First Pitch: Breaking Down The Musical Chair of Relievers

The Pittsburgh Pirates had a busy day of moves. None of the moves were major, but a set of three moves led to the Pirates playing musical chairs with relief pitchers, and ending up with a first round compensation pick in the process.

First, the Pirates traded Bryan Morris to the Marlins, receiving the 39th pick in next week’s draft. Then they called up Casey Sadler to replace Morris on the roster. To cap it off, they claimed Wirfin Obispo from the Atlanta Braves.

I like the stuff that Morris has. He’s got the stuff to be a late inning reliever. However, for some reason his numbers have never matched the stuff. This year he had a 3.80 ERA in 23.2 innings. His advanced metrics were worse, with a 4.48 xFIP. Morris learned a two-seamer during the off-season, which led to a 67.1% ground ball ratio. His strikeouts have always been low, with a 5.3 K/9 this year, and his walks have been too high, with a 4.6 BB/9 in 2014.

Morris showed better stuff this year, with a fastball that averaged 95.3 MPH. He also has a nice cutter that you’d think would lead to more strikeouts. Maybe the Marlins can get him turned around. From the Pirates’ standpoint, he wasn’t exactly dominating, the advanced metrics said he’d be worse, and they’ve got the depth to replace Morris with another talented pitcher.

The fact that they got a draft pick for Morris is surprising. Two years ago, the Pirates traded a compensation pick to the Marlins for Gaby Sanchez. I thought that price was high at the time, and it still looks a little high, although it’s better now with Sanchez dominating lefties. I’ve made my position on relief pitchers known. If you can get value for them, then deal them away and replace them with the next guy in line. I think a first round compensation pick in a deep draft like this one is a good return for a guy who has put up average middle relief numbers in his career. John Dreker wrote about what the new draft pick could mean for the Pirates.

That type of move is only good if the Pirates can replace Morris with a guy who is as good as him, or better. Enter Casey Sadler. I’ve been high on Sadler for a few years, dating back to when I first saw him in West Virginia in 2011. He was a long reliever then, showing good velocity and putting up some nice numbers. I saw him a year later in the Bradenton rotation, and that’s when I started viewing him as a potential starter.

I still think Sadler can be a starter in the majors. He’s got the stuff to be a back of the rotation guy. Long-term, he doesn’t have a spot with the Pirates in the major league rotation, and would only have a spot as a reliever, or as rotation depth in Triple-A. Obviously the Pirates are going the reliever route right now. That weakens the rotation depth in Triple-A right now, although I think Sadler would have been number three on that list. That’s not a knock against him. It’s just that the organization is high on Jeff Locke, and he seems to be next in line. Then there’s Vance Worley, who has been pitching well this year. The Pirates would be smart to add Worley to the active roster at some point this year, this getting control of the right-hander for three or four more seasons beyond the 2014 season. That left Sadler as the number three rotation option this year, assuming Nick Kingham doesn’t emerge as a starting option by the end of the year.

In the short-term, I think that swapping out Morris for Sadler will at least be a wash. The fact that the Pirates got a first round compensation pick, all while seeing little to no drop off at the major league level, is impressive.

Then there’s the addition of Wirfin Obispo, which might be the hardest name I have to remember for the rest of the year — and that’s considering that the Pirates will be adding up to 42 new players to the organization next week. This move seems very similar to the addition of Josh Wall a few weeks ago. You’ve got a hard thrower (93-97 MPH) who is on the old side, strictly a reliever, and has dealt with control problems. He’s got options remaining, meaning you can use an open spot on the 40-man to claim him, send him to Indianapolis, and hope that an adjustment will reduce the control problems and help the arm reach its potential. I don’t expect much from these moves. The Pirates had three open spots on the 40-man roster after the Morris trade, so there’s no harm in making this claim. Worst case, you just used a roster spot that wasn’t being used, and get a guy who will struggle in Triple-A and won’t turn things around as expected. In other words, it’s very unlikely this deal will do anything to harm the Pirates.

Overall, the Pirates didn’t make any big splashes here. I like the fact that they got a draft pick for Morris, especially considering the quality of talent in this draft. It also helps that Sadler should be a good replacement for Morris. Then they added a high upside arm whose numbers haven’t lived up to the stuff. That sounds very much like Morris, although Obispo is on a much lower scale than Morris as far as success. But the Pirates dealt a great arm/poor results guy like Morris for a draft pick, then got a great arm/poor results guy like Obispo for free. That’s getting good value, even if the deals are minor.

tl;dr

**Bryan Morris has a great arm, and his stuff has been better this year. His numbers have never lived up to the stuff, and that trend continued this season.

**The 2014 draft is deep with talent, so getting a compensation pick for a reliever like Morris is a good move.

**Casey Sadler could be just as good as Morris in the bullpen, meaning the Pirates don’t lose anything.

**Sadler as a reliever weakens the rotation depth, but he was probably behind Jeff Locke and Vance Worley to begin with and had no long-term future in the Pirates’ rotation.

**It’s hard to remember how to spell Wirfin Obispo.

**Obispo is an older reliever with a good arm and bad stuff in his career. He’s a low risk/high reward project who is unlikely to work out, but costs the Pirates nothing.

Transaction Links

**Pirates Trade Bryan Morris to Marlins For a Draft Pick

**Casey Sadler Takes Roster Spot of Bryan Morris

**Draft Prospect Watch: What the New Draft Pick Could Mean For Pirates

**Pirates Claim Pitcher Wirfin Obispo From Atlanta Braves

**Wirfin Obispo Player Page

Links and Notes

**Prospect Watch: Josh Bell Homers During Jason Creasy’s Gem

**Chris Dickerson Being a Mentor to Gregory Polanco. Ryan Palencer writes about how Dickerson is having a great season for Indianapolis, but his biggest impact might be the guidance he is providing for Gregory Polanco.

**Adrian Sampson is the Pirates Prospects Pitcher of the Month For May. Not a top of the rotation prospect, but he is breaking out and has a chance to be a middle of the rotation guy if all goes well.

**Keon Broxton is the Pirates Prospects Player of the Month For May. He’s got the upside of a fourth outfielder, and should move up to Indianapolis when Polanco gets promoted.

**Prospect Highlights: Gregory Polanco Moves to Lead-Off Spot. The final step until his promotion, which might be a week away.

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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  • pilbobuggins

    These kind of under the radar moves are what people forget when criticizing huntington, I’ve said before that he does a really good job under the constraints placed on him by ownership in a small market.

    • Leefoo Rug Bug

      Yep….they laughed when we picked up Grilli.

      • emjayinTN

        And, many laughed when we picked up Andy Oliver who, in his last 3 outings at AAA – 3 IP, 1 H, 8 K’s/0 Walks. The way we use Wilson and Watson out of the BP, a 3rd lefty can be brought. Oliver is in his age 26 season would definitely catch a lot of attention if he came up and pitched well. And, he started 24 games last year, and Wilson was a SP until last year also.

        • leowalter

          emjay,if

  • Sports70

    Too bad Duke Welker is hurt – probably would have been the perfect time to give him an extended look and still keep Sadler stretched out; I’m with Tim – I think relievers are easier to find and prefer to keep guys starters **cough** Justin Wilson **cough** no matter how they perform or how valuable they might be out of the bullpen)

    • Leefoo Rug Bug

      Gosh, I had totally foogotten about Duke.

      Can someone refresh my memory about what happened to him?

  • R Edwards

    I have been VERY frustrated with this team’s personnel decisions over the past 6 months, as well as their overall play, but that was an impressive series win (3 of 4) in LA against a pretty good Dodgers team with excellent starting pitching.

    Harrison continues to produce big – they need to get him his at bats, even after Polanco arrives. He is out-slugging, out-hitting, and producing more runs from he lead-off spot, than Ike Davis has hitting anywhere from #4 to #6.

    Volquez is making me eat crow of late, which is fine with me. He needs to get deeper into games however 5-6 innings is not going to cut it long term.

    • stickyweb

      If J Hay is outproducing Ike that much then he must be doubling what Pedro’s doing from any sopt in the lineup.

      • Scott

        Yea Ike isn’t a problem in the lineup, especially when platooned w/ Gaby. The problems are at SS, 3B and LF. J Hay can play 3B vs LHP, He can play RF (Polanco in LF) to give Marte more time off if he doesn’t improve. And while he may be a below average defender there, J Hay’s bat at SS would be huge.

        • leowalter

          They aren’t about to move Polanco to LF after spending the last three months or so acclimating him to RF. Harrison’s bat might be ” huge ” at SS, but you would soon discover his glove would be not so much.

          • Scott

            I was just thinking Polanco in LF and Harrison in RF every once in awhile, assuming we’re talking PNC Park’s big LF the Pirates would rather have Polanco covering that ground. Of course I’m still assuming Marte plays essentially everyday.

            And I realize JHay would be a liability defensively at SS, but if he stays hot (he’ll eventually cool) he needs to be in the lineup somewhere, so why not give it a shot?

            • leowalter

              Scott,I wasn’t disagreeing with your RF thought,I would agree with you. The thought of J Hay’s defense there is scary. But after watching him attempt to play SS a couple of times,that is even a worse thought. All I really wanted to do is make the point that the orginization is going to do everything they can to help Polanco succeed when he does arrive,and playing a completely foreign position wouldn’t be the best way to do that.

        • csnumber23

          Please Scott! Starling Marte will be fine! Sure I am disappointed with his season so far but he will be fine. He still plays Gold Glove defense and has great speed. The numbers will get better, he is in a slump right now and has been very streaky but you don’t bench him and certainly not for J. Harrison. It’s great what Josh is doing but lets not get crazy. I do agree with giving Josh some time at SS.

      • R Edwards

        I don’t get your point, I wasn’t comparing Harrison to Alvarez. I am not a big Alvarez fan, in fact I hope they do NOT extend him – unless he does a 180 degree turnabout this year. His HRs and highlight reel plays at third base are nice, but his Mendoza like average, numerous errors, strikeouts, and leaving runners on base are killers. I would not extend him unless it was heavily laden with incentives.

        Now, the problem with not extending him is that we do not have any quality 3B prospects in the system. Mathiesen, Weiss, Wood, etc. are all more suspects than prospects. And none of them are remotely close. So, we would need to trade for or sign a free agent third baseman.

        The problem with Davis is that he hasn’t shown much power or run production. It is like he has adjusted his swing and approach to produce walks an singles, at the sacrifice of power. The home run in LA was the first time I’ve seen him really crush a ball in a long time. We didn’t trade for a singles hitter to play first base.

        • IC Bob

          One of the reason Ike has struggled to drive in runs is because no one was ever on base in front of him. Since he has move up to 4th in the order he has done a better job of producing runs as well as protecting Cutch something Alvarez never did. The line up right now is decent but Marte needs to get out of his slump and they need to move Martin down to the more natural position of 7th in the order. Martin is a 230 hitter and really gives zero protection to the guys in front of him (though he is having a decent year right now).

          • R Edwards

            That is true, but Davis has mostly been a singles hitter since his arrival – he has hit 3 HRs in what – 6 to 7 weeks? He has 12 RBIs, 4 coming on one grand slam HR. So, no – I don’t buy it that he’s doing a decent job of driving in runs. Harrison is doing a better job as the lead off man.

            Now, I do agree it is not all Davis’ fault. Marte has been a huge disappointment to date – too many strikeouts and bone headed base running mistakes. I hope he comes around soon. They cannot win without him producing.

            Alvarez has been pretty dismal – got off to great start, fizzled since. Mercer has been hitting better of late. Cutch, Walker, G.Sanchez, and Harrison have been carrying this team for the past 2-3 weeks.

        • stickyweb

          I just thought it was interesting you were calling out an .807 OPS corner IF and not a .699 OPS corner IF when they have both hit in the same middle part of the order. HRs are over rated. Why is drawing a BB so great when your #3 hitter (Cutch) does it but so bad when your #4 hitter (Ike) does it?

          • R Edwards

            You want to compare Cutch and Davis?? Are you serious??

            • stickyweb

              No, I just wanted to point out the folly in trying to evaluate a hitter based on the position he plays or the spot in the batting order he’s assigned. But since you brought it up, OPS wise (and also wRC+ and wOBA wise, and probably any other reasonable way you can measure), Ike is closer to Cutch than he is to Pedro.
              From another post of yours I see you’re not a big fan of Pedro, but apparently you didn’t call him out in your original post becuase he has 10 HRs, not bad for a corner IF and middle of the order guy, and you called out Ike because he has 3 HRs with the Bucs which is just pathetic. But the point is how good of a HITTER are they, not how good of a HR hitter.
              Let’s put it another way, if every Pirate hitter hit exactly like Ike, the Bucs would have the best offense by any measurable metric (OK they’d be tied with the Rockies OPS wise). And if every Pirate hit like Pedro, they’d lead the league in HRs and be below average (even below their current team level) by every single metric. In summary, calling out Ike and not Pedro is laughable

              • R Edwards

                I understand your points, and do not necessarily disagree with them. But, the Pirates did not trade for Davis because of his ability to walk, hit singles, and get on base – at least publicly, that is not what was said. We picked him up because he could provide power and drive in runs – which were sorely needed in the lineup then and now. Davis has not been very successful at providing either. Get Gabby Sanchez, in lesser number of at bats, has produced at a much higher rate and hitting in the same lineup.

                • stickyweb

                  Ike did have the 32 HR season a couple years back, so I’m sure some were hoping for a repeat of that. Since I liked getting Ike and had to listen to the naysayers the first couple weeks when he sucked, I’m a little sensitive now that he’s hitting well and it’s still “He hasn’t hit any HRs” or “He hasn’t done it in the cleanup spot”, etc. He’s fine, there are other guys that need to step up. Yeah I’m looking at you Marte, Mercer and Pedro.

                  • R Edwards

                    If Davis was playing shortstop, I would be happy with his current production – decent average, gets on base, walks a lot. But, he’s supposed to be one of the guys in the lineup hitting HRs, driving in runs, hitting a lot of doubles, etc. He’s not doing much of any of that – so far. So, I hope the Pirates are not satisfied and will consider other options if Davis does not improve in those areas. I would rather have Garrett Jones back, than the Davis we are seeing.

    • EWS34

      I wonder if the Pirates would have kept Volquez in if they scored more runs yesterday. I think the bull pen was fresh, and they wanted to make certain he got a win.

  • R Edwards

    Has Wall pitched at Indy yet, since we picked him up?

  • R Edwards

    So, what is the status of Mazzaro? I thought he would have been brought back when Morris was traded, but obviously not. I think he is far superior to Gomez, and would like to see them make that swap. Mazzaro could fill in Morris’ spot in the bullpen – righthanded short reliever to setup Melancon and Grilli.

    • stickyweb

      I don’t think it’s as easy as saying we want Vin back. MLBTR has June 4th as the date for his DFA resolution. So I think they can get him back in a couple days if they have a super secret deal in place to recall him to the majors after he accepts the assignment to AAA. Or maybe there’s a shortcut in the process I’m not aware of.

  • R Edwards

    Big series in San Diego…..starting tonight….

    The Padres have completely dominated the Pirates over the past few years – even at PNC Park. It doesn’t make much sense, as the Padres were often no better than the Pirates. Its just one of those weird baseball things.

    So, the Pirates owe them big time – so this becomes a very big series for the Pirates. Will they keep the positive energy moving forward, or have a let down after the Dodgers series?

    Lets see if Morton can beat the journeyman Stouffer tonight….