The 2014 trade deadline for the Pittsburgh Pirates was a big serving of déjà vu. The Pirates were linked to a lot of players, including two of the top starting pitchers on the market, but in the end the only move they made was a minor one that will have no impact on the majors. Last year they added Robert Andino in a minor league trade. This year they claimed Angel Sanchez from the Chicago White Sox.
The comparisons might not end here. The Pirates went on to make some trades last year, at the end of August. They added Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau through the waiver trading process. After the deadline passed today, Neal Huntington discussed this with the media. The Pirates will again pursue waiver trades, but don’t be surprised if they look internally for upgrades first.
“We’ll continue to work hard,” Huntington said. “We’ll continue to see what’s out there, as we did a year ago, and we’re going to have a couple of pretty good additions here in the short-term with Starling Marte and Gerrit Cole coming back. We’ve got some guys that seem like they’re turning a corner. We’re looking forward to a strong finish to the final two months of the season, and find a way to continue to play meaningful baseball games in September and October.”
Bullpen Additions Will Probably Come From Within
Based on all of the rumors, a big focus for the Pirates was pitching, with an edge towards adding bullpen help. They were linked to Andrew Miller, who was traded for Baltimore Orioles #3 prospect Eduardo Rodriguez. Now that the deadline has passed, the bullpen upgrades could come from within.
“We get Gerrit Cole back, it’s going to add an arm that we’re going to make some decisions on,” Huntington said. “We’ve got some guys in Triple-A, that as the season goes on, maybe become options for us in the bullpen. We’ve got some guys that we feel like they’re turning a corner. We’ve got some other guys that we probably need to push to turn a corner. If there’s an external option that makes us better, we do it. If not, we’ve got a pretty good group of guys that we can rely on, and then we’re going to add to it again, whether it’s via Triple-A, somebody coming out of the rotation when Gerrit is back, or we get guys to turn a corner.”
To break this down…
Gerrit Cole’s Return
Cole will be making his second rehab start with Indianapolis on Saturday. It’s possible that he could return to the rotation after that start. When that happens, someone will move to the bullpen. The most likely candidates would be Vance Worley or Edinson Volquez. Sending Volquez to the bullpen is appealing, as he’s hit 98 MPH at times this year, with a nice curveball. He could be a good reliever to have if he’s told to just go all-out for one inning, focusing on the fastball and curveball.
Brandon Cumpton has served as rotation depth, but with one of Worley or Volquez expected to leave the rotation, Cumpton could be used out of the bullpen down the stretch. That’s especially true if the Pirates think that Nick Kingham could help them out of the rotation this year.
Casey Sadler has been up at times this year, and works as a starter out of the Indianapolis rotation. He could return, although the last time he was used out of the bullpen, he was treated like a Rule 5 pick.
Vin Mazzaro has had success in Pittsburgh over the last year and a half, and is currently in Triple-A with a 2.12 ERA in 34 innings, along with a 25:14 K/BB ratio.
Wirfin Obispo is on the 40-man roster, and has a 2.70 ERA in 20 innings, with a 21:10 K/BB ratio since being claimed by the Pirates.
A.J. Morris has been a big surprise as a starter for Altoona and Indianapolis, but went down with forearm tightness a month ago. He’s rehabbing, and the interesting thing is that he’s now getting work as a reliever, rather than getting built back up for starting.
Rafael Perez is a lefty who has had MLB success, although injuries might have detailed his career, since he was only hitting 85 MPH in his first extended outing.
Andy Oliver is the more intriguing lefty to watch. Since the start of June, he has a 1.64 ERA in 22 innings, with a 25:10 K/BB ratio. He’s still got control problems, but they’re looking better, and he could have the same upside as Justin Wilson.
Most of these guys only project as middle relief options at best. With the Pirates having Mark Melancon and Tony Watson in the late innings, all they need is a quality middle reliever or two to stabilize the bullpen. Volquez could be one of those relievers, if he’s the guy who gets moved. There are also some interesting options from the list above.
Guys Turning the Corner
I don’t know who Huntington classifies as a guy who is turning the corner, and a guy they need to push to turn a corner. Here are the guys who need to turn a corner, whether the Pirates feel good about where they’re at or not.
Justin Wilson – He has struggled this year, posting a 4.73 ERA and a 4.16 xFIP. The advanced metrics suggest he’ll do better going forward, but that’s still not enough. A big issue is his 5.2 BB/9 rate. His FIP is lower than the xFIP, due to a low HR/FB ratio. That’s something he had all of last year, so he could be expected to do much better than the ERA. However, he’s going to have to cut down on the walks, getting them to last year’s 3.4 BB/9 rate or better.
Jeanmar Gomez – Another reliever who looked good last year and who has struggled this year. The ERA for Gomez isn’t horribly different, as he had a 3.35 last year and a 3.54 this year. But the xFIP has dropped from 3.95 to 4.15. Gomez has been shaky, and has been bailed out by a high strand rate. He doesn’t project to continue pitching at his current level going forward unless he makes some changes, specifically to his ground ball rate (down to 46.5% from 55.4%) and his home run rate (1.12 HR/9, up from 0.67).
Ernesto Frieri – He’s a big project for the Pirates, with a lot of upside if he works out. With the Angels, he had an 11.0 K/9, a 2.6 BB/9, and a 2.3 HR/9, thanks to a 21% HR/FB ratio. His ERA was 6.39, but his xFIP was 3.20. Frieri has actually been worse with the Pirates. It’s not just the 10.38 ERA in 8.2 innings, but his xFIP is 4.33. The HR/FB rate is down slightly, but still at 15.4%. The bigger issue is that his walks are way up to a 4.2 BB/9.
Stolmy Pimentel – I don’t know if this is a “turn the corner” guy. Pimentel has a 4.26 ERA and a 4.15 xFIP. He’s got a 10.3 K/9 and a 4.6 BB/9, with the latter number being an issue. He hasn’t been used in a consistent way this year, going days between outings, and sometimes going a week before his next appearance. It’s hard to put up good numbers with that taking place.
The Potential For Waiver Deals
Last year the Pirates were able to add Byrd and Morneau in August. Huntington said they’d be pursuing that route, although he said it might be a challenge.
“I think it’s going to be a challenge, but we thought it was going to be a challenge a year ago,” Huntington said. The surprise a year ago was that Byrd slipped to them in waivers, including past the Cincinnati Reds, despite the fact that he was only making $950,000 and was one of the most productive hitters last year at a position where the Pirates had a big need.
“We were actually sitting in a much harsher claiming position at the time we made the moves we made last year,” Huntington noted, saying that hopefully when players become available this year, they’ll be back in that position, which would mean first place.
Waiver trades are never guaranteed, and after a busy deadline today with several starting pitchers being moved, it doesn’t appear that there would be any big upgrades available.
A Strange Trade Deadline
All of the debate surrounding the Pirates involved whether they should trade prospects to get a rental of two months to 14 months. All of that appeared to be moot, as the majority of today’s big trades weren’t prospect for MLB talent deals, but MLB talent for MLB talent moves.
The Athletics traded Yoenis Cespedes for Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes. The Cardinals traded Allen Craig and Joe Kelly for John Lackey. The David Price trade had a prospect, but was mostly built around Drew Smyly and Nick Franklin, neither of whom have prospect eligibility.
The strength of the Pirates in this market was that they had prospects that they could have traded and who normally would have been appealing. Some of those guys I wouldn’t have traded, but there were others who could have fetched a quality return in previous years. But for whatever reason, most teams were going for young MLB talent, rather than prospects, and that’s not the type of trade that can really help the Pirates.
“It was interesting that the majority of the impact major league players went for major league talent or guys that were young major league players,” Huntington said. “It was kind of an NBA environment, where it was established guys, for younger established guys.”
In the end, the Pirates just decided to stick with their current team, just like they did last year. It’s not like they’ve got a bad team. They’re currently in second place in the NL Central, sitting two games out, and sitting half a game back from both Wild Card spots. Most of the guys on this team are players who helped lead them to the NLDS last year.
“The core of this team is the team that put us in a position to have one of the best nights of baseball here in a long time,” Huntington said, referring to last year’s Wild Card game. “We’ve got guys that are starting to put some things together. We’ve got some guys that have carried us all year long. We still like the foundation of our rotation. We still like the foundation of our bullpen, our position player club. We’re going to get some guys healthy. And we’ll still continue to look to see who we can add, and how we can add.”
I guess we’ll see if that déjà vu feeling about this deadline continues in August with another waiver deal. For now, it looks like most of the upgrades down the stretch will come from guys already in the system.