“Being a consumer is like a job. You have to make sure you get the best one. If you get a Blu-Ray player, you gotta do research. You gotta look at reviews of a player. You’ve gotta go on Amazon and read a really long review, written by an insane person, who’s been dead for months. Because he shot his wife and then himself, after explaining to you that the remote is counter intuitive. ‘It’s got really small buttons on the remote,’ he said, before he murder-suicided his whole family. And now you’re reading it and going ‘I don’t know. I don’t know which one to get. I’ve got to get the best one.’ Why? Who are you, the King of Siam, that you should get the best one ever? Bring me the best! Who cares? They’re all the same, these machines. They’re all made from the same Asian suffering. There’s no difference.”
Last night I was recapping the positions of need for the Pittsburgh Pirates, noting that the Pirates need an upgrade in right field. At the end of the post I joked about Giancarlo Stanton talk, figuring that there would be at least one person suggesting a Stanton trade even though there was every indication that the Marlins weren’t shopping him.
While I was working on the post, David Schoenfield posted an article at ESPN.com talking about how the Pirates should trade for Stanton, sending Jameson Taillon, Gregory Polanco, and Tony Sanchez in the deal. Within minutes James Santelli and I were talking about an article on the subject, exploring the trade and seeing if the values matched up.
If you haven’t seen that article from James, you should check it out here. It’s very thorough, and explores every aspect of the proposed Stanton trade. I have to agree with pretty much everything James said. Stanton would be a huge upgrade for the Pirates, and the value of the deal lines up. But I also thought about “wants” versus “needs”, which led me to remembering the Louis CK quote above.
Every year around the trade deadline people confuse “wants” and “needs”. In this case, the Pirates “need” a right field upgrade. Giancarlo Stanton is a right field upgrade, but he’s not a “need”. Instead, he’s a “want”. You can upgrade right-field without him, and without giving up the huge price it would take to get him. That’s not to say that it wouldn’t be amazing to see him in the Pirates’ lineup. But don’t confuse that with the Pirates needing him in the lineup.
It’s kind of like if you need a car. The need is just a car. The want would be a BMW, or a Lexus, or whatever your preference is. I’m not a car person, so I have no preference here. But if you are a car person, then maybe you can envision how great it would be to have all of the features of the BMW. Those features would be so much better than just a basic car. They’d make everything in life better. They’d hit against left-handers. How can that not be a need?
The truth is the need is just a car. And in the case with Stanton, the need is just a right field upgrade. Stanton is the BMW of right field upgrades, fully equipped with special features that your older model cars (Josh Willingham, Alex Rios) don’t have.
I think everyone would agree that they would gladly take Stanton in the lineup (although some might not want to give up Taillon and Polanco to get there). But at the same time, the Pirates don’t need Stanton, they just need a right field upgrade, and there’s a difference. That’s my main view of the Stanton discussion, and it pretty much forms my other views below on the topic.
Is Stanton Even Available?
This doesn’t have much to do with Stanton’s value, or the proposed trade. Or it could have everything to do with that. Either way, I think everyone is glossing over the fact that Stanton hasn’t exactly been made available. He isn’t being shopped around, and most of the trade rumors start with “The Marlins traded a lot of guys before the season, and they’re rebuilding, and I don’t think they’ll be competitive while Stanton is there, so they might as well trade him and go all-in on the rebuild”.
Here’s the problem with that from Miami’s perspective.
1. If you trade Jose Reyes and company, it just says you’re not going to be competitive in the next year or two, and you don’t want to pay while you aren’t competitive. If you trade Stanton, it says you don’t expect to be competitive for the next 3.5 years.
2. It’s not like the Marlins don’t have other young talent. They’ve got a great young pitcher in Jose Fernandez, and Jacob Turner looks promising so far.
It almost reminds you of the Andrew McCutchen talk we had to hear up until last year. Before McCutchen’s extension, the Pirates were never expected to be competitive while he was here. Or at least that’s what people would say when bringing up the idea of a trade. But trading a guy like McCutchen or a guy like Stanton doesn’t fall in the “we’re rebuilding, so let’s trade anyone with value” category. If you’re trading away guys in an attempt to build around young, impact talent, it doesn’t make sense to trade away young, impact talent.
So maybe the Marlins would listen on Stanton, but I feel like no one is really addressing the fact that if Stanton was on your favorite team, you’d hate to see him moved, especially when you can pair that young hitter with two young pitchers to hopefully provide a quick turnaround.
What Would the Pirates Lose in the Trade?
I think the Taillon/Polanco/Sanchez trade would be fair value. That said, I don’t think I would want to deal any of those players. Going player by player:
Jameson Taillon - We’ve seen this year the impact of pitching. The Pirates have seen their offense struggle, yet they’ve remained competitive because of their strong pitching. It’s not just this year. The offense wasn’t as good last year, and the pitching kept them in it. Taillon is close to the majors, and isn’t a big risk. He still needs to polish his changeup, but he could be in the majors by this time next year.
Gregory Polanco - Personally I’d hate to see Polanco go. I’ve always been high on him, and feel that he doesn’t have a lot of weakness to his game. He’s a good hitter, has a great approach at the plate, and he’s still developing his power. He’s going to need some time in Double-A, and he could make it to the majors by this time next year if all goes well. I’ve said before that I think Polanco could be the most valuable out of Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen. Of course that goes back to me being higher on Polanco than most.
Tony Sanchez - The problem with losing Tony Sanchez is that you don’t really have any upper level catching depth if Russell Martin goes down. If that happens, you’re looking at a starting combo of Michael McKenry and either Lucas May, Ali Solis, or Carlos Paulino. Hello, 2011. In the proposed deal, Sanchez wouldn’t be hard to replace, value-wise, so this wouldn’t preclude a deal.
A different way of looking at this trade is that you’d be trading Taillon, Sanchez, and the lefty pitcher to turn 6.5 possible years of Polanco being an impact right fielder to 3.5 years of an established Stanton in the majors.
Prospects Aren’t Guaranteed, But Neither Are Major Leaguers
The common argument here is that prospects aren’t guaranteed, and that the major league player you’re trading for is guaranteed to bring results. That often gets taken to the extremes to assume that the prospects will fail, while the major leaguers will succeed.
In Stanton’s case, there aren’t performance concerns. He had a .968 OPS last year, and this year he has an .866 OPS. That’s not great like the last few years, but it’s still good. The concern is that he’s dealt with a lot of injuries the last two years. When he’s healthy he plays well, but how long can you expect him to be healthy? James accounted for his injury problems in his trade values, but there’s still the fact that you’re trading for a guy who might not play the entire season.
On the prospect side you have risks, but not all risks are equal. Jameson Taillon is a top pitching prospect. So is Tyler Glasnow. They both have the same upsides. But Taillon is a very safe pitcher, while Glasnow is a high risk starter. Saying that prospects aren’t guaranteed is ignoring the fact that Taillon has great stuff, and amazing results in Double-A. At this point the “he’s not guaranteed” just refers to his upside. He’s going to make the majors, and it’s only a question of whether he becomes that number one starter, or settles in as a number two or a really strong number three. When talking about prospects the tendency is to look at that statement, assume the worst, and talk about trading a number three starter. But you can’t do that. You have to consider all outcomes. Taillon would be just as likely to become an ace as a number three starter. And number three starters are nothing to dismiss.
Then there’s Gregory Polanco. If you’re trading for Stanton, then Polanco becomes expendable. If you bring Polanco up in June 2014, you have him under team control through the 2020 season. You’d have Stanton under control through the 2016 season. Stanton’s biggest value would come in the next year, when Polanco isn’t expected to arrive. After that, you’d be missing out on four years of control with Polanco.
It’s really a question of value. On one side you have Stanton, with injury concerns, and he’d be filling a need that Polanco couldn’t fill for the next year. On the other side you’ve got Polanco, who has three more years of control total, could be ready a year from now, and would have to be paired with another top prospect plus two more good prospects to get Stanton. I’m not sure that 6.5 years of Polanco plus another top prospect plus two good prospects is a smart move when you really only need a right field upgrade for one more year.
Finding a “Need” That is Less “Want”
We don’t really know who is out there on the trade market yet. Just like Stanton, all we can do is look at teams that are losing, look at their best or highest paid players, and speculate what it would cost to get those players. That speculation leads us to guys who would be cheaper to acquire than Stanton, such as Alex Rios or Josh Willingham. Those guys wouldn’t come with the same production that Stanton would bring. But the Pirates don’t need that production from Stanton. They just need an upgrade in right field. Rios or Willingham would provide that, at a much lower cost. That’s the best of both worlds. You get your upgrade, plus you keep Polanco and Taillon around, with both of them on pace to arrive next year.
The thing about Stanton is that people tend to look at a weak offense and feel that one big bat will fix the issue. The Pirates aren’t Giancarlo Stanton away from fixing their lineup issues. They need to consider platoon options at second and third base. Shortstop probably isn’t going to be the most productive position, although Jordy Mercer has added some power as the new starter. Some other guys have experienced slumps this year, such as Garrett Jones, Starling Marte, and Andrew McCutchen. Stanton would definitely help the lineup, but if they’re losing 4-0 games, he’s not going to singlehandedly take them to a 5-4 victory. They’re going to need some other upgrades. You could add platoon guys in the infield, and add Stanton. But that gets back to “wants” and “needs”. The Pirates don’t need Stanton if they’re upgrading the other positions with platoons. They just need a right field upgrade.
When Should They Trade Prospects?
Here’s one thing I’m not going to be afraid to admit: I don’t like the idea of the Pirates trading prospects. That’s a stance that is criticized, but it’s one I’m fine taking. It has nothing to do with the fact that I run a site called Pirates Prospects. It’s just my philosophy on how small market teams should be run. For full disclosure, the site actually does better when the Pirates trade away prospects. In the short-term you get all of the traffic from the new team sites trying to find out about their new prospects. You also get Pirates fans excited that the team is being upgraded.
The top six traffic days in site history involve the MLB draft. The seventh best day is the day Wandy Rodriguez was traded. So if I’m looking at things from a business standpoint, and from the standpoint of what helps the site, then I’d advocate trading prospects in a second for Stanton. That would be the best thing for my business. It would generate excitement surrounding the Pirates that we haven’t seen for a long time. It would all but assure the team of contending, leading to traffic spikes in September and October, which is usually when traffic starts to dive. That would allow me to send James and Tom on road trips to cover the team full time as they battled in a playoff race down the stretch. And the truth about the prospects is that no individual prospect is important to the site’s coverage. We don’t cover the top X prospects. We cover the entire minor league system. I’ve seen the numbers, and the quality of the system doesn’t matter. People just want to know what is going on. That’s why I created the site in the first place, and the demand for information hasn’t gone down.
The reason I don’t like dealing prospects is because of my “What Would the Rays Do?” motto. You can also throw in my “I don’t have a good catch phrase for this” motto about the trade deadline. It’s another “wants” and “needs” issue where everyone says that contenders “need” to upgrade at the deadline. I’ve always been confused by that. If they’re winning without the upgrades, why do they need to make a move to keep winning? Plenty of teams have made a move and didn’t keep winning, or lost, despite looking like the favorites after the trade deadline hype.
One team that didn’t make a move was the 2008 Rays. They could have easily traded for Jason Bay with the quality of prospects they had. In the end they didn’t trade for Bay. They made it to the World Series and lost, and it’s not like Bay would have taken them from a 4-1 loss to a victory.
That’s what the Rays do. They don’t go for the big splash. They don’t trade their top prospects away. They build up top prospects, they bring them up to the majors, and if there’s no room, they trade away a veteran for prospects to make room. The Rays have been horrible at drafting the last several years, but they keep seeing top prospects arriving because of this approach.
None of this should be foreign to Pittsburgh fans. It’s the exact same thing the Steelers do, and have done for years. The Steelers don’t go out and make a huge splash in free agency. They don’t make a big trade and try to bring in a star. They build with draft picks and sleeper free agents like James Harrison. They also play in a league with a salary cap, which allows them to hold on to guys that are good for longer. But when that player is starting to decline, they’re not afraid to cut him and move on to a younger player.
That’s the approach the Pirates need to take. They’ve spent the last several years getting to the point where they’ve got a good team in the majors, and they’ve got a strong farm system. Right now they’re set up to have that desired wave after wave of prospects. This year it’s Gerrit Cole, Jordy Mercer, Justin Wilson, and you could even throw Jeff Locke in if you’re counting guys who are getting established but came up before 2013. Next year it could be Taillon, Polanco, Nick Kingham and Tony Sanchez. The year after that we could be talking Alen Hanson, Stetson Allie, Tyler Glasnow, and Josh Bell.
Not all of these guys are going to work out. We’re also going to see other guys step up in the process. That’s how it works with prospects. Unfortunately, MLB is set up so that teams like the Pirates can only contend for a long period if they commit to building through prospects. That’s something that Pirates fans seem to hate. But look at the team this year, and all of the big names who came up through the farm system:
Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, Jordy Mercer, Jeff Locke, Justin Wilson, Gerrit Cole, Brandon Cumpton, Tony Watson, Bryan Morris.
The Pirates are where they are right now largely because they built through the farm system. That doesn’t mean they should never make trades and send prospects out. There’s just a difference between trading Taillon/Polanco and trading the types of guys who have landed A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, and Gaby Sanchez.
Giancarlo Stanton is not a “Need”
Would I love to see Giancarlo Stanton in the lineup everyday? Absolutely. That would be exciting to watch, only because any player with his ability is fun to watch. But that’s not a “need”. The “need” for the Pirates is an upgrade at right field. In the short-term, Stanton would be the best upgrade to have. But the Pirates don’t necessarily have to get the best possible upgrade. If they fix some other weaknesses (find a platoon player for second, and/or third), they’d be a good enough team that any upgrade in right field would do. The benefit of a lesser upgrade is that the team can still contend, and you get to keep your two best prospects, and two potential impact guys who could arrive next year.
The approach of adding an upgrade who isn’t as good as Stanton and continuing to build through prospects isn’t as exciting. But that approach is what got the Pirates to the point of being contenders in the first place. Why abandon that approach now?
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