A year and a day ago, the Pittsburgh Pirates acquired Marlon Byrd and John Buck from the New York Mets, sending Dilson Herrera and Vic Black in return. Today, the Mets called up Herrera to the majors, which means the second baseman has made the jump from Low-A to the majors in one year. That, plus an off-day for the Pirates, gives us the chance to re-visit the trade and see how the Pirates made out in the deal. At the time of the deal, I wrote that the Pirates lost the trade from a talent standpoint, but as buyers, they needed to “lose” a deal to get what would help them in 2013. Let’s take a look at how the deal looked a year ago, how it looks today, and how it might look in the future.
The Trade at the Time
Last year when the trade was made, I wrote about how the Pirates were giving up a lot in talent, but nothing that they’d really miss in the long-term. Meanwhile, they were filling immediate needs, which should be the primary concern as a buyer, especially if you’re not giving up long-term value. Here is part of the article from last year after the trade went down.
In a vacuum, the Pirates lost the trade. In the actual situation, it’s not about winning or losing a trade. The Pirates just made the right move. You have to consider the short-term and the long-term. In the short-term, the Pirates filled a lot of needs. They added a right fielder (need #1) who can hit lefties (need #2) and another backup catcher (need #3). They didn’t trade away anyone who projected to be a part of their future major league team. The Mets won this deal no matter how you look at it from their perspective. For the Pirates, the deal just made sense.
This isn’t something the Pirates can do repeatedly. They don’t have the financial resources of the Dodgers to go out and buy a team. They also can’t fall into the Dave Littlefield trap of relying on only one prospect at each position to work out. The Pirates can trade Herrera because their future middle infield projects to be Hanson and Mercer. But if they take that approach with every position, they will inevitably run into a situation where their projected starters don’t work out, leaving them with no Plan B.
In this one case, it makes sense for the Pirates to make a deal like this. The Mets won, and that’s how their side of the deal is graded. For the Pirates, the only grades are based on whether the deal made sense for the team, and whether they acquired short-term help without sacrificing the future. They succeeded in both regards.
In short, the Pirates weren’t relying on Herrera, because their long-term infield projected to be Jordy Mercer and Alen Hanson. Let’s take a look at how things are now, and how they might look in the future.
The Trade Looking Back Now
Marlon Byrd was good for the Pirates. John Buck wasn’t really that good, but a backup catcher can only have so much of an impact, especially over a month. You can put a number on what Byrd did in the regular season. He was worth 0.6 WAR in the one month he was with the Pirates. He had a great game in the Wild Card game, although it’s more difficult to say that he was the deciding factor there. In one hand, his runs were meaningless to the score. In the other hand, you could argue that his home run against Johnny Cueto brought PNC Park alive, leading to Cueto dropping the ball, Russell Martin breaking the game open, and the Pirates cruising from there.
It’s probably an entirely different article to dissect the actual value Byrd brought to the team, and whether he actually made a difference. What we do know is that the Pirates got what they paid for. Byrd’s 0.6 WAR would have been a 3.6 WAR over a full season. Dilson Herrera was the #10 prospect in the system and Vic Black was a top 20 prospect with the upside of a future closer. That’s not the biggest return, but definitely something you’d expect for a 3.6 WAR player who lives up to that value, all while coming up big in the playoffs.
On the flip side of the trade, Herrera and Black have seen their value go up. Black currently has a 2.20 ERA and a 3.96 xFIP with the Mets this season, although he’s currently in Triple-A. He’s still dealing with control problems, but striking out 8.5 per nine innings. The Pirates could definitely use Black this year in their bullpen. But I wouldn’t say that the loss of Black led to the bullpen problems this year. There have been so many things that went wrong, that trading Black doesn’t even come close to the top of the list. Last year the Pirates could afford to trade Black because they had so many bullpen options. This year they’re struggling to find bullpen help. That’s just an example of how depth can slip away in no time at all.
The bigger jump in value has come from Herrera. He started the year in High-A, where he was good but not great, posting a .765 OPS. He did finish strong, with an .849 OPS in a little over a month before he was promoted. He has done well in his time in Double-A, posting a .333/.401/.544 line in 237 at-bats. The Mets are jumping him straight to the majors. It’s probably only temporary, since it’s to replace Daniel Murphy. But it’s hard to ignore a guy going from Low-A to the Majors in one year.
If Herrera was still with the Pirates, he’d be in the minors. That’s not because they move guys slow, but because they don’t need him in the majors. He might be in Double-A right now, taking a very familiar path for Pirates hitting prospects by spending half a year in Bradenton and half a year in Altoona. But with Neil Walker in Pittsburgh, the Pirates don’t need Herrera any time soon. Walker is under control for two more years. As I mentioned last year, the future of the middle infield looks to be Jordy Mercer and Alen Hanson. I don’t think there are questions right now about Mercer at shortstop. Hanson has moved to second base, and should be up at some point next year, and will likely still take over for Walker in the future.
The Pirates are still in a situation where they don’t need Dilson Herrera. They could use Vic Black, but that’s because Jason Grilli and Bryan Morris under-performed this year before immediately turning things around elsewhere, all while Jeanmar Gomez and Justin Wilson saw struggles with the Pirates this year. Black would help, but dealing him at the time was the right call, and missing him now is a result of other moves going wrong.
The Trade in the Future
The key part of this deal in the future will be the Herrera/Hanson comparison. At the time of the deal, everyone had Hanson ahead of Herrera. If Herrera ends up being better than Hanson in the long-run, you might be able to chalk it up to luck, or the unpredictability of prospects. But that’s not an excuse the Pirates can use. It’s their job to evaluate talent. Neal Huntington has said many times that they need to know their own players better than anyone else. If Herrera ends up being better than Hanson, then this deal would look bad in a way where you couldn’t say that it won’t really impact the Pirates in the future.
That said, I don’t think we’re there yet. And I don’t think the Pirates are limited to just Hanson. In a later article last year, I wrote about the other middle infield options.
The big reason the Pirates don’t need Herrera is because they’ve got Alen Hanson and Jordy Mercer for the long-term middle infield. Herrera would have been a great backup if one of those guys don’t work out. The Pirates still have other backup plans, like JaCoby Jones, Jarek Cunningham, Dan Gamache, and Gift Ngoepe, but none of those guys are close to Herrera.
Out of that group, Jones is seeing the biggest boost in value. Last year he wasn’t close to Herrera’s value. This year he’s a lot closer, although I still think Herrera is ahead of him. But that means this isn’t just Herrera vs Hanson. It’s Herrera vs Hanson, Jones, or anyone else who steps up to take the second base job in the long-term.
That’s the challenge the Pirates have with trades. It’s fine dealing prospects and getting back rentals if done correctly. The ideal way to do this is to deal someone who you don’t need for the long-term. So far, the Pirates are good with the Marlon Byrd trade, even if the Mets won the deal from a long-term talent standpoint.
Links and Notes
**The 2014 Prospect Guide is on sale in the Pirates Prospects store. The paperback version has dropped to $14.99 plus shipping. We currently only have one case of books remaining, and the offer is only valid while the books are in stock. There is also an eBook version available for $9.99. The 2013 Prospect Guide is on clearance for $1.