Life After Lester: What is Next For the Pirates?

The Boston Red Sox traded Jon Lester to the Oakland Athletics today, getting Yoenis Cespedes in return. It’s hard to see the Pittsburgh Pirates being able to match that price. There are still other starting pitchers on the market, although with the high prices Oakland has paid for Jeff Samardzija and Lester, the odds of the Pirates landing a starter seem small. They’d probably have to pay a ton for one of the remaining starters on the market.

So far, they’ve been linked to a few other starters, along with a lot of relievers. Here is where they stand after the Lester trade.

Other Starters

The Tampa Bay Rays don’t really know what they’re doing with David Price. It would make sense for them to trade him in this seller’s market, but they’ve also been one of the hottest teams in baseball lately, which complicates matters. Despite the hot streak, they’re still 5.5 games back in the Wild Card, two games under .500, and would have to jump past six teams to get a playoff spot. Joel Sherman says they could still listen if someone is willing to up the ante at the deadline.

Yesterday there were also reports that the Pirates were one of the teams in on Ian Kennedy. This is another situation where the team might not make a move. The Padres have Kennedy under control through the 2015 season, so they don’t necessarily have to move him now. Just like Price, the Padres would be smart to capitalize on this market.

The Red Sox have also been shopping John Lackey, although the Pirates haven’t been connected to him yet. He’s also under control through the 2015 season, making the league minimum next year due to an injury clause in his contract.

Lester was a better option than guys like Kennedy and Lackey in 2014. But those two guys would be good additions in 2014, and would also help in 2015. Price seems like he would cost way too much, even though he brings the same advantages. We’ll have to see if things change with Kennedy, or if the Pirates get in on Lackey or other starters on the market.

Relievers

The Pirates had been casting a wide net on relievers, with a specific focus on left-handed relievers. We haven’t heard much in the last two days on the relief pitching market. The Pirates also haven’t paid big prices for relievers in the past, and I would be surprised if that changed this year.

As far as left-handed relievers, the Pirates have been connected to Andrew Miller of the Red Sox, Antonio Bastardo of the Phillies, and a loose connection to Oliver Perez of the Diamondbacks. Miller seems like a great option, but he’s also getting a high asking price, especially as a two month rental.

If the Pirates do add a reliever, I think it will be in the low-key manner that they’ve taken in the past. The best approach might be to just add a starter, and move Edinson Volquez to the bullpen to throw as hard as he can for one inning at a time.

Position Players

The Pirates have been connected to a few position players. They’ve been rumored to be looking at a backup shortstop, and they’ve also been connected to Marlon Byrd, although that deal doesn’t make much sense when you consider their current outfield. It seems more likely that their focus will be on pitching, considering all of the rumors have been geared towards pitching.

The Unknown

It’s important to remember that rumors don’t always happen before a deal. We didn’t hear anything about Wandy Rodriguez before he was acquired in 2012. Travis Snider was pulled from a game in Toronto that same year, and a few hours later we learned he was going to the Pirates, with no word that Snider was even being shopped. So it’s very possible the Pirates could make a move for someone who we aren’t even hearing about yet.

It’s also possible they could just pass on the July deadline this year, much like they did last year, and focus on a trade in August. Considering the high prices being demanded, that’s not totally out of the question.

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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  • st1300b

    Actually Tim, I saw the Pirates connected in an article on CBS to Lackey – mainly about Lester. He’s interesting because of the unique salary thing, but last year he was awful…
    By the way as far as the match of Cespedes for the bucs, I was thinking it would be more like Neil Walker or Alvarez – a bat with power, lower to mid average – makes me think that if the Pirates were really in on Lester as the articles were all saying were they offering Alvarez and Boston was hedging but thinking about it… afterall their woes at 3b are well noted this year. My guess is that was NH’s main chip in the negotiations. After all he said no main prospects, but he didn’t say anything about MLB players.

    • https://profiles.google.com/100212786463678215436 Nathan Swartz

      Probably a big reason Alvarez hasn’t been playing recently.

    • Lee Young

      if they had traded for E-dro, they’d still have woes at 3b.

  • johndw28

    They have serious issues in bullpen- serious. Options 4-7 are pretty much awful and Jared Hughes is due for considerable regression. I don’t know what price is but they have to do a helluva lot more than simply moving Volquez to pen

    • kelso

      yup

    • http://www.facebook.com/andy.prough.3 Andy Prough

      Their bullpen doesn’t look that bad. If they simply found a guy to pitch effectively in Wilson or Gomez’s role and stopped allowing Hurdle to use the Human Torch (Frieri), the BP would look a whole lot better. Watson and Melancon are fantastic, but getting the ball to them has been quite an adventure. I wonder if Cumpton could be effective as a 7th inning setup man?

      • S Brooks

        The bullpen isn’t bad as long as the starter gets through 6+ innings. There’s nothing wrong with the Hughes-Watson-Melancon rotation. As we saw yesterday and in Colorado, it gets dicey when the Bucs have to start calling on guys like Wilson and Gomez to pitch meaningful innings in close games. I have no idea what the strategy is with Stolmy. Could you bury a guy any deeper and still keep him on the 25-man?

        • johndw28

          Their bullpen is horrible in terms of WAR and Xfip and FIP. Melancon and Watson have been elite but Watson has been very bad in July. Hughes is due for serious regression and strike out 4.5 K per 9. Starters don’t always go 6 innings and the bullpen isn’t great even if they go 6. By any advanced metric their bullpen looks bad. 29th out of 30 teams in terms of WAR. 12th in terms of xFIP, 14th in terms of FIP in National League out of 15 teams. And that is with Melancon being lights out. Their 4-7 relievers all have xFIP well above 4. That IS VERY BAD.

          • S Brooks

            Hughes is fine. FIP historically undervalues extreme groundballers, and Hughes is at 63% GB this year. If he regresses it will more likely be to his SIERA (3.20) than his FIP (3.90). SIERA has a higher correlation to current-year ERA for pitchers with 50+% GB rate.

            Watson is also fine. Two solo HR in back to back appearances inflated his metrics, but there aren’t any other indications anything is off. Stuff happens.

            And you probably missed my point – I’m saying there’s trouble in the back end, i.e., any time the Pirates have to dig for that 4th, 5th or 6th guy in the pen. Because they never dig for the 7th – Stolmy – he’s in witness protection.

            • johndw28

              Watson’s K/9 down dramatically last couple weeks.

              • S Brooks

                Yes it would appear that his swinging strike % has dipped this month and contact rate has climbed. No change in batted ball types – he’s not giving up louder contact, just more overall contact, and a couple of his FB have made it over the fence.

                Look at his pitch types – he’s barely throwing the slider or change. He was throwing them nearly 25% of the time April-June and only 5% in July. He’s throwing a harder fastball now, giving up maybe 1/2 inch in movement.

                There’s nothing here to suggest injury. It appears he’s just pitching differently, and it’s not working as well as when he was changing batters up more. I’m not worried.

  • johndw28

    Right now who do you trust in bullpen? Basically Melancon and Hughes. Watson has been very bad in July. The rest of the guys flat out stink. Sure you would expect Watson to return to form though I don’t expect him to be as dominant as his first half. Melancon and Watson have masked how truly awful the rest of that pen has basically been. This isn’t a little problem, this is a BIG problem

    • cmat0829

      Let’s come down from the ledge on Watson, ok? No doubt in my mind the bullpen will get additions, but I’m laughing my ass off that Boston wants a team’s BEST PROSPECT for Andrew Miller!!!! If Miller were ON the Pirates already, the second he had a bad game or two, fans would be asking him to be DFA’d… careful not to play ‘fantasy baseball’ with this deadline stuff…it’s dangerous.

  • William Wallace

    Lackey would want chicken and beer.

    • cmat0829

      I actually was not big on getting Lester, especially if it cost, as widely reported, BELL PLUS top prospect. If it as Alvarez for Lester/Gomes, YES I’d be all over that. Good trade for A’s. But Cespedes is better than Pedro.

      Right now, I think I want NH to either GO FOR IT and get Price or just settle for whatever is left over (Kennedy, Lackey, some other name not mentioned yet)… Lester to me was middle ground. If we are gonna cash in our Bell chips, shouldn’t it be for Price who can also pitch in 2015? And yes, he will make $20M next year but that is pretty much a combination of Volquez/Liriano/$9M that was readily available in this year’s budget. And if we can get Price in the fold then the only other offseason move would be re-signing Martin and then you are done.

      • moose7195

        No chance they sign Price. If Price was a FA in the offseason would you expect him to be a Pirate? The answer is no. And 1+ year of Price isn’t worth 3-4 top prospects

  • Monsoon Harvard

    Lackey was very good last year and is the same this year. It was 2011 that he was bad, but that was before his injury. He’s healthy now and pitching better than when he was on the Angels. His walks are way down from those days.
    He’s the next best thing out there besides Price, and the cost is lower. They’d have him for next year too. I wouldn’t give up Bell, but I’d do an Alen Hanson and some lesser guys.

  • CityofChamps

    Apparently Lackey is going to either the Dodgers or Cardinals

  • CityofChamps

    Looks like Lackey to STL. Bummer

  • Monsoon Harvard

    I’m glad Boston got Allen Craig away from the Cards though. I just hope they don’t go get Marlon Byrd or Rios to replace him. That is the best reason for the Pirates possibly grabbing Byrd. They said Lackey may retire rather than pitch for only $500,000 next year, so that is risky too.

  • Jared

    The Pirates will WIN this deadline by: (1) continuing to watch other teams make stupid moves, (2) getting a reliever and (3) possibly adding a bench bat.

    The Cards look MUCH more beatable now that Wacha, Kelly (who gave us problems last year), and Craig are all out of their lineup/rotation.

    • jiminnc

      Wow you’d rather face 2014 John Lackey than 2014 Joe Kelly?

      • Jared

        Do you remember what Joe Kelly did in PNC Park in the playoffs last year? And how has Allen Craig hit against us in his career?
        Yeah, I’m OK facing Lackey.

        • Chet Steadman

          Jared, you’ve lost the trade deadline, by trading some of the worst remarks ever written. You’re seriously going to base your faith in something Joe Kelly did last year? Ok, cool… Last year, John Lackey went 3-1 in the playoffs and won a world series. Joe Kelly pitched 5 somewhat respectable innings at PNC in the playoffs. Lackey is a proven entity and still a top-3 guy in a good rotation. Joe Kelly is marginal.

          • Jared

            Are you serious? The Cards traded two players (26 years old and 30 years old) for 35 year old John Lackey. Each of the last two years these two players have put up the same or greater WAR than Lackey. Kelly has pitched to the lowest FIP and xFIP of his career this year and Lackey has a .37 better FIP and .37 better xFIP.

            Beyond the Cards, who probably did better with the Masterson trade, we watched no NL team get significantly better, the Pirates keep all of their prospects who make this organization, which is already a contender, one of the best two or three farm systems in MLB, and to top it all off we saw teams like the Orioles drastically overpay for the positions that would’ve helped the Pirates the most (relief pitching).

            And my comment was idiotic? With the returns that were out there, the Bucs were really smart to stand pat (although I would’ve liked Price but we didn’t match up as well in terms of available major league talent to trade and the cost in prospects would have likely been very high).

  • jiminnc

    Hope the enjoyment we get out of Josh Bell 2016-20 makes up for this squandered opportunity in 2014.

    • piraddict

      In 2016 to 2021 Pirates’ fans won’t even remember 2014.

      • jiminnc

        exactly. whereas it could have been a memorable year.