With the trade deadline coming up in about ten days, we’ve heard a few comments about how the Pirates shouldn’t fix the team, in fear of disrupting the team chemistry. It’s almost a pointless discussion, because if we’ve learned anything from previous years, it’s that the Pirates will be active at the deadline. When they do eventually make trades and shuffling the roster around, the team won’t have anything to worry about. In fact, we’ve seen three examples this year of roster shuffling that haven’t led to some sort of chemistry related collapse. Here are those moves.
1. Replacing Clint Barmes with Jordy Mercer at Shortstop
The Pirates gradually made the switch to Jordy Mercer as the starting shortstop this year. Around June 12th, Mercer pretty much took over the starting shortstop position. The Pirates were 38-26 at the time Mercer took over. They have gone 19-13 since Mercer took over. That is literally the exact same winning percentage.
I don’t want to say that Mercer hasn’t been an upgrade over Barmes. There are so many things that go into a record that you can’t point to one change and suggest it had any grand impact on the overall won-loss record. But the Pirates definitely didn’t start to fade because they went to a better option at shortstop. If they eventually go to a better option somewhere else (first base, right field) they won’t fade either.
2. Releasing John McDonald
John McDonald’s last game with the Pirates was May 14th. He went on the disabled list, and never returned to the team. He was traded about a month later. Obviously the team has continued with their success, even without McDonald’s veteran presence on the bench. He wasn’t adding anything to the team outside of the leadership.
It’s the same situation with Brandon Inge. He’s not adding any value to the team this year, and is only around for his leadership. But the Pirates have plenty of leaders without Inge, leaving no reason to keep him around when he’s struggling so much. Just like with McDonald, the Pirates won’t fall apart when they move on from Inge.
3. The Revolving Door of Starting Pitchers
I don’t know if you can really use the “chemistry” argument with the rotation. It’s hard for a rotation to get chemistry when they’ve had a revolving door for the first three months of the season. Sure, when A.J. Burnett or Wandy Rodriguez get injured they still remain with the team (until rehab time). So it’s not like they won’t have an impact in the clubhouse. But there has been so much disruption in the rotation this year that the clubhouse impact of adding another starting pitcher would just be a drop in the bucket.
The Pirates didn’t lose last year because the clubhouse chemistry disappeared after the trades. They lost for many on-field reasons, which I outlined a few weeks ago, most of which started before the deadline deals. Adding guys this year isn’t going to wreck the clubhouse. You probably won’t even notice the difference. Add a right fielder and you just move Jose Tabata and Travis Snider to the bench. Add a first baseman and you move Garrett Jones to the bench or right field. Add a starting pitcher and you move someone to the bullpen, or move Gerrit Cole to Triple-A as depth. It’s not like you’re totally overhauling the roster.
Every other contending team is going to be adding players in the next week and a half. Some of the moves might be big, and some might be smaller upgrades. If those contending teams can add players without fear of their clubhouse chemistry falling apart, then the Pirates should be able to do the same thing. You’d like to think that the thing making the Pirates contenders has been their talent, and not a Jenga tower of chemistry that can crumble to the ground if one small piece is removed.
Links and Notes
**Episode 3 of the Pirates Roundtable can be viewed here. This week’s episode features James Santelli as the host, along with Ed Giles of In Clemente Weather, Michael Waterloo of Pittsburgh Sporting News, Steve Petrella of MLB.com, Cory of Three Rivers Burgh Blog, and Brian McElhinney of Raise The Jolly Roger.