First Pitch: Did the Pirates Dodge a Bullet at the Deadline?

The Pirates, like a lot of other teams around the league, didn’t make a move at the deadline. Well, unless you count the addition of Robert Andino, which technically came during the waiver trading period (Andino wasn’t on a 40-man roster, so he could be dealt any time). After the trade deadline had passed, Neal Huntington met with the media. James Santelli has a breakdown of the quotes from Huntington.

The one quote that stood out to me was where Huntington talked about how the Pirates were willing to do something “stupid” but weren’t willing to do something “insane”.

The Pirates have been on the opposite side of this situation. They’ve shopped players while rebuilding. It seems like when they were going through that process, teams were hoarding prospects. Teams still hoard prospects, but it also seems that the sellers are now holding out for massive deals. If the Pirates were on the opposite side of this, and some team was offering them a “stupid” deal, that would be a deal they should take. It seemed like this deadline was “insane or bust” for a lot of sellers.

But we don’t even need to go into the “insane” part. What about the “stupid” part? It’s almost like the Pirates dodged a bullet this year at the deadline with the high asking prices from sellers. There was a weak market, and you didn’t have many teams blowing it up and starting all over. The biggest deal of the deadline was the Matt Garza trade, which I consider stupid for the Rangers. Sure, Garza is a good pitcher, but they gave up a top 50 hitting prospect and three Grade B pitching prospects to get two months of Garza.

I’ve repeated this over and over, but I’ll say it again. The Pirates didn’t need to make a move. They currently have the best record in baseball. They have some incredible depth. They have a 98.9% chance of making the playoffs, which is the best in the league. They also have one of the top farm systems in the game.

There’s the irrational fear of another collapse, which only seems rational because Pirates fans have been tortured by the most unlikely circumstances at every turn over the last 20 years. Anyone looking at the depth and the talent on this team can see that it is clearly different than last year’s or the year before. If they were going to collapse, they would have done it by now. They would have collapsed five starting pitcher injuries ago, or back when the offense was struggling to knock anyone in, or any of the times where Garrett Jones, Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Starling Marte, or Russell Martin struggled for almost a month at a time each at the plate this year.

The Pirates are pretty much making the playoffs this year. That’s not even factoring in the playoff odds above. It’s looking at the shape of the National League. Outside of the five current playoff teams, only one other team is ten games or less away from the Pirates in the standings. That team is Arizona, and they are exactly ten games back. The question now isn’t whether the Pirates will make the playoffs. The question is whether they can win the division, which would be huge since they wouldn’t be subject to a one game playoff to get in to the Wild Card round.

If you look at the players who were available on this market, there really wasn’t much. The guys who were available weren’t going to provide a huge impact over the remainder of the season. For example, let’s take Nate Schierholtz. He’s maybe a 2.5 WAR player this year, and that’s being optimistic and assuming he’s going to be legit the rest of the year. That’s less than one win added over the final two months of the season. When you get down to a one game playoff or a best of five series, the value added is much lower.

If the Pirates aren’t going to win with their current team, they’re not going to win by adding another player. Right field is a hole for them. They currently rank 14th out of 15 NL teams in wRC+ from the right field position. That’s an offensive position, so to rank low in that isn’t a good thing. But the idea that you need to have every position performing at top level in order to contend is flawed. Let’s look at how the Pirates stack up to the Cardinals and the Reds at each position.

Position – Pirates/Cardinals/Reds (all measured in wRC+)

C – 102/126/71

The Cardinals just lost Yadier Molina, so they’ll lose this production in the month of August. Meanwhile, the Pirates could see an upgrade with their backup catcher by moving to Tony Sanchez, although the impact here is minimal.

1B – 112/120/155

The Pirates definitely need Garrett Jones to perform better than he has been performing since the start of May.

2B – 95/128/80

They could also use some production from Neil Walker down the stretch, or maybe someone to pair with Walker against left-handers.

SS – 74/60/62

Jordy Mercer has been a boost to the offense at shortstop, and this number is still impacted by Clint Barmes. The Cardinals and Reds have both been worse offensively, and haven’t been as strong defensively.

3B – 97/118/93

Pedro Alvarez is putting up great power numbers, but still struggling against lefties, which hurts his overall value.

LF – 117/108/89

Starling Marte has been huge for the Pirates this year.

CF – 140/95/148

So has Andrew McCutchen, although Shin-Soo Choo has him beat slightly.

The Pirates have been weak this year offensively in right field. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

The Pirates have been weak this year offensively in right field. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

RF – 94/129/125

The production from right field is about the same as second base and third base, and better than shortstop. However, those positions provide the Pirates with more defensive value, especially with the infield shifts that are being used this year.

Overall – 104/113/104

On paper the Cardinals have the best offense of the three teams. Adding a better right fielder might help that, but it’s not going to make a huge difference. The guys who were available weren’t going to make that huge difference. And making a “stupid” trade for those guys would have been a bad idea.

One thing the above offensive numbers don’t show is that the Cardinals have been horrible defensively, and the Reds have been about average. The Pirates rank second in the NL this year in UZR/150. The Reds rank 6th, but are on the same level as guys ranked 6th-10th. The Cardinals are last, and it isn’t close.

If you switch over to pitching, all three teams are at the top of the NL. The Cardinals (3.57 xFIP) and Reds (3.62 xFIP) rank first and second, while the Pirates (3.68 xFIP) are tied for third with the Braves. You could make an argument that the Pirates will play above their xFIP, due to the defensive shifts, and due to the fact that the low HR/FB rates from lefties like Jeff Locke, Justin Wilson, and Tony Watson probably won’t regress to 10% due to PNC Park.

Do the Pirates need an upgrade in right field? Yes. They could also use some offensive help at second and third against left-handers. But this is a team that is built to compete with the Cardinals and the Reds as it stands. It’s also a team that doesn’t need a huge upgrade, and has internal options who could provide an upgrade without selling off prospects (#FreeAndrewLambo). The Pirates were trying to make “stupid” trade offers to upgrade a team that doesn’t need a big upgrade, and the fact that those offers were turned down is very fortunate. Overall none of the teams upgraded, and the Cardinals were actually downgraded with the loss of Molina. That puts the Pirates in good shape the rest of the season, and by keeping all of their prospects they remain in good shape in future years.

Links and Notes

Trade Deadline Recaps

**Pirates Don’t Make Any Moves at the Trade Deadline.

**Pirates GM Neal Huntington Talks Deadline: 13 Most Important Points.

Pirates

**Pirates Come Back Again, Beat Cardinals 5-4.

**Pirates Acquire Infielder Robert Andino From Mariners.

**Pirates Playoff Odds at 98 Percent, Best in Baseball.

**Michael McKenry Out for Season with Torn Meniscus.

Prospects

**Prospect Watch: Taillon Strong In Return, Lambo Homers Again.

**Minor League Schedule: Dickson Tries To Follow Up Stellar Performance.

**DSL Prospect Watch: Pirates Shutout Mets and Marlins.

Tim Williams

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 AccuScore.com, 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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