First Pitch: Is the Trade Deadline Overrated?

Wandy Rodriguez Pirates

Wandy Rodriguez was only worth half a win for the Pirates down the stretch last year. That low value is more common than you think. (Photo by: David Hague)

There’s one thing I’ve never understood about the trade deadline. A team contends for the majority of the season. They hold their own against other contending teams, and beat the weaker teams. You get a situation where a team has the best record in the majors on July 31st.

Then everyone says they need to make a trade.

As if everything they’ve done in the first four months is meaningless, and the only way they can continue to win is to add that big bat or that big arm.

We know so much about the values of players. We know that a star player is probably just bringing 5-7 wins above a replacement level player. We know that someone like Nate Schierholtz is worth 1.5 wins. And if we look over the last third of the season, we can see that someone like Schierholtz would upgrade the Pirates by half a win. Even a guy like Alex Rios, who you could consider a 3.0 WAR hitter, might only add one extra win in the final two months.

That’s not even a guarantee. Mike Petriello wrote an article on ESPN, analyzing the last two years of deadline moves. Petriello noted that of the 40 trades made over the last two years, only 11 players have provided a 1.0 WAR for their new team over the remainder of the season. Only two players have provided a 2.0 WAR. So if you’re expecting a guy to come in and make a huge impact, it’s probably not going to happen.

That makes sense. A guy putting up a 2.0 WAR in the final two months would be a 6.0 WAR player. That’s Andrew McCutchen level, and there’s no one on the current market like that. There are guys who could be 3.0 WAR players, but that just means you’re adding one extra win in the final two months.

So why the need? The Pirates are currently two games up for the first Wild Card spot. They are 7.5 games up from the closest team to the second wild card. The third team is 11.5 games behind the Pirates. It’s not like the Pirates are neck and neck here with other teams. Adding one extra win might not make any impact. The arguments for adding that extra win are usually:

1. What if they collapse?

The argument the last two years is that the Pirates didn’t do their part at the deadline, and the team collapsed. That’s just not true. Even if they added the two guys who provided a 2.0 WAR, they wouldn’t have prevented a collapse. That was a team effort.

2. What if they miss the playoffs by one game?

Every year teams miss the playoffs. Every year there are some teams who miss the playoffs by 1-2 games. You can look at all of those teams and ask “what would have happened if they traded for (insert player here)?” Or “what if they didn’t blow that game back in April?” You can take that approach with any team, no matter what moves they made.

Petriello’s article points out two of the things I dislike the most about the deadline. One is the feeling that teams need to make a move to contend. The value that teams are adding at the deadline isn’t going to seal them as contenders. They are already contenders.

The other point is the lack of value with rentals. Petriello argues that guys with multiple years of control are more valuable than rentals, as they can provide value beyond the final two months of the current season. That all makes sense. A guy like Schierholtz is only going to be worth half a win this year, but he’s going to be worth 1.5 wins next year.

Still, that argues against adding for the deadline. The Pirates were criticized last year because their key additions (Wandy Rodriguez, Travis Snider, Gaby Sanchez) looked like they would help more in the future rather than the present. And that was inevitable. One year of a player is always going to be worth more than the two months you got in the previous years. The idea was that there were players out there who could have provided this huge value over Rodriguez, Snider, and Sanchez. As I pointed out earlier this week, the Pirates got similar value as other teams, without giving up top prospects. Petriello’s article shows why. The Pirates found value that was equal to other teams, but the reason they didn’t add that huge impact player is because that huge impact player didn’t really exist.

Don’t expect that huge impact player to show up this year either. We certainly haven’t seen any rumors talking about guys who have a strong chance of providing more than a win in value in the final two months of the year. That’s not saying the Pirates shouldn’t try to find an upgrade. But if they do upgrade, they might want to find someone who can also help next year, since that will do far more than whatever help they’d get in the final two months of the season.

Links and Notes

**Check out the newest episode of the Pirates Prospects podcast: P3 Episode 14: Previewing the Trade Deadline For the Pirates.

**Please Welcome New Beat Writer Nate Barnes to the Pirates Prospects Staff.


**Prospect Watch: Another No-Hitter, Dickerson Drives In Eight Runs.

**Minor League Schedule: Billy Roth Makes Pro Debut.


**Afternoon Notes: Jason Grilli update, Giancarlo Stanton news (sort of).

**Locke’s Control and a Weak Bench Are Two Concerns From Tonights Loss.

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, 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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