Pittsburgh Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington spoke to the media on Sunday, and with a little over a week to go until the trade deadline, it’s no surprise that a lot of the discussion was about possible trades the Pirates could make.
“We feel good about this group,” Huntington said. “We feel good that we’re in the middle of the division race, that we’re in the middle of the Wild Card race and we’ve got some guys that still have room to grow. We don’t have a ton of guys having career years, we’ve got some guys that we think are on the rebound, that we think are ready to take some steps forward. But there are some players out there, whether it is starting pitching or relievers, position players, role players that can help us, that can be upgrades over what we have. And we wouldn’t be doing our jobs to take a look at that. The challenge becomes what cost are projected current wins versus projected future wins. And that’s always going to be a balance we’re going to walk, but overall we do like this club.”
So far, the Pirates have been connected to pitching more than any other position. They had some glaring needs last year at first base and right field. The right field spot doesn’t seem to be a need anymore. Gregory Polanco is struggling, but that’s to be expected from a rookie just making the jump to the majors. First base has seen some struggles, but it doesn’t seem like the Pirates will be making a deal at that position, based on Huntington’s comments on Ike Davis and Gaby Sanchez.
“The positive sign is Ike probably has one of the better on base percentages of our group,” Huntington said. “It’s just the power hasn’t been there that we expected. You see it in batting practice, you see him drive balls. Just not doing it in a consistent basis in a game for the last six or so weeks. Gaby has shown some positive signs, he can still do damage against left-handers pitching, you don’t want to overexpose him against right handers. That is one of the areas where if those guys get going and doing what they are capable of, we’re going to get quality production from that spot. We’ve got a handful of other spots that if they can step up a little bit, we’ll have an even better offense.”
The interesting thing about Davis is that he has a career .698 OPS in the first half, and an .866 OPS in the second half. This year he had a .698 OPS in the first half. If he can repeat his second half success, then that would be a huge boost for the offense, and an upgrade wouldn’t be needed.
The pitching seems to be the focus, and specifically relief pitching. Relief pitching seems to be a focus for every contending team this year, as we can see by Ken Rosenthal’s update on teams looking for relievers.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 21, 2014
I wrote last week about how the deadline should be moved back, and how the second Wild Card has created a situation where you have so many teams who still believe they’re in the hunt, and very few teams who are sellers. That has created an extreme seller’s market, which Huntington talked about.
“It’s the basic law of supply and demand,” Huntington said. “There are not a lot of teams looking to sell. There are a lot of teams that are looking to buy. There’s not a ton of players out there that are significant upgrades. There are some guys that you think can be. So, as a result the asking prices are higher than you’d like them to be…it’s that balance between what you give up for a projected current wins at the cost of the future.”
Even though the Pirates have been linked to a lot of relievers, I can’t seem them making a big splash for a reliever. That has never been their style, and the current market for relievers will only drive the prices up, making it more likely that a Huston Street return will be needed for any future deals. As for the starting pitching market, that’s also a market that has seen some high prices, especially with the Jeff Samardzija trade that sent Addison Russell to the Chicago Cubs. The Street and Samardzija trades are examples of big prices that will probably be used by other selling teams as the market for future trades.
“It’s like a free agent contract,” Huntington said on the impact of the Samardzija trade. “It seems to be the outlier. Then that becomes the standard that everyone asks for. Teams are aggressive. To make a move in the early part of July or the end part of July, you’ve got to preempt the market. You’ve got to be aggressive in order to do that. It’s not necessarily the wrong thing to do. In some situations it’s absolutely the right thing to do. We just haven’t found that right fit yet.”
Last year the Pirates didn’t make any trades in July, and then added Marlon Byrd, Justin Morneau, and John Buck in late August. Based on the current market, and the situation with so many buyers and not enough sellers, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them do that again.
“It’d be disingenuous of me to say that we passed in July to wait for August,” Huntington said. “We worked hard in July. We just didn’t find what we thought was the right fit. We stayed with it in August. We’ll do the exact same thing this year. We’ll work hard in July to find the right fit and if we don’t, then we’ll continue to work hard in August. And, if we find the right fit in August, great. And, if we don’t than that means we didn’t find the right balance and we didn’t think it was the right fit for us.”
I have a hard time believing the Pirates won’t make a move. Whether it’s July or August when they make a trade, Huntington has been active in each of the last few deadlines. They added Byrd and Morneau last year. In 2012 it was Wandy Rodriguez, Travis Snider, and Gaby Sanchez. In 2011 they traded for Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick. The common trend here is that the Pirates didn’t give up any impact guys. They gave up good prospects like Robbie Grossman and Dilson Herrera, but we didn’t see a top of the system guy traded. I don’t expect that to change this year.
The Pirates are in a good situation this year. Their pitching has been good, but they don’t have anyone looking like a top of the rotation guy. Their hitting has been good, and that’s with a few players under-performing. They don’t really have a glaring need like previous years. They also have depth options in the system, like Brandon Cumpton and Nick Kingham for the rotation in the second half. But based on Huntington’s comments on Sunday, I don’t expect them to be content with the current set up.
“As we sit here right now, we’ve got some internal options that if they step forward we’re going to get some quality production from them,” Huntington said. “But, we’ll still look for a way to get better if there is the right opportunity.”