan looked unlucky before coming to Pittsburgh. There’s a strong chance that Melancon bounces back to his pre-2012 form. If that happens, then a Melancon/Jason Grilli combo in the late innings could be very productive.
Dealing Hanrahan was a classic small market move. Sure, it dumped salary, and that’s an evil thing in Pittsburgh. But that’s what the Pirates should be doing in that type of situation. Look at the Rays. They constantly make moves like this. They trade a high priced player to free up salary, replace him with a lower priced player who could provide the same production, and re-stock their farm system with the prospects acquired in the deal. As long as they manage to replace the production they’re trading away, the deal works. They get similar production for a cheaper price — allowing them to use their limited resources for a bigger need — all while adding more prospects to their farm system.
That’s the goal of the Hanrahan trade. The Pirates dealt him away and freed up $7 M. After that they signed Francisco Liriano, Jeff Karstens, and Jonathan Sanchez, aiming to help out the starting rotation in 2013. If Melancon can return to being a dominant reliever, then the move will have paid off. The Pirates won’t lose much production from the back of the bullpen, if they lose any at all. If that happens, then they get similar production for a much cheaper price and for a longer period (Melancon is under control for four years). They’d do all of this while using their limited resources on a bigger team need, and adding three young players (Pimentel, Sands, Ivan De Jesus Jr.) to the system. That’s the approach that every small market team should take. Ideally the Pirates would just be a reliever academy, constantly dealing away established relievers, replacing them with talented young alternatives, and keeping the farm system stocked in the process.
Links and Notes
**If you’re thinking that Jameson Taillon should be in major league camp, consider his development. He’s not making the majors out of camp this year. He only has three starts above A-ball. He’s also to the point where he’s throwing 3-4 innings per start. Most of the starters in major league camp are throwing 4-5 innings per start, or more. Taillon needs to keep increasing his innings to get ready to be a starter for the season. The only way he’s getting those innings in major league camp is if he takes them from someone who actually has a shot at being on the team on Opening Day. So now is the perfect time to send him down and allow him to prepare to be a starter in the minor leagues in 2013.