First Pitch: Could the Pirates Be Sellers This July?

Today I was reading a few articles about how the Tampa Bay Rays might have to start thinking about trading David Price this summer due to their record. This was before their loss tonight, when they were sitting 16-22. That had me thinking two things.

1. I need to go up to St. Pete to see David Price soon.

2. If the Rays need to start thinking about selling because they’re 16-22 and four games out of the wild card, then what should the Pirates be talking about, sitting at 16-21 and 3.5 games back from the second NL Wild Card spot?

The games back stat is a little misleading at this point. The Rays have five teams ahead of them before you get to the teams currently occupying the Wild Card spots. The Pirates are 3.5 games back, but would have to jump past seven teams to get a Wild Card spot.

So if the Rays need to be thinking about selling right now, does that mean the Pirates need to do the same thing?

The situations are a bit different. The Rays have a lot of injuries (Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Jeremy Hellickson), and don’t have the depth the Pirates do or a big impact from the minor league system on the way. The Pirates, meanwhile, have some good depth in Triple-A, and have the eventual arrival of Gregory Polanco. That means they’re more likely to receive the help they need to improve as the year goes on.

But at what point should they start making plans for pending free agents like Francisco Liriano, Russell Martin, and more?

I don’t think they need to do anything right now. They’re coming off a 6-3 stretch. One more stretch like that, and they’re one game below .500. They also don’t need to do anything until they see how the team does with Polanco. They can make some internal improvements right now, which is what they should do by making a switch from Wandy Rodriguez to Brandon Cumpton.

As far as external additions, if Jordy Mercer continues his struggles, then that will bring up an interesting debate about whether they should sign Stephen Drew after the draft, and after the point where they wouldn’t have to give up a draft pick to sign him.

You could also point out that a big reason they’re struggling right now is that their pitching isn’t performing to expectations. That especially includes Liriano, who would be the biggest trade chip if the Pirates were sellers. If Liriano’s struggles would lead to the Pirates being sellers, then selling him probably wouldn’t bring back much in return.

I still think there’s a lot of room for improvement with the Pirates. The offense isn’t as bad as we saw throughout most of April, and hopefully the positive signs we’re seeing lately means they’re starting to bounce back. The pitching has struggled, even from the guys who were expected to perform. The Pirates just have to wait it out for guys like Liriano, but they should start to think about moving on from someone like Rodriguez.

As I’ve been mentioning a lot in the last few weeks, the Pirates have dug themselves a deep hole that they now need to climb out of. That’s not going to be easy, but it is possible. There’s a chance they could also be sellers this summer, but the time to think about that probably won’t come for another month or two.

Links and Notes

**Week In Review: Polanco Offer, Roster Moves, Prospect Reports, 2014 Draft

**Top 10 Hitters: Is Mel Rojas Finally Putting Things Together?

**Top 10 Pitchers: Brandon Cumpton Continues Pitching Well…For Indianapolis

**Prospect Watch: Gregory Polanco Hits His Fifth Homer

**Minor League Schedule: Joely Rodriguez Looks to Build Off Strong Outing

**Prospect Highlights: Gregory Polanco’s Triple, Alen Hanson’s Homer

**Pirates Release Four Minor League Pitchers

**Pirates Sign Second Baseman Nathan Sopena

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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  • Monsoon Harvard

    I don’t see anything wrong with trading Liriano if the return is very good.
    A true third base prospect and maybe some decent young pitcher, something like that.
    I think if Pedro can’t get his throwing under control, he’ll soon be at first base so they need to start making plans for his eventual third base replacement now.

    • pilbobuggins

      I agree on pedro, they also need to get him out of the four spot and into five where his high strike out rate won’t hurt as much and his power when it happens would be a plus.

      • emjayinTN

        Actually, just 5 more K’s than ‘Cutch at this point, and ‘Cutch, Davis, Martin, Walker, and Alvarez are all doing well in W/K. 19W/33K is much better than we have experienced with Pedro in past years, and is very good for a power hitter with 8 HR’s. He has made some excellent plays at 3B with the glove, but some of those throws – I think all but one of his E’s are from throws.

        • pilbobuggins

          I read the numbers same as you and yes pedro’s k to walk ratio has improved. That still does not make him a fit in the four spot. He has never shown he is good at four, flip pedro and marte. Marte profiles as a four hitter much more than pedro in everything but power, he gives cutch more protection as he hits for average and walks quite a bit. Pedro has a lot of value just not at #4.

      • bucsws2014

        Pedro’s Ks aren’t bothering me at all – he’s cut his rate way down. It’s his penchant for rally-killing DPs that are killing me. He still needs to improve his 2-strike approach and go oppo more often in RISP situations instead of pulling the ball right into the teeth of a shift. There’s nobody else that makes sense as a #4, unless you want to consider Ike, in which case you’re probably looking at moving Pedro to 6, which IMO, is too low.

        The guy who’s K rate is alarming is Tony Sanchez.

        • mysonisnamedafterRoberto

          Oddly enough Pedro is at a career low for hitting into DPs. He is at 11% the league average. I think because of his history of being prone to hit into DP, they just stand out more this year.

        • freddylang

          I feel like Sanchez is being hyper aggressive at the plate when I see him. With him basically being told he doesn’t have a job in the majors this year and with the injuries being bounced up and down, he probably feels like he has to show what he can do while he is up so he is attacking at the plate. He has been much more patient in his very small sample at Indy. I think he will be fine in the long run. He has 31 BB and 63 K in 81 games in AAA which is very good…especially when you factor in 8 HBP also.

      • mysonisnamedafterRoberto

        Yeah Pedro has done a lot better with Strikeouts and he has increase his Walks. His Strikeout rate is at the league average this year. What concerning is his lack of power this year. Yeah he has 8 HR but his SLG % is only 5% higher than the league average.

        • gregenstein

          Someone, I think Tim, wrote an article suggesting that Pedro has been woefully unlucky in the BABIP department. Essentially, he’s been hitting a lot of “at ‘em balls.” If that turns around to a more reasonable number, you’ll see his SLG improve significantly just because he’s getting more singles and doubles.

    • bucsws2014

      If Frankie pulls it together and is the 2013 Liriano the rest of the way, a QO should be in play. Without Taillon and with what we know about who can step in from AAA, there’s really no one to replace Liriano (assuming Cumpton will replace Wandy soon). The only way trading Liriano should even be considered is if the Bucs reach a point where they’d need to play .667 or so ball to win a WC spot, e.g. sitting at halfway point with only 33-35 wins. This team has advanced past the point where Neal should be selling MLB talent for prospects.

      • B Thomas

        No teams are ever past that point of selling MLB “pending Free agent” talent for Prospects, that could add to the core of the team the following season.

        • bucsws2014

          If Taillon (or equivalent MLB-ready pitcher) was in play, I’d agree with you. Certainly there are cases when competitive teams deal away stars mid-season. But they only do so when they have a replacement ready to step in.

          There’s a reason why “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” is time-tested wisdom.

          You trade (a good) Liriano when your club still has a chance to compete, you’re just throwing away the season, IMO. There is no one to step in. And you can never assume any prospect is going to “part of the core” in the following season… how many prospects were we counting on to step in this year who aren’t because they’re failing or injured. Besides, those guys – if you can even get one – would take a whole lot more than Liriano to fetch.

          Now, if Liriano is flailing and floundering, sure, go ahead and trade him. But what are you going to get besides a couple million in salary relief?

          The best possible situation for the Pirates is for Liriano to turn back the clock a year and dominate again. For the Bucs’ rotation to become solid and for the team to go on a winning tear. If Frankie can’t do that, then he’s not only worthless to us, but to pretty much everyone else. He becomes just another Erik Bedard.

      • gregenstein

        Eh, I’ll go ahead and disagree. They’re 5 games under .500 right now. It typically takes 87 wins to get a wild card spot. If they’re still 5 games under .500 at the All Star break, I’d consider a deal for Liriano or Martin. Really, I’d consider a deal for pretty much anyone except for Cutch.

    • piraddict

      If there are no plans to retain them for 2015 the Pirates should be sellers on Liriano, Martin and Volquez.. Given their start the 2014 Pirates don’t have the look of a team that can go deep into the playoffs this year. That’s okay. There is a time for everything, and for the Pirates that time is 2015 and 2016. Trying to add players to support this team is like a farmer trying to harvest his fields in July. It’s too soon. Players like Marte, Walker, Polanco, Sanchez, Alvarez need another year for growth in performance before the Pirates can truly contend in a World Series. If you are not going to be buyers you should be sellers. The greatest unknowns for the 2015 and 2016 teams are starting pitching. That’s where Taillon’s injury really hurts. Only Cole, Morton are certainties. Cumpton, Kingham, Taillon, Pimental, Wilson, Sadler are all questions needing an answer. Upgrades are needed at SS, SP, 3B if Pedro goes to 1B.

  • pilbobuggins

    Overall this teams biggest problem is lack of fundamentals, bad throws, missing easy plays, not hitting for contact in rbi situations,(although there has been some improvement here)starters can’t avoid the big inning(bad fielding plays a part here, not all but some.)ect.ect.. All of this can be corrected thru good coaching,which the pirates have, they just seem a bit slow on the uptake. With that said if they keep improving like they have through the first part of may they should be in contension come june. If not it will be a long,long summer for us bucco fans.

    • Monkshot

      Totally agree, the teams defense and starting pitching is to blame for this start. They shouldn’t have to come back from 4 runs after the 1st every other night. Speaking of that, why is Liriano struggling in the first inning so much this year? He looks completely out of sorts and then starts to come on for the next 3-4 innings before falling apart in his last inning of work. I hope they keep Harrison around after Polonco comes up, the kid gives everything he’s got, which is something I can’t say for all the players on this team.

      • gregenstein

        Harrison is in no danger of losing his roster spot. It will be either Snider or Tabata that loses a job (assuming no injuries), and I’d bet on Snider. Tabata has a contract beyond this year. Harrison’s primary purpose on the team is backup infielder. He just happens to play RF once in a while.

  • BallHeadWonder

    First, I am posting as a student….Question….Why was Ground Chuck charged with the loss on Sunday Nite’s Cards Game??? Was he not out of the game when Vinny came in and then Bryan Morris?? Need Clarity on that!!

    Second, I know we have pitching issues. I get that, but can SOMEONE…ANYONE please help me deal with Bryan Morris?? Please give me SOMETHING to help me deal with this dude!! Every time his number is called, he has failed to answer the bell. I was at the Baltimore DH and he was ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE!!! Sunday Nite, he was ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE!! Can we sell him??? Please help me, give me some numbers, give me another angle about this dude. He was our weak link in the great bullpen last season and he is ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE this season!! Please Help!!!

    • Joe Sweetnich

      Losing pitcher is the pitcher that gave up the lead or tie the last time. Since the Pirates never tied the game and Morton gave up 4 runs in the first inning, he is the losing pitcher.

      • BallHeadWonder

        Thank you Joe!! I feel bad for Ground Chuck!!

    • Lee Young

      About that Morris dude:

      Bryan Morris has thrown 80 innings over the last two seasons. His HR/FB rate is over 20%, and it isn’t a fluke – he’s really that bad. He struggles to strike out a meager 5 batters per 9 innings, yet Hurdle continues to use him in high leverage situations. His last 8 innings – 13 hits, 5 runs, 4BB, 2K. The Pirates lost six of those 8 games.

      • leowalter

        I don’t really like being too critical of Management Lee,but when you look at numbers like those you posted,it does really make you wonder,doesn’t it ?

      • BallHeadWonder

        Thank you for the stats!!! I knew I wasn’t far off!!! 20%!!!!!! 13% is considered AWFUL!!!! He’s at 20!!!! My goodness, why is this not being addressed???

      • bucsws2014

        It’s only on this forum and BucsDugout that anyone seriously offers an opinion that Morris has devastating stuff and is a potential closer.

        Pretty much everyone else just views him as middle inning fodder.

        • http://www.piratesprospects.com/ Tim Williams
          • bucsws2014

            Morris keeps pitching like Sunday night and Joe Maddon is welcome to him.

            • Lukas Sutton

              He was 1 pitch away from getting out of the inning. It was after the run he fell off. Tough to call him terrible when he is that close to being shut down. He is not that different that Watson 3 years ago.

  • https://profiles.google.com/117072260031604417798 PikeBishop65

    Bucs probably won’t be a total disaster at the deadline (realistically I see them as between 5 games under .500 to ten games over) If they are anywhere in that range I dont’ see a total blowup as Polanco will be here and the core will be in place. I can see minor moves being made.
    Trade a healthy Martin and see what Sanchez has for a half season.
    Trade Liriano and give Cumpton his shot and Jeff Locke a chance to rebound.
    Trade Tabata or Snider for whatever you could get.
    Who knows they could catch fire like the 87 team that gelled when they were 17 games under and went 27 and 10.

  • Chase

    I’m really surprised to hear you say there would be a debate on whether to sign Stephen Drew. Don’t really think there’s any debate. That’s not how the Pirates do things and Drew isn’t worth the money. Remember, at the end of the day, he is a Boras client.

    Assuming they’re out of contention, I think the Pirates should trade Liriano or Melancon to a pitcher starved team like the Rangers who have proven in the past that they will throw some guys out there for 1 yr rentals. They have a soon-to-be 21 year old shortstop, Luis Sardinas, that seems like he would be a good fit. TX is locked in with Andrus so I would imagine he would be expendable.

  • PirateFan85

    At least after the Trade Deadline the QO on Drew goes away correct? Sign pick him up, let Mercer figure out some things in AAA, and then see where the dust settles.

    I would not trade Martin (what if we do rebound, and Sanchez still hasn’t got his yips under control)
    Liriano really might be a victim of the every other year rule (so keep him next year so we are not burdened by a lack of rotation help)
    Pedro is Pedro (but moving him out of the 4 might be a good idea)

    KEEP POLANCO DOWN!!! I would want to see him up and playing in our outfield just as much as everyone else, but bringing him up in a bad situation could be detrimental if he truly is “still working on some things”

    • Y2JGQ2

      I’d actually move walker to 3, Cutch to 4, and Pedo to 5. Marte goes to 6, Polanco leads off. Mercer goes to 2, Ike and gabby to 7, martin to 8

    • Monsoon Harvard

      Yeah i’m not convinced Tony Sanchez is ever going to get that yips thing under control. Do we really need another Mackey Sasser? I think putting the money they saved on DOING NOTHING THIS WINTER towards resigning Martin would be a wise move. Keep Martin around until Reese McGuire or that Jin guy or Lin Ye Tang (or whatever his name is) is ready or close.

  • Monkshot

    Quick question, why aren’t teams stealing literally every chance they get when facing Sanchez? I would make him prove he can make the throw to second.

    • Y2JGQ2

      his biggest problem is throwing to first, not second….

      • Monkshot

        Agreed, that’s why I said make him prove he can throw to second, because I believe it’s throwing in general and could be a matter of time before the throw to second is a issue.

        • Y2JGQ2

          he makes bad throws when he has too much time to think about it, same issue pedro usually has. Its hard to fix, but shouldn’t be an issue on throws to second

          • Monkshot

            How many people have you seen him throw out at second this year? I promise you, it’s a major weakness, and it’s just a matter of time before it’s figured out and or capitalized on. The Brewers like to run, look who got the bulk of the starts. It wasn’t a accident Stewart was in there 2 of the 3 games.

  • https://www.facebook.com/clementewall21 N_Cap

    Its going to be hard to get a lot for Franky if he continues at his current pace. Especially with his past

  • mysonisnamedafterRoberto

    So Pedro is an interesting study. What we know has been a focus is working deeper into the count and seeing more pitches.
    In theory, that should increase On Base Percent and also allow the batters to see more pitches, which in turn would allow the batter a higher chance to take advantages of mistake thrown in their zones. If you look at Pedro’s numbers this year and
    compared them to his career and some league averages, you get some interesting numbers? Realize that this year is a
    small sample size, but we are at around a quarter of the at bats that he had last year, so trends are starting become a little more apparent.

    Pedro’s ratios are looking much better. His strikeout ratio is down to 20.6%. With a career percent of 30, that is a great sign. When you look that the league average this year is 20.5%, it is even more impressive of a stat. That partnered with his walks being at an all
    time high of 11.9%; up from 9.2% for his career, he is at 1.74 SO to Walks. The league is at 2.5.

    When you look at what Pedro is swinging at; you will see some more encouraging numbers. His contact rate is up to 73% from a career of 68%, without his percent of swings changing that much. He is swinging at 45% of the pitches he see, compare to 47% for his career. His swinging strikes also are at a career low; 20% better than his career average.

    It could be the patience is paying off?

    There are, however, some potential alarming numbers when you look at the rest of his stats.

    Pedro’s slashes for 2014 are .214/.313/.400

    For his career they are .234/.306/.439, so his average is down, OBS is up and SLG is down.

    The League’s average is .250/.315/.395

    His average is off the league’s average, but I think we would figure that will be the norm with him. OBS is just below the league and his slugging is just above.

    I think what is surprising is the Slugging %. We would expect a bigger gap between Pedro and the League. His HR% is about the
    same as his career, at 5% of his at-bats being HRs this year. His career is 4.7% and if you back out the 2011, which statistically probably by the end of his career will be an anomaly, his career is 5.15%. What is missing is his doubles. In 160 Plate appearances
    he had 2 Doubles. That is 1 every 70 plate appearance. For his career he has averaged one every 24 plate appearances.
    Those numbers are funny, since we usually associate Double and HRs. You hear all the time about prospects that have
    a lot of Doubles that it could translate into Home Runs with development of that power.

    Because of this his extra base hit % is down to a career low of 33%, the level average. Pedro, over his career averages about 9% of his plate appearances ending in an extra base hit. This year he is down to 6.3%. The league average is 7.5%.

    So it looks like there has been a trade off for less strikeouts and more walks. It is less power. Has it affected his productivity
    as a clean-up hitter? So far, it looks like it has. His productivity outs % is at a career low. That measure how well a hitter advances and drives in runners. Also his % of runners scored when he comes to bat is at a career low. Now these are small sample sizes, but are numbers to keep an eye on as the year progresses.

    So is he being more patience at the plate and is his pitch selection getting better? I don’t think so. He is seeing a career low in pitches per plate appearance at 3.15 pitches. For his career he is around 3.9. So what is driving this odd decrease in strikeouts and power and increase in walks? First off, it looks like Pedro is seeing fewer strikes than the past, actually a career low of 60%,
    while the league is at 63.6%. Also Pedro’s 3-0 counts seen are up 50% and 3-1 counts seen are up 32%. This year he has seen 13 3-0 counts. He only saw 28 all of last year in 614 plate appearances.

    So what do we make of all of this. I think what you are seeing is a batter that just past 2000 MLB plate appearances and is starting to understand a few things about how pitchers are pitching him. I think you also have a batter with back to back 30 Home Run seasons that is being acknowledged by the opposing pitchers. He his hitting how he is being pitched. Now, the question going forward is will he continue to develop and figure out how not to have a drop off in power while still controlling the
    strike zone?

    • Y2JGQ2

      Not really alarming if you look at where he was 3 weeks ago.

  • freddylang

    Pedro is frustrating but I think next year would be when they deal him…or in the offseason. If they had a replacement it would be different. I see Grilli as a trade candidate at the deadline also if he can get healthy. His contract is up and they aren’t gonna pay the 6,7,8 mil or whatever it takes to sign him. They probably won’s even pay 5 mil if he came that cheap. Grilli’s small contract and being a veteran reliever with closing experience I think will have a lot of teams in the race asking about him in the next 2 months.

    • letsgopitt123

      Grilli might be able to fetch a bucket of balls at this trade deadline. He has been injured and has not shown great stuff this year. He will not get 6-8 mil a year to sign him next year. Not even close. The relievers people will come calling for are our 2 lefties.

      • Y2JGQ2

        his stuff is fine, his location is the problem

        • Monsoon Harvard

          Yeah being in Pittsburgh doesn’t help anybody.

          • Y2JGQ2

            lol

    • Y2JGQ2

      Pedro is going nowhere. He can’t be replaced. next statement please

  • Matt Christine

    Why are we talking about selling before the season is even 25% complete? Pedro always heats up once the weather gets nicer. It’s really only a matter of time. And as everyone here (hopefully) knows, when Pedro is running hot, this team is pretty hard to beat. Yes, he absolutely belongs as the cleanup hitter. Especially with his already improved plate patience this season. Walker looks a lot better this year. Cutch is Cutch. Marte looks much better lately. Getting a healthy martin back will help the pitching and defense. Between Ike and Gaby, we will get decent production out of first base this year.

    If anything, we could end up being buyers at the deadline. We could find another starting pitcher, a quality bullpen arm, and a SS. I almost guarantee the Pirates will at least be .500 at the deadline.

    • Y2JGQ2

      Mercer is hitting back to normal now- good sign. maybe we need drew, maybe we don’t.

    • Ron Loreski

      Because this is PIttsburgh man, this is what people do. Didn’t you hear Greg Brown say “CLEAR THE DECK?!”. So that’s what everyone is doing. Maybe the Bucs will have better luck in 2015. 2014 is clearly a lost cause.

  • leadoff

    I don’t believe in Sellers And Buyers. I think the Pirates could make a deal or two to help the team now or in the long run. If they bring Polanco up, it is a no brainer that either Tabata or Snider would have to be moved, that won’t have anything to do with selling or buying. This team is built for the long run, if they are floundering in June or July selling or buying season wont’ make any difference, financally this team is pretty well set, talent wise pretty well set. As Neal Huntington likes to say when the team is not doing well, the team has the talent, they will have to play better, it will have to come from within. Defense is their big problem and is something this team can play well, something that you have to work at all the time, right now this team is a bit lazy defensively, Alvarez can make the throws, McCutchen can hustle a little more in center field, singles to center field should not be doubles, Sanchez can make the throws also, Walker can play better defense. Mercer will hit, he will get to the mean, the starting pitchers need to pitch better when they are in trouble no matter how they got in trouble.

    • lonleylibertarian

      “Built for the long run”?

      • Ron Loreski

        Yep, the long run. You know the one with no destination.

    • lonleylibertarian

      And I have got to call you on “the team has talent”
      1. A great center fielder who as you note does not always play hard.
      2. A young left fielder who may be an all-start someday – but has to
      cut down on his strikeouts.
      3. A 3rd baseman who has tons of power – but also hits into a LOT of
      double plays [there are times I WISH Pedro would just strike out]
      4. A good – but erratic second baseman – solid – but not an all-star.
      5. A very good catcher – who is third best in the division – and a
      C offensively.
      6. Tons of #3/#4 starters..
      7. A bullpen with ONE good year under it’s belt – ONE…

      All the statistical measures would suggest that the Pirates are about average in both batting and pitching – they have shown a lot of power and good run scoring – but on base and BABIP are not impressive.

      • Lukas Sutton

        Statistically Pedro is league average in terms of DPs, so you are not correct in that he hits into a lot of them. You also claim Cutch doesnt play hard, and that is also bull. He just played with what was likely a not great ankle and he gets rewarded with a “hey, you dont hustle”. Misleading representation of this team in a few areas.

  • Ron Loreski

    The Pirates have been buyer the past 3 years at the deadline. Why now, after coming of their first playoff season in 21 years, would they become sellers again? They would have to be 15+ games under .500 in July to justify being sellers.

    And if that is the case, if the Pirates are really that bad in July, that means Liriano and Volquez probably have horrible numbers. And Russell Martin is still on the shelf. None of the 3 will have any trade value, other than a low A player, or a failed prospect. Have some faith people!

  • pilbobuggins

    Marte was hitting leadoff, since hehas been moved down he profiles much better.

  • CalipariFan506

    3-12 against the Reds and Brewers. 13-10 against everybody else. Last year we found a way to beat those teams and that was the reason for success.

    Both teams do nothing but throw away away away away on our hitters and the Pirates don’t adjust.