Looking at the Pirates Trade Needs on a Quiet Market; Should the Deadline Be Moved?

Is it just me, or has the leadup to the 2014 trade deadline been quiet this year?

When a rumor came out last week that the Pittsburgh Pirates were checking on Huston Street, it occurred to me that I hadn’t used the “News and Rumors” section of the site in some time. I looked, and realized that the Street rumor was the first trade rumor of the year. And it came on July 14th.

By this time last year, the Pirates had been linked to the following players:

Matt Garza

Alex Rios

Nate Schierholtz

Kendrys Morales

Justin Morneau

Bud Norris

To put things in perspective, I only post rumors from sources that usually show up on MLBTR. I also don’t post anything if the rumor is “Player A makes sense for the Pirates”, as that’s more of an observation than a rumor.

We know that they eventually landed Morneau. We also know that they made an offer of Luis Heredia and their comp pick for Norris. And they were looking at outfield help, ultimately landing Marlon Byrd (who they were connected to later in July, but acquired at the end of August). But that’s the thing. Even if they didn’t make a move in July, we still had a good idea of what they were looking for.

How Active Are the Pirates on the Trade Market?

The lack of activity this year might be in part due to the Pirates not being as active in general. Neal Huntington talked about the deadline with the media last week, noting that there are opportunities to get better, but there isn’t a glowing hole for the team. The full quote:

“We’re looking at all potential options to help this club get better. Whether it’s a starting pitcher, a reliever, position player. We recognize that there are some players out there that would make us better. We recognize that we’ve got some pretty good players here. What is the acquisition cost? How much better can they make us? Does it make sense for us short-term, longer term? We’re always going to find ways to make ourselves better.

The flip side of that, and I hope this doesn’t get parsed, but there isn’t a glowing hole for us. Whether it is in the rotation or the bullpen or a position player. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to try to find a way to make ourselves better. When Liriano comes back we’re going to have guy that probably deserves to be in a major league rotation…And with two other guys in Triple-A that probably should be in the big leagues. And, that’s a great place to be. But that doesn’t stop us from looking for ways to make us better.”

I think you could look at this team and find some weaknesses. The first base platoon has been struggling big time since the start of June. Pedro Alvarez hasn’t been at his best, but he’s not a bad player either. The bullpen has had its struggles, and could use a boost in middle relief. The rotation is without an ace, with Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano both struggling this year.

In all of these cases, the Pirates could upgrade these positions with a trade. Or they could stick with their in-house options, and hope for a better second half. The latter isn’t impossible. We’ve already seen this with several players on the roster. Jordy Mercer had a .508 OPS by the end of May. Since the start of June, his OPS is .787. That’s a great number for a shortstop. Starling Marte is another guy who struggled early, with a .659 OPS until early June. Since the second week of June he has an .824 OPS. There’s also the flip side of things. The first base platoon looked good up until June, then did a 180.

The idea that a player is going to continue playing one way, because that’s the way he played for the first three months, isn’t always true. It’s even less likely if the first three months from that player conflict with what he has done previously in his career. There are some areas where the Pirates would just be better off sticking with the in-house options, and hoping that those options have a better second half. They’ve managed to contend with the current performances from Alvarez, Liriano, Cole, and the bullpen. Things can only get better in the second half.

There are other areas where the Pirates could, and should look for upgrades. The bullpen is one area. I don’t like the idea of paying for relievers, so I wouldn’t make a big deal for a Huston Street type reliever. He would cost prospects, plus he’d take up $10 M over the next year and a half. As I wrote the other day, the Pirates have had success getting quality relievers for nothing. They should continue that approach. They don’t need a late inning reliever with Mark Melancon and Tony Watson on the team. They could use a middle reliever to strengthen the bullpen leading up to those late innings.

I don’t think they should be looking to trade for a starter. The only trade that would make sense would be to deal for a top of the rotation guy. As we saw with the Jeff Samardzija trade, that would cost a lot in prospects. It would also create a situation where you’re strengthening the current rotation, only to weaken future rotations by dealing away a few of your top pitching prospects. I’d rather see the Pirates call up Nick Kingham if they need rotation help, rather than trading him and other prospects away for an upgrade. As for any other starter, I think adding a middle or back of the rotation guy would just be adding more of what they already have. At some point in the second half they’ll have Vance Worley and Brandon Cumpton in depth roles. Kingham is looking great in Triple-A, and could be ready to come up later in the year. They’ve got enough depth, and can turn to that if they need anything other than an ace.

As for that ace, I think they’re better off hoping for a better second half from Liriano and Cole. They’ve been a contending team without strong production from those two. If just one of them has a better second half, it would be a big boost to the rotation. As for other boosts to the rotation, they’ve already seen one big in-season upgrade, only this upgrade came internally. Jeff Locke has statistically been the best pitcher on the staff, and has only been with the team as a regular starter since early June. If Locke continues what he’s doing, then that would be another boost that they didn’t have early in the season.

One thing about first base is that Ike Davis not only looks a bit like Adam LaRoche, but he plays like Adam LaRoche. In his career, Davis has a .698 OPS in the first half, and an .869 OPS in the second half. Coincidentally (or maybe not so much of a coincidence), he has a .698 OPS in the first half of the 2014 season. It would be huge if he continues this trend, and takes off in the second half. I think Gaby Sanchez will revert back to crushing lefties, and if Davis picks up the pace, then the Pirates will be fine at first.

The Pirates have some weak spots on the team this year. However, those weak spots aren’t due to a lack of talent at the positions. They’re a result of the Pirates having talent that hasn’t performed up to expectations. They could go one of two ways with their second half approach. They could make a trade and not have to worry about guys bouncing back. The advantage here is comfort, and the disadvantage here is that you’re going to be paying a lot, and possibly for no reason. They could go the other way, and hope for better results in the second half. The advantage here is that you don’t give up prospects that could help you contend in future years. That advantage is why the Pirates now have Cole, Polanco, and Marte on their team. The disadvantage is that these players could continue their first half numbers, leaving the Pirates in the same situation.

Fortunately, there’s a new trend in baseball, and that new trend means the Pirates don’t have to decide on an upgrade in the next two weeks.

Is the Trade Season Moving Back?

Last year the Pirates didn’t make any moves in July, but added Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau at the end of August. It seemed like last July was slow all around the league, and August was unusually busy. There’s probably a reason for that.

MLB added a second Wild Card a few years ago, and as a result, more teams have the feel that they’re in the mix. At the moment there are only seven teams that are ten games or more out of a playoff spot. There are two and a half months remaining in the season, and while it’s not probable that these teams will have a sudden turnaround, it is definitely possible. A team that is ten games back might be less inclined to trade in late July, but by late August, that same ten game span seems insurmountable.

Then you have to consider that not every team losing this year is going to trade a player that could help them in future years. Sure, David Price will probably be traded, as a small market team like the Rays needs to take that approach to do a quick rebuild. But the idea that the Rangers would trade Yu Darvish and his team friendly contract, all because they’re not winning in 2014, is absurd. There’s no rule in baseball that says you have to blow it all up and start over when you have a losing season. It is possible to just have a bad year.

The overall result is that there are very few sellers available, and there are so many more buyers. There would also be some trepidation on the buyer’s side. A team like the Pirates is only 3.5 games back, but of the eight real playoff contenders, they rank last. They’re contenders, but not strong contenders. Do they go all in for this year and weaken themselves for future years? Or do they look at the makeup of this team and organization, see stronger years ahead, and decide that their best opportunity might be in those future years?

Teams that are on the fringe of the playoffs also have another m0nth to determine where they stand. In the case of the Pirates, this gives them another month to see how Cole and Liriano do. It gives them a month to see if Ike Davis repeats his second half success, or if Pedro Alvarez revives his power. Last year the Pirates had a stronger need for an outfielder in August than they did in July. They had a weakness in right field in July, but when Starling Marte went down in August, they had question marks at both corner spots. A lot can change in a month. It’s possible that the Pirates could look stronger at certain positions a month from now. Again, this is something we’ve already seen, as the rotation today looks much stronger than it did in early June.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the trade deadline is once again underwhelming. The flip side to this is that we could see another active month of August. Personally I think MLB should move the trade deadline back to the end of August, and avoid the whole process with waiver trades. I don’t know when or why the original trade deadline was set, but I’d imagine it came at a time when there were very few playoff spots, and thus far more sellers by late July than there were buyers. We’re now to a point where it’s always going to be a seller’s market in late July, and most teams won’t really know where they stand until late August.

For now, the trade deadline is in July, with the ability to make trades through the waiver process in August. I’d expect some movement in July, but we’re probably going to continue to see an increase of moves in August. Based on the lack of rumors, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Pirates again wait until August to get active on the trade market.

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

    I think we are in a position to be more active than some realize. The fact that our outfield is set for some time makes Bell a much more viable option to trade and he appears to be coveted by some organizations. I think the fact that we have added catching depth to the organization would allow us to trade Tony Sanchez if we are confident Martin will stay for two years. As it stands now, it think some combinations of the following would be worth offering. Pedro Alvarez to Boston, along with Jose Tabata, and Jared Hughes for Mike Carp and Rubby DeLarosa. Carp is a Brian Giles in waiting. Good numbers but never given full playing time. DeLarosa is a good young arm. this would allow us to let Ike Davis go. Keep Snyder as the 4th OF. He has proven to be a good pinch hitter.

    Take a look at SanDiego. If they want to get younger and need power, send them Bell and Lambo, and some cash for Houston Street and Ian Kennedy.

    Please post some other available pitchers that might be a good fit for us. Maybe a solid number three. Alex Wood?

    • Arlo

      In your proposals, you are trading one of our primary power threats (albeit, I am not a fan of K-Dro) and a strong RP for an older 1B who has done nothing this year at the plate? Then, we don’t have a 3B, and have three 1B in Davis, Sanchez, and Carp? Also, no way Bell should be traded merely because of our current OF, particularly for a #3 starter and a closer that we do not need. And why would we give San Diego cash in this deal, when we are trading cheap minor leagures for expensive MLB parts?

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

        Harrison becomes our 3B. Carp is a major upgrade at first and can play outfield. Pedro will be leaving and he is a Scott Boros client so we may as well sell now. I’ve seen the Bell opinion in legitimate articles that support my point that we have depth at OF and Bell could be traded. The cash was merely for the fact that it seemed like we weren’t offering enough. Lambo is another Adam Hyzdu. Kennedy and Street could be enough to get us close at the end of this year.

        • Arlo

          I’m not trying to be difficult, but I just want to confirm this logic…
          Pedro is a Boras client, so we should just get rid of him now for whatever we can.
          Mike Carp’s carrer MiLB line, with the majority of power coming in the hitter friendly PCL: .275/.366/.465 equates to Brian Giles
          Andrew Lambo’s career MiLB line: .277/.346/.461 equates to Adam Hyzdu
          Those lines are pretty similar…so Brian Giles = Adam Hyzdu? So, you are proposing we trade Brian Giles (Lambo), one of the top OF prospects in the minors (Bell, who could be our 1B of the future), AND cash for an expensive closer with injury history and a #3 starter?

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

            No, Lambo is Hyzdu (or Brad Eldred if you are younger). A minor league home run hitter who can’t hit major league pitching. Carps OPS with Boston is over 800, he plays both OF and 1B and is in his 20s. Brian Giles was a steal because he never got full playing time in Cleveland but his numbers projected that he could be a good full time player and he was. Bell is not a 1B. Post something you would do instead of hatin on me.

            • letsgopitt123

              If carp is good and can play OF… why doesn’t Boston play him there? I could be wrong, but last time I checked Boston’s outfield sucks and they need all the help they can get out there.

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

                Yes, they are looking for an OF. Carp is more of a Garrett Jones type outfielder, not a regular. Maybe they would look at Tabata.

                • letsgopitt123

                  If they wanted Tabata, don’t you think they would have taken him when he was on waivers? If they had any interest they surely could have added him as his contract wouldn’t have hurt them too much.

              • leowalter

                Their outfield is so bad that they are playing Brock Holt there rather than Carp.

            • S Brooks

              Let’s give Lambo more than 30 AB against major league pitching before we put him in the Eldred/Hyzdu category, eh?

            • leowalter

              Ok, I will post something that I would do rather than shoot holes in your dream of a trade. Do nothing right now, and certainly not trade a Josh Bell type prospect for any player like a Mike Carp or a Huston Street type relief pitcher. Can you say ” overpay ” ?

    • letsgopitt123

      It’s Snider. I don’t understand how everyone spells his name wrong when he has been on the team for 2 years. All you have to do is watch 1 game and you would see how his name is actually spelled. IMO the Pirates will not trade Josh Bell. Not after this season and the fact that they spent a small fortune to get him.

    • Andrew

      If the Pirates want bullpen help, the options beside Huston Street are better fits in that they wouldn’t cost a premium.

      Chad Qualls is an okay option but Hurdle would have to shield him against LHHers. If Hurdle wants clean innings, Tim Stauffer is another okay option. Neal Cotts on the Rangers while left handed can get strikeouts against both handed hitters and Brad Ziegler of the Diamondbacks is a better Jared Hughes, elite ground ball rate, but he can actually strike a batter out.

      I’m mildly enticed by the Ian Kennedy, he is the only starter who would certainly improve the rotation. I don’t think it would cost Josh Bell, Bell is what a top 26-50 hitter, that has a value of around $22 million. Kennedy is not projected to provide a surplus of 3.5 Wins over the next 2 months and 2015.

  • https://profiles.google.com/105668650510920614054 Brian Bernard

    CC from earlier post, but more appropriate in the trade discussion vein:
    I would rather focus on the bats and there is little need for me to look deeply to see the biggest need is at 1b. Ike has been a major disappointment IMO and Gaby is actually a decent bench part, I’d look for a lefty bat for 1b and I have the perfect guy. Mark Texiera.
    Face it the Yanks are out of it, and this guy has been a disappointment for them and they are ready to deal. He’s an OBP guy (341) OPS (805) with 17 dingers and if you include some talent in the deal the yanks will pick up some salary to make it work.
    I’d send IKE back to NY as part of the deal to clear some salary on our own end and for prospects to make the deal, they need starters so leading with Sampson, Cumpton, Heredia, (possibly Locke if needed – replace with Kingham/Cumpton) and add youthful bats to get the trigger pulled. Harold Ramirez, Rojas Jr, Alen Hanson (Jeter of the future). Get Tex and this team makes a push. C’mon NH – you know you love making deals with NYY anyway it’s the perfect fit.

    • Arlo

      Aside from the homers, Ike is the same as Tex, but cheaper. For all intents and purposes, Ike’s AVG and OBP are identical to Tex, while his defense is also comparable. His power year to date has been much lower (only in HR’s, as Ike has more doubles), but to Tim’s point, his career shows he heats up in the second half. Why would we want to trade Ike and some of our best prospects for Tex and his insane contract? He makes$23MM this year compared to Ike’s $3.5MM, and it would take multiple prospects to get NYY to eat the contract.

    • https://profiles.google.com/105668650510920614054 Brian Bernard

      There are only a handful of players that shouldn’t be on the table Taillon, Glasnow, Kingham (unless for Price/Tulo type move), Bell, McGuire, and Meadows – and one of (JaCoby/Hanson) whichever the team thinks the most of.

      The rest of the farm should be available to acquire players. Face it they can’t all make the bigs, but there is plenty of talented players left to choose from.
      The AAA staff is loaded. See Wilk, Cumpton, Sadler, Jackson… all good young arms. The talent in the OF is also nice with Broxton, Rojas, and players like Tabata, Decker, and Lambo.

      Younger players with big upside/risk like Heredia/ Roth/ Allie / Garcia / De La Rosa’s and Polo are nice pieces to close a deal.

      • Travis Persinger

        Congratulations, you are the 1st person who wants to trade legitimate prospects for the horrible contract and injury history of Mark Teixeira. You want to sell top prospects for a man who has clearly seen much better days. That makes absolutely no sense.

    • bucsws2014

      I spent two of the last three weeks in the NY area, listening to NY sports talk. The Yankees will not surrender until they’re knocked out. They’re looking for pitching, ideally a LH starter. They don’t have a ton of assets anyone wants as the top end of their system is pretty poor. But they will make Robertson available, and may make Severino available for the right guy.

      If Liriano can make a couple of decent starts, he could be that guy that fetches Robertson, which would fix the back end of the bullpen. Both are FAs after this year, so neither team is married to those players.

      • smurph

        Yankees are 5 games out.

        • bucsws2014

          And?

    • leowalter

      One word for this comment : ridiculous !

  • leadoff

    I see the Pirates as strong contenders, the teams ranked ahead of them have no better talent overall than the Pirates do. I would not use rankings as a guideline, the Pirates could be 20 games over 500 and not be considered strong contenders, they are from Pitt remember.

    IMO, most people have a wish list that they would like to see the Pirates do at some point between now and the end of August. Mine is simple. 1. Closer. 2 Left handed specialist. 3 Solid first basemen.
    I do think upgrading is the proper term to use for the Pirates going forward and they should try to do it, I don’t think filling holes is the right term.
    The Pirates could stand pat, but, the schedule from the middle of Sept. is positively brutal and they will have to beat the Reds, the best team in the division the last 3 games of the year.

    • lonleylibertarian

      How are those rose colored glasses?

      Did you watch the last two series?

      I would not be totally surprised if the Bucs make the Wild Card – but tight now the are Fourth in the Division…

      The Cards are the best team in the Division – and will be a lock to win it if the pull the trigger on Price/Zobrist…

      Dodgers/Nats/Cards win their Divisions
      Giants/Braves are the most likely Wild Cards

  • S Brooks

    While I respect the depth, Liriano’s inconsistency and Cole’s fragility are serious vulnerabilities. The team might be fine calling on Worley OR Cumpton, but if they have to call on Worley AND Cumpton, that’s a whole lot of finger crossing for a team in the race.

    I would like to see NH swing a deal for a starter who is controlled through at least ’15 to shore up the rotation both this year and next. Ian Kennedy is good, and his arb salary next year will be less than Liriano+Volquez are making. So would AJ, who has spun 7 straight quality starts after a rough patch in May.

  • Joe Sweetnich

    Buy low, sell high. That is how you get value. Can’t trade Alvarez with now with his total lack of defensive ability and inconsistent offense. It may be that Josh Bell was promoted to be showcased and see if he can hit AA pitching. If he hits well in the next couple of weeks he could bring a good return.

  • Spa City

    Ike Davis looks like Adam LaRoche? Why? Because they are both white? Your racism is showing.

    • piratemike

      The PC police are alive and well.

    • lonleylibertarian

      Go troll some other blog – or lighten up – or both…

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

      you go with that.

    • leowalter

      If you can’t figure out what the commenter meant by that statement,you need to go read about the NFL…..or something.

  • mam995

    Good article Tim. Well thought out and rational in LINEAR fashion. A fine polemic. I realize that some of the people who have suggested various trades here are just being fans,..but they need to read the article again. They must not have “heard” anything that you’ve wrote. In context, their trade proposals are just INSANE.Or to be kinder and gentler…simply ludicrous. My God, one of the few competitive advantages that the Pirates have is a STRONG minor league system (one which took years to build) and their teaching expertise. Why would they give away potential star prospects (like Josh Bell) for rentals or middling talent? Why on Earth, would or should they do that? Gut the farm system. You don’t see the Rays dong that? You know Tim. some temptations are temptations that should NOT be temptations. They’re just crazy unctions to be ignored….like considering jumping off a cliff just because one is having a bad day. Don’t do dat!!. It is essential that the Pirates maintain a long term view if they want to remain viable as a franchise in a small market. The Beatles are right about one thing…”money can’t buy you love” . Just look at the Yankees. For all of their millions…maybe even billions, they can’t even field a 5 man rotation as good as the Pirates. Pathetic.Their farm system is all of but bereft, save for a few catching prospects.They can’t even make a deal. Money is good to have, but in competitive business, I’d rather have smarts. Look at Microsoft. They have money, but yesterday they had to lay off 18 thousand people. You know why? Because all of the small, upstart companies in their field were just beating the pants off them. In baseball, when you outsmart the big clubs, they CHANGE the rules…like to the Draft. That’s OK. Smart, resourceful organizations will ALWAYS figure out ways to compete (like the A’s). They’ll draft obscure players who’ll become stars. They’ll teach and train better (look at Worley and Volquez) They’ll have a better blueprint in place to propagate a farm system that sustains the parent club in times of injury and ineffectiveness…and hopefully, they won’t make STUPID, reactionary trades that are short-term fixes at best, but set your franchise back 10 years. It’s a good thing that the Yankees have money, otherwise they’d be worst than Houston.

    • Andrew

      There is a vast middle ground between trades that subtract from the system are insane and trading for David Price.

    • leowalter

      mam,don’t you know that it is much more fun to skim something such as Tim’s column,then totally disregard it by coming up with some trade proposal that is totally ridiculous ?