In less than 24 hours the playoff rosters will have to be set. If you haven’t read James Santelli’s article detailing the rules for playoff rosters, you need to do that now. A big takeaway from that article is that the playoff roster deadline is a soft deadline. For the purposes of the Pirates, the players eligible for the playoff roster include guys on the 25-man roster, and guys on the disabled list. But anyone who is on the disabled list on August 31st, and remains on the disabled list when the playoffs roll around can be replaced.
The Pirates will have three of these players: Michael McKenry, Phil Irwin, and Jeff Karstens. They could add more if players who are on the playoff roster get added to the disabled list and can’t play in the playoffs. It’s because of these flex spots that tomorrow’s deadline won’t matter as much. I doubt we’re going to see any moves, since all of the guys in the majors have a good shot at being on the playoff roster. The only guy who would be ineligible would be Jeff Locke, but the Pirates could just use a flex spot to add him in the playoffs.
The only move I see potentially happening tomorrow is a trade to bring in someone from the outside. We’ve reached the August 31st trade deadline, and this year the August trades have been more eventful than the July trades (perhaps it’s time to move that deadline back). The August deadline is also a soft deadline. Teams can still trade for players after August 31st. Those players just can’t be on the playoff roster, even with the flex spots.
The big question for the Pirates is whether they will add Justin Morneau. The first baseman has cleared waivers and can be traded to any team. He started off the month of August on a hot streak, but has cooled since clearing waivers, posting a .232/.295/.411 line in 56 at-bats. Garrett Jones would be replaced by Morneau if he was acquired, and has been horrible in August. However, Jones could turn his slump around, just like Morneau turned his hot streak around. It was only a month ago that Jones had an OPS over .800 in July, while Morneau had an OPS under .600.
It’s probably better to look at a large sample, rather than looking at how each player is trending during any specific time. If you look at the entire season, Morneau has been better, with an .824 OPS against right-handers, compared to a .729 OPS from Jones (which probably went up tonight, but not 100 points). Morneau would be an upgrade over Jones, but I don’t think he’d be as significant of an upgrade as he’s been made out to be.
If the only cost is money, then the Pirates should consider taking Morneau, assuming there are no better options tomorrow. Morneau doesn’t necessarily have to start. He could serve as a power bat off the bench if Jones does turn things around. The Pirates could go with Jones in right field while Starling Marte is out, assuming Jose Tabata doesn’t continue his success. Actually, the key to Tabata’s success this year seems to be the addition of a new player to the roster. Every time the Pirates add someone new, Tabata goes on a hot streak. Their September strategy should be to call a new outfielder up every five days to keep Tabata’s bat hot.
The point is that Morneau brings options. But I don’t think he’s a must get, and I don’t think any team thinks that. If they did, he would have been acquired by now by the Yankees or Orioles, who also need corner help. Morneau isn’t a guy I’d pay for, because over a short stretch I don’t think he’s guaranteed to give you anything better than what Tabata or Jones can give. I realize saying that while Jones is slumping sounds foolish, but I don’t think Jones is as bad as he’s looked in August, and I don’t think Morneau is as good as he’s looked in August (which again was fueled by a two week hot stretch).
This isn’t Marlon Byrd. The Pirates paid a high price for Byrd, but he also filled a lot of needs. He filled the right field need, which hasn’t seen consistent production all year. He filled the need of a strong bat against lefties, which is something Morneau doesn’t fill. Byrd also came with John Buck, who gives the Pirates some insurance if they happen to lose Russell Martin. Jones isn’t like the right fielders, because he’s had success before. He’s slumping now, and there has to be the concern that his career is on the decline. But again, if you looked at Morneau a month ago (.712 OPS on July 31st), you might have said the same thing.
In either case you’re betting on someone to get hot. I don’t think either player provides a guarantee in September. I like Morneau if he only costs money, since he would give a good Plan B if Jones continues to struggle. But if Morneau costs a return like Byrd, I don’t like the deal. The Pirates would be better off sticking with Jones in that case. That could look like a stupid statement in a month if Jones repeats his poor August and Morneau somehow goes on another hot streak like early August. But I have a feeling that both players give you the same chance of success going forward, and for that reason I don’t think Morneau is worth giving up anything of value.
Links and Notes
**We had a few issues with the podcast this week. We recorded one the night before the Marlon Byrd trade, then before we could get it edited and posted, the trade happened, dating the new show already. I’ve been losing my voice the last two days, which isn’t ideal for a podcast. Hopefully we can get a new one recorded on Monday after the playoff rosters and September callups are set. Until then, here is last week’s if you missed it: P3 Episode 18: Prospect Talk With Pirates Farm Director Larry Broadway.