The Pittsburgh Pirates were one of the teams who scouted San Diego right-hander Ian Kennedy last night, according to Ken Rosenthal.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 19, 2014
I really liked Ian Kennedy as a trade option last year. He was having a down year in Arizona, and ended up getting traded for a low return. The Diamondbacks got a LOOGY reliever, a relief pitching prospect, and a second round pick this year. This was all at the time when the Pirates were going for Bud Norris, and I said at the time that I would have rather had Kennedy.
This time around, Kennedy will cost more, as he has bounced back. He’s currently got a 3.62 ERA, which is supported by a 3.24 xFIP. He’s got a 9.5 K/9 and a 2.6 BB/9. He’s making $6.1 M this year, and I project he’ll see a raise to about $9 M next year in his final year of arbitration.
Looking at his trade value, it’s hard to know where to project him. He’s on pace for over a 4.0 WAR this year, and his previous high was a 4.9 WAR in 2011. However, he had a 2.8 WAR in 2012, and was only a 0.5 WAR pitcher last year. So projecting him as a 4+ win pitcher going forward might be optimistic. It also might be too low to have him below a 3.0 WAR, since he has shown signs of being much better than that level. I’d find a middle ground, and project him as a 3.5 WAR pitcher going forward.
Ian Kennedy Trade Value
NOTE: The purpose here isn’t to suggest the Pirates are offering this amount for these players. The purpose is to see the value of these players, using projected values (calculated as [(WAR*$5 M) - Salary]) and prospect trade values. We use our updated values for top 100 prospects, and Victor Wang’s research on prospect values for non-top 100 prospects.
Using that 3.5 WAR figure, plus his salary of $6.1 M this year, and a projected $9 M salary next year, I project his trade value to be $12.5 M. You might even bump that up a bit, as Kennedy could be good enough for a qualifying offer in a few years, which could land a draft pick. Looking at the trade value charts, he would be worth a top 51-100 hitting prospect, plus a Grade C pitcher, or a 26-50 pitching prospect.
Guys who rate in the 51-100 range for the Pirates are Reese McGuire and Alen Hanson. I wouldn’t part with McGuire, as his defense and ability to stick behind the plate are both outstanding. He’s got the best shot of being the catcher of the future for the Pirates. Any decision to part with Hanson really depends on how much you think of Jordy Mercer as the current shortstop, and how much you think of JaCoby Jones as a future shortstop. Obviously Hanson is no guarantee to stick at the shortstop position himself, as he lacks consistency. He does have a good bat for the position, and has the skills needed to play at short. From a depth perspective, I’m not sure I would deal Hanson either. But I could see the logic behind it if Jones could stick at short, and if Mercer could bridge the gap until that happens.
The pitching prospect route might be easier for the Pirates to take, since they have a lot of quality pitching prospects. The only guy who might rank in the 26-50 range is Nick Kingham. Kennedy is a good pitcher, but Kingham is close to Major League ready, and profiles as a solid middle of the rotation starter. He doesn’t come with a lot of risk, so that would be a lot to give up for Kennedy, even with the good season Kennedy is having.
I don’t think I would deal any of the top seven prospects in the system for Kennedy. Anyone after that would be fair game, with the exception of the 2014 draft picks, who can’t be traded. I like what the Pirates currently have in their rotation. You don’t want to replace Charlie Morton or Jeff Locke. You’re definitely not replacing Gerrit Cole. Francisco Liriano is a wild card, but if he shows more of what he showed last night, then he’ll be as good, or better than Kennedy. Then there’s Edinson Volquez, who has been great lately, although getting a bit lucky based on the split between his 3.65 ERA and 4.29 xFIP.
If you need to replace Volquez, there’s Brandon Cumpton and Vance Worley. I think Kennedy is a better option than both of those guys, and he’s a better option than Volquez. You could also call up Kingham in the second half, although that’s another situation where Kennedy would probably be better than a rookie.
While Kennedy would upgrade over those pitchers, I just don’t think the upgrade he brings would be worth one of the top prospects in the system. If a deal could work with a group of guys in the middle of the system, then that would be a deal the Pirates should pursue.