First Pitch: The Type of Prospects That the Pirates Could Afford to Trade

As I looked around at the reactions toward the Angels’ trade for Huston Street, I noticed a lot of people commenting about how the deal was a good one for Los Angeles. This is a team that didn’t have a farm system, and traded the few prospects they had remaining for a relief pitcher who is making $10 M over the next year and a half. And I’d have to agree that this deal was a good one for the Angels.

The Angels don’t need prospects. They have the luxury of being able to throw a large amount of money at any problem they have, thus allowing them to make a move like this. They signed Albert Pujols to a ten year deal that pays him an average of $24 M a year. Pujols immediately started to see a decline with his offense. The next year they signed Josh Hamilton to a five year deal that pays him an average of $25 M a year. Once again, they saw an instant decline. That didn’t stop them from making future moves, including the recent trade for Street. And they don’t really need the prospects they dealt, as they have the money to sign Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar to extensions, which they’ve already done.

Prospects are meaningless to the Angels, with the exception of the elite like Mike Trout. If they have a need, they can spend money or deal prospects to fill that need. In this case, they needed a reliever, so they traded prospects they won’t miss. It’s like playing fantasy baseball, where you don’t have to worry about the financials and the business side of the game, and the only concern is focusing on winning that year.

That’s how the other half lives. MLB’s other side of the economic coin features small market teams that have to look at the exact same trade in a much different manner. Dealing that much in prospects for a reliever is a horrible move for a small market team. If it was for a player who could bring more value, then it might be worthwhile. But then you’ve got to focus on the prospects you’re dealing, and how that might impact you for the long-term. Basically you have to look at the deal like real baseball, and focus both on short-term and long-term needs.

The Pirates have been building up their farm system for several years now. They’re to the point that they have a top farm system that has graduated top 20 prospects to the majors in each of the last three years, and looks to continue that trend each year over the next few years. Aside from just the top guys, they’ve graduated other prospects who have played key roles, and have plenty of other prospects who could do the same in the upcoming seasons. The lower levels are featuring the next wave of talent, with the possibility of replacing some of the current players on the roster.

We’re to the point where the Pirates could afford to deal some prospects in the right kind of deal. I don’t believe they should be dealing their top prospects, which mostly consists of the guys who project to be impact players. I also don’t think they should be dealing anything of value for bullpen help, bench help, or anything else that can be acquired without dealing something of value. But that still leaves open the possibility of upgrading in other areas, without trading anything you’d miss from the system.

The key is dealing from a position of strength, and dealing players who don’t fit into your long-term plans. The easiest example to give would be the starting rotation.

Gerrit Cole is under control through the 2019 season. Charlie Morton is under control through the 2017 season. Jeff Locke is under control through the 2018 season. The Pirates project to add Jameson Taillon and Nick Kingham by mid-season next year. Tyler Glasnow should arrive by mid-season 2016. They’ll have Brandon Cumpton under control for at least six more seasons after this year, and Vance Worley for up to four more years. Not everyone will work out, but the best-case 2016 rotation would include Cole, Taillon, Glasnow, Kingham, and one of Locke or Morton.

You look at that rotation, then you look at someone like Adrian Sampson, who is having a breakout season in Altoona. Sampson could very well arrive in the majors by the middle of the 2015 season. However, it’s hard to see where he would fit in a future rotation. The same could go for Worley or Cumpton. Maybe those guys would have a place in the rotation for the first half of 2015, but after that, rotation spots would be harder to come by.

Sampson is a prime example of a trade chip the Pirates could deal, without missing anything in the long-term. He’s improving his prospect stock, and he’s got a future as a MLB starter. But the Pirates are loaded with starting pitching prospects who have a higher upside, which means they probably won’t even have a rotation spot for Sampson. They could deal him, watch him go on to be a MLB starter for someone else, and the only concern they would have is whether the guy they got in return was worth dealing a trade chip away.

The outfield is another area where the Pirates have a good situation and the ability to deal prospects away. I wouldn’t deal Austin Meadows or Josh Bell, as Meadows could be a long-term replacement for one of the current outfielders, and Bell could be a candidate for first base. But someone like Harold Ramirez would be in the exact same situation as Sampson. He’s not going to break into the starting lineup with Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco around. He ranks behind Meadows and Bell, so he wouldn’t be the top guy to take over if one of those guys sees their career go down, or leaves Pittsburgh. He’s another guy who the Pirates could deal, and only have to worry about whether they got the right person in return. You could also add Mel Rojas and Andrew Lambo to this list, although if Ike Davis continues to struggle, Lambo could be a good replacement option.

The disclaimer here is that the Pirates aren’t getting the big names on the trade market with this type of approach. You’re not getting David Price by dealing these types of prospects. You could still get a decent player that could help your team. The Pirates have already made deals like this. They traded Robbie Grossman, Rudy Owens, and Colton Cain for Wandy Rodriguez a few years ago. They’re not missing those three prospects, and the only downside to that deal is that Rodriguez might not have been the best way to spend those prospects.

Last year there were two deals that saw a similar approach. Justin Morneau was acquired for Alex Presley and Duke Welker (who was later re-acquired for Kris Johnson). The Pirates aren’t missing Presley or Johnson, although it’s unfortunate that Morneau saved all of his power for Colorado this year. They dealt Dilson Herrera and Vic Black for Marlon Byrd. They won’t miss Black, although Herrera could be a guy they’ll miss. He made the jump to Double-A this year, and currently has a .935 OPS in 103 at-bats at the level at the age of 20. The Pirates have some middle infield options, such as Alen Hanson and JaCoby Jones, but Herrera’s value to the team in the long-term might have been bigger than Byrd’s value in the short-term (and I don’t consider Herrera a future shortstop, even though he’s played there with the Mets).

The Pirates can’t totally be like the Angels and other big market teams. They need to be conservative when it comes to dealing prospects, and can’t just go all in on one season with no regard for the future. They do have a strong enough system, and enough talent at certain positions in the majors that they could trade talented players without having to worry about losing future production from their MLB team. That would put them in a good position to land a middle tier player on the trade market.

Links and Notes

**Prospect Watch: Andrew Lambo Homers Twice in Indianapolis Rout

**Three Cases That Show It’s Not Always About Stats in the Minors

**Pirates Among Teams That Scouted Ian Kennedy Last Night

**Prospect Highlights: Clips From Adrian Sampson’s Near No-Hitter

**Minor League Schedule: Casey Sadler Looks to Stay Undefeated on the Road

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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  • Scott Kliesen

    If I’m NH and I believe the team has a legitimate chance to win the WS by acquiring Price for Glasnow and Meadows than I would pull the trigger. If it takes three of our top prospects, than no.

    Pirates have sufficient depth to be contenders for foreseeable future with or without those two. Highly doubtful they win WS w/out an Ace though.

    • Mike C.

      Would love if that is true, but do you think this team is one ace away from the WS? Love the Buccos but Sadly I don’t.
      So, even if all it took was glasnow 4 price(ehich it won’t) i say no to price.

      • https://profiles.google.com/101510909979106143098 David Lewis

        There’s the rub. Right now, BBPro gives the Pirates a 1.6% chance to win the WS, and Fangraphs a 2.3%. Even if a Price doubles their chances, you’re still talking a less than 5% chance to win the WS. I don’t go big for those odds.

  • https://www.facebook.com/wilbertmatthews Wilbert Matthews

    Good piece Tim. Has Bell had any time at 1b in the minors?

    • leadoff

      No, he was asked if he would try it and I don’t remember his exact answer, but I do remember that he did not say he would not.

  • emjayinTN

    Tim: Excellent article, and I am not sure anyone other than Baseball America knows about the guys the Angels unloaded for an excellent Closer. They are like the old Yankees – some talented players in the minors, but not a real good opportunity that any of them could unseat an expensive veteran already in place. Oh, BTW, Kennedy was one of those kids when he was in the Yankee system. The Pirates are starting to show they were not a one year flash, and they have lots of pitching that should not be traded, and some pitching that they may be able to do without. Taillon, Kingham, and Glasnow have to be untouchables. I like David Price, but the cost of prospects, as well as the outlook that he will be probably looking at a long term $150++ mil deal in Free Agency means he will be in New York, LA, or Chicago where the Cubs have assembled a fantastic group of prospects, and went young again by trading Samardzjia for possibly the best SS prospect (Addison Russell), and a lot more. Ian Kennedy will turn 30 this year, will also be a FA after 2015, and I do not see him being any better than the three guys mentioned above.

    Let’s trade prospects to ourselves to keep Russell Martin longer. If we trade prospects for anything it would have to be for a Pedro replacement. Switchhitting SS Alen Hanson, at age 21, is hitting .285 at AA Altoona with excellent numbers of Extra Base Hits as the leadoff batter. He covers a bunch of territory defensively, but his game is much more mature on offense than on defense. A month ago I would have rushed him through because Mercer was pitiful. That has changed, but they need to get him to AAA by the end of the year and start to spend a lot of extra time with him on defense. IMO, he is our future leadoff batter (2016), our SS for many years into the future, and is not available. I like JCJ, but he is a year older than Hanson and playing 2 levels below him.

    • db33

      I agree we need a 3rd baseman, I’m not a big fan of Pedro as an everyday player. We either need a platoon or a replacement. Because of his power he will be attractive to many other teams. If we find a replacement, what kind of a return would pedro get?

    • leowalter

      After watching Hanson for almost an entire season ( when he isn’t sitting because of attitude issues ) he hasn’t shown a strong enough arm to be a MLB SS.

      • piraddict

        Very interesting! So he can’t make throw going to his right in the hole?

        • leowalter

          He doesn’t get much on it at all. When you see most of his throws, and compare them to a Francisco Lindor or his own teammate Gift Ngoepe, you see the difference. Offensively, he is a real prospect,no doubt about it.

          • piraddict

            Thanks! So 2nd base is his likely destination.

  • Bucco_Joe

    Of course it doesn’t make sense to make a trade for a high profile player like David Price. Why does it make sense to make a move like that when this organization will never resign the guy?? Wake me up when Nutting worries more about wins & losses rather than years of control over a player’s salary.

    • emjayinTN

      Joe: There has to be a blend when we talk about re-signing a guy who will cost us more than anyone we have at the present time. I advocate using about $120 mil for an extension for ‘Cutch, and then we also have to consider whether we want to try to sign Gerrit Cole, Gregory Polanco, etc., etc. The Pirates have done a great job of building excitement into the product and last year they had 2.257 million fans in the seats as opposed to 1.609 mil in 2008. This yewar they can get close to 2.5 mil. If they can sustain attendance at 2.5 mil per year, they can compete for FA talent. It’s business, and I like what I see when I tune in to see sellouts at a place that only knew sellouts on fireworks Saturdays. Give it a little time.

    • jaygray007

      Because when you trade for a guy, you don’t trade for the extension. You trade for what he has left on his current deal.

      This is because you can trade for that guy, let him walk, and sign a different guy in FA that year and be in the same exact position.

      The extension and the trade/current contract are totally different entities.

      The beautiful thing about price is precisely that he is only under control until 2015. A perfect bridge to let taillon get healthy and effective again.

      It doesn’t matter because we aren’t getting Price. But yeah. Don’t factor extension possibilities in your opinions of whether or not to trade for a guy. Or do. I’m just bored so I wrote this long response :)

      • emjayinTN

        JG: Just because you are bored – what I see wrong about that scenario is if a guy like Price injures his knee (like Sabathia), and misses most or all of 2015? So, we have wasted 2 or 3 major prospects for somebody with no trade value whatsoever. I know that very rarely happens, but we are Pirate Fans and we know all too well how crap happens. The safe and sure method of keeping your best prospects works for me and probably for all mid or small market teams. The Steelers got better through the draft, as did the Penguins – I know this is different, but it may be our destiny

        Some other items – Price and Kennedy are in the 70’s in the ranks of GB pitchers. Morton, who used to be “ground Chuck” is “not so much ground Chuck” in 2014 – his 62.9% from 2013 is down to 54.6% in 2014. Edinson Volquez is ranked Number 28 right around 50% and Jeff Locke is not listed probably due to fewer games, but he is right around 48% which would put him about 35th.

        • jaygray007

          Yeah that’s absolutely something to consider. What if price needs TJ. An absolute reason to not trade for him. Lots of risk turning 3 assets into 1. But that doesn’t change the fact that they can still hand out a contract to a pitcher whether it is price or someone else after that 2015 season.

    • StevePegues

      So you’ll be awake for the 3 or 4 years it takes for such stupid, emotional decisions to ruin the long-term future of the team and pretty-much force its subsequent sale to Raleigh, NC or somewhere?

      Eh, I’ll just let you sleep then. Enjoy.

      • Bucco_Joe

        You see Steve I can tell what the next 3 to 4 yrs will bring. No Pedro, No Walker or Martin either through trades or failure to resign these guys. Once again we are trying to fill holes with prospects, failing to spend money or make trades to get this team to the next level. How many years does it take Steve before Cutch reailizes this team is in an ever building mode, not wlling to do what it takes to win a championship. Keep drinking the Koolaid Steve, you are the type of fan that Nutting loves !!!!!

        • jaygray007

          Why would cutch think that?

          Even if he did, who cares? They have him like 4 more years regardless.

          I know Mark Madden says that all the time about cutch so I assume that’s where you heard it but it doesn’t make sense to me. They are set up extremely well for the present and the long term.

        • StevePegues

          Well, the team has gone from the level of sucking every year to the level of having a winning record and/or being in the post-season. And they’ve figured out how to do that without throwing big dollars at free agents. Seems to me that if they wanted to be in perpetual rebuild mode, there’d be no reason to take that step.

          Like it or not, the Pirates cannot spend the way New York, Boston, LA, and the other big market teams can. Having $100+ million dollars tied up for 10 or more years with multiple players ain’t smart business unless the team is charging over $100 per seat and selling out (like in NY and Boston and other places) or the team has an ultra-lucrative TV deal or something (like LA and NY and other places).

          • Mike C.

            Btw, does disqus have an ignore feature? I don’t mind at all differing opinions and having discussions, but life is too short to waste on juvenile whiners, downers, unintelligent ad just plain trolls.

        • Timothy Wolfe

          This is stupid- of COURSE we are in an ever building mode. All small market teams are, its the only business way to keep people in the seats so you can remain competitive enough to win 75-90 games every year. Cutch, and everyone else knows this. Will we ever go all in to win a championship? probably not, because the cost to the organization of making a few education, but bad luck decisions, can kill a team for 15-20 years. By not taking those chances, the risk of ruining your team becomes very small. Every year you take a small chance and constantly replace players, with players who may not be quite as good, but also may be slightly better. Thats the game. If you are mad about it, then be mad. But that’s how it works, and its not going to change. If you think that’s “drinking Kool-aid” there are about 8 teams that can afford to pay whatever they want for players, go cheer for them

          • https://profiles.google.com/102688850599440394897 craggy1000

            I would argue that if you are a small market team then you should be the one to take chances. Of course I do not mean to spend your money like a drunken sailor, they cannot afford to spend like that. Why did they not take a chance on someone like Abreu when they had an obvious hole at 1B?

            Just because someone is critical of the team is no reason to tell them to go cheer for another team. That’s the Archie Bunker mentality of love it or leave it.

        • moose7195

          Please explain to me where it’s written that spending money is what it takes to get a team to the next level. The Pirates have a better winning % right now than the top ten payrolls in baseball

          • https://profiles.google.com/102688850599440394897 craggy1000

            Not true, the Dodgers, Giants, Angels, Tigers, Nationals all are in the top 10 in payroll and all have a better record then the Pirates.

  • formerdraftpick

    I felt the same way with the Pirates trading away Dilson Herrera as they did with Brock Holt. Good middle infield prospects are hard to come by in the Pirates organization. I wouldn’t trade them for the short gain. I can understand at the time that the Pirates thought they were selling high, but thought the same thing as Brock Holt, that he would be breaking camp with the Pirates as their shortstop come Spring Training. Dilson is a bit of a different story. I wonder if the Pirates thought he would turn into another Jarek Cunningham. The Mets are doing a nice job with his on the job training at short, but let’s see what happens if Flores wins the job first at ss. As for Meadows, Lambo, Ramirez or Bell, why not test drive them at 3b (the current weak link in the organization). Some of their prospects have great athleticism. I wonder if they could play other positions. I noticed that they did this with Gourley and Kelson Brown (although not really prospects) . Why not the bigger names?

    • piraddict

      I’d like to see Bell tried at 3B. All the talk of Bell at 1B discounts any future for Stetson Allie at all. Allie isn’t hitting for average yet, but he might pick it up. If he does wouldn’t the power potential of Bell at 3B, Allie at 1B, maybe Jones at SS be impressive?

  • Halvy Buckets

    I was thinking of this the other day. Who could we dangle out there for an upgrade in either the RP market or a corner IF spot?

    I came up with the following prospects that could have marginal value and maybe bring back a strong RP or a blocked/soon-to-be FA corner IF.

    1. Adrian Sampson-he’s made a huge jump and as Tim said he is behind the Glasnow/Taillon/Kingham/Holmes group. He may not have a place on this team as a starter and his value as a prospect may not be higher than right now, due to his GLF (giant leap forward).

    2. Mel Rojas-Lets face it, our OF is pretty solid with the three current guys and Josh Bell/Austin Meadows in the wings. He is another guy that has taken that GLF. His prospect star is as bright as it has been with the Buccos. He doesn’t have a tool that really stands outs, so for us he is a fourth outfielder, at best, but on another team he could be a starter.

    3. Andrew Lambo-We all know the yo-yo effect the Pirates have put him thru with position changes and promotions/demotions. I would like to see him get a shot somewhere. He’s back from his injury and he is putting up good numbers, again. I would like to see him take abs from Sanchez and Davis, but I don’t think it is in the cards.

    4. Luis Heredia-he is the only guy on my list that is on the sell low category. He’s is still projectable and young, but we haven’t seen the health, control or strikeouts that I thought would come. Even if he puts it together, he is in the same camp as Sampson. He may be a guy we can add to sweeten the pot.

  • bucsws2014

    It still boggles my mind that Neal got Morneau for Alex Presley and Duke Welker, even if Morneau was less than what was expected. Heck, I’d have traded Presley and Welker for a month of pretty much any washed up guy who held even a tiny chance of having one last day in the sun.

    That trade gives me hope there’s still some value in Tabata, even if Neal has to eat a few mill.

  • jaygray007

    On the same token, I think they could afford to lose one of the elite pitchers (Glasnow would be my pick). If Sampson is looking like a #3-5 starter, and Glasnow could seriously be anything from a 1 to a reliever, they don’t really lose thaaaat much. The most likely outcome for Glasnow is probably a 3. Sampson a 4-5.

    Just saying that keeping Sampson (who is likely to still be undervalued by the industry) and trading Glasnow (who has been pimped in prospect lists 2 years now) also makes some sense IF the right deal came along.

    Untouchables for me are taillon because it’d be selling low, kingham because he is so dang close to mlb himself, Hanson because I don’t think they should depend on 6’3″ 210 lb Walker to have the range to stick at 2b for too many more years, and McGuire. I wouldn’t miss anyone else that much. Jacoby Jones might be working his way into untoucable territory if he actually could stick at SS into his late 20s.

    Everyone else has a low enough probability of reaching their ceiling or has a long term answer at their respective position or has enough other prospect depth at their position to handle said loss.

    • Mike C.

      I agree with most u said but just wanted to add, from most of what i read (klaw, BA etc.) , Glasnow’s most likely outcome/ceiling is a #2. A #2 or bust, whichever way u want to look at it. And most say kingham projects as a #3.
      Just my 2 cents.

    • csnumber23

      Ahh no! Glasnow goes nowhere if I were running the team!

  • leadoff

    IMO, nobody is untouchable, but some have very high price tags, if you are looking at whether the Pirates can afford to lose someone in their farm, the fact is they can afford to lose anyone in their farm system and still be a very strong system, the problem with Pittsburgh media and fans is they keep looking at what the players they let go do with other teams, they can’t do what the Yanks or Angels do and that is trade them and forget them, we are constantly evaluating trades from years past, we can’t let it go.

    • piraddict

      I wouldn’t trade Cutch right now no matter the return.

      • Mike C.

        I’d trade Cutch straight up for Trout
        Hell, I’d throw Pedro in as a freebie ^^

  • Doc

    Great Post Tim.

    At this point I am not sure who they want? Do they want another first baseman ( I do NOT see the Cubs trading Rizzo)? Do they want a closer? who ?? And that is why this will be a quiet trade deadline for the BUcs

    • leadoff

      The only thing we know for sure is they scouted a starting pitcher and inquired about a closer, so I think it is safe to say they would like to upgrade their starting pitching and the back of their pen if possible, if not, IMO, they think they can stand pat.

  • db33

    For the pitching prospects, if the pirates think they can be effective in the majors I think they should try to hold on to them until they can showcase that for other teams at the MLB level. Then instead of dealing a prospect your dealing a starting pitcher and the return will be much greater. Also it allows you to keep your depth longer. I say with pitchers because it is much easier to give a pitcher a few spot starts than it is to find 100 AB for a position player that isn’t as good as your starters. Hitting right away in the MLB doesn’t always happen either and takes an adjustment period even for the best prospects. Of course value all depends on the deal, but I don’t think they should just give sampson away for a wandy rodriguez type player.

  • pilbobuggins

    With that said,it’s time to send some of those guys tim mentioned to san diego for kennedy. Or ssomemwhere else for a similar pitcher.

  • Simon Weaver

    Barrett Barnes. Willy Garcia. Jin De-Jhang.

  • Simon Weaver

    Jameson Taillon
    Adrian Sampson
    Starling Marte
    Pedro Alvarez

    for

    Kris Bryant
    Starlin Castro

    • moose7195

      I think we would lose that trade in the long and short run

  • bmcferren

    Our best chip should be marketed as Hanson – we will be selling high on hype

  • R Edwards

    I agree that Cole, Kingham, and Glasnow will likely represent 3/5 of the rotation by 2016 – I am not so sure about Taillon. He will need to first recover from TJS and the start pitching as good as his reputation and pedigree. To date, I have not been overwhelmed by his actual performances to date. Someone in there, they need at least 1 lefthander. Locke could be that guy, maybe not. This is where the trade of Taylor for slugging Ike Davis hurt – as we do not have an over abundance of LH starting pitcher prospects.

  • R Edwards

    My wife, daughter, and I attended the Altoona Curve game Friday night – and nearly saw history, as Adrian Sampson cam within a foot of a no hitter – as the only hit was about a foot fair down the LF line.

    Sampson was very impressive, although he did not seem to have overpowering stuff. His fastball was 90-92 – and I don’t recall him hitting over 92. But, what he had, was a lot of control and movement on his pitches. He threw over twice as many strikes as balls, and I think he only walked one batter. He seemed to really attack the hitters and had almost every hitter in 1-2 or 0-2 all night long. I liked him a lot.

    Bell had one hit, and another hard hit out. But, this is a kid we can NOT trade. He is VERY big – and the ball seems to have a different sound when it comes off his bat. I can see this kid growing into “Dave Parker-like” size and hit a lot of HRs.

    Garcia, Broxton, Diaz – none did much Friday night, so not much to report. Hansen went 0-3 and was taken out of game for dogging it on a pop-up he hit. So, he didn’t show much either.

    I know they are probably not considered prospects, but I came away impressed with Maggi and Gamache.

  • R Edwards

    With all due respect, I don’t know how anyone can conclude already that we don’t and won’t miss Vic Black. I wish we had him (and Morris) over 3-4 of the guys we have in our bullpen now – Frieri, Pimentel, Garcia, and Worley.

    • StevePegues

      Who is Garcia?

      • R Edwards

        Meant to say Gomez…..brain cramp I guess

  • piraddict

    The best guys to trade are players on the MLB roster who can be replaced by minor league players who will be better. Think the Nate McClouth trade that opened the door for Cutch and obtained Morton, Locke and indirectly part of G.Sanchez.