First Pitch: The Pirates Still Lost the Marlon Byrd Deal, and That’s Still OK

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.

SNIP

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.

**Prospect Watch: Glasnow and Heredia Make Final Starts, Morton Rehabs and Espinal’s Career Night

**Charlie Morton Unsure of Future After First Rehab Appearance

**Jayson Nix Claimed By Royals

**JaCoby Jones Named Best Shortstop in the SAL, Returns From Disabled List

**Playoff Odds: Pirates Stay Alive With Big Week Against the Cardinals and Brewers

**DSL Season Recap: Pirates Look Strong Up the Middle and at the Top of Their Rotation

**Morning Report: Trying to Get Value Out of Non-Drafted Free Agents

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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  • bucs_lose_again

    How exactly would Vic Black and his 1.55 WHIP be of assistance to our bullpen? That would be a disaster.

    • stickyweb

      Why? Just because he’s not good enough to be in the Mets’ bullpen right now? LOL

      • Lukas Sutton

        Because he is a harder throwing Wilson with possibly less control. The walks are still an issue and havent gotten much better. Serviceable guy to have but not much better than Wilson.

  • NorCalBuc

    Tim ~ I disagree with your evaluation, that the Pirates “lost” this trade.

    There are many variables as to why Marlon Byrd was one of THE keys to the Pirates first winning season in 20 years! I will never underestimate the significance of the storied season of 2013. The fact the the Pirates finally WON in 1993 is astounding.

    That swing by Mr Byrd against Cueto is one of the most memorable Pittsburgh sports moments in my life (and I go back to 1963 following the Hornets, Conders and Pipers, Stillers and Buccos). The ambiance, crowd chanting, Cueto’s nervousness, and then . . . boom!

    That swing by Marlon Byrd sent the Bucs to win their first playoff game in 20 years.
    If memory serves me well, I believe Byrd also homered in his first game in black-n-gold. Marlon brought gravitas and hutzpah to a young team, that needed some muscle and strength from a veteran presence. He was the fielders toughness that Burnett brought to the mound.

    Heck even Marlon Byrd had a play in the most memorable regular season game of the year……Byrd’s famous “soccer kick” of the outfield grounder, toward McCutchen, who then assisted on the game’s FINAL out, which led to the Pirates’ securing their first playoff berth in a generation. THAT picture of Grilly, Russell Martin and the fans’ reaching arms in the background symbolized that FINAL moment of Pirates’ losing history. And Byrd started that play, with THAT soccer kick.

    • st1300b

      I thought that was Martin?

  • John Lease

    Bryan Morris didn’t under perform. He was right in line with what he’d done previously. Grilli for Frieri though has been a disaster. Frieri was terrible the whole way thru, someone needed to actually look at him pitching rather than studying his meaningless stats. He was getting rocked with the Angels, and took it up a notch with the Pirates.

    • leowalter

      I watched Grilli pitch the 9th inning the other night against Oakland, and he looked exactly like he did in Pittsburgh : a couple of hits, a walk ,1.0 ER. And it took a couple of line drives hit right at people to get him off that easily.

  • ISIBILL

    I remember when we had Maz, Davey Cash, Willie Randolph and Rennie Stennett. That was a talent stream. The only problem I have with the Byrd trade is we made no effort to keep him. He would of added to this years team.

    • Doug

      Byrd got a 2 year deal with a vesting option for a third year. It made no sense for us to give him that.

      • R Edwards

        I disagree – looks at what he’s done this year with the Phillies? There is no evidence that he will suddenly not be productive next year. If the Pirates knew back in November that they were not going to let Polanco play RF in Pittsburgh until mid-June, they should have tried to re-sign Byrd.

        They did give up a lot for Byrd – we knew that at the time and we realize that even more today. We knew Herrera was a very good prospect at 2B, and that Black had potential to be a good reliever, if not a closer. Which is why, in general, I am opposed to trades for rentals. But in the Byrd case, I was okay with it – because he is what put the team over the hump last year. I don’t know if we make the playoffs without him. Again, the mistake was not bringing him back – or at least trying to do so.

        The Frieri experiment was a disaster, the Morris giveaway was just plain dumb, and keeping the likes of Pimentel and Gomez on the 25 man really hindered Hurdle in the use of the bullpen – and probably led to others being overworked.

        • leowalter

          Good job on that hindsight analysis, particularly in regards to Bryan Morris ! Who couldn’t get anybody out in Pittsburgh.

          • R Edwards

            You are wrong again – no hindsight involved – go back and see where I was very critical of the trade the day it was made. And even more so once they drafted the legendary Connor Joe with the pick they wasted. So they screwed up twice 1n one trade!

            • leowalter

              Oh Kreskin the great,would you please tell us what you see happening in 2015 while you have the ability to see,far ahead of every one else ?

            • Lukas Sutton

              Must be easy to call it a bad trade when the draft pick wont sink or swim for years down the road. I can call any trade a failure when one guy is in the bigs and the other is in A ball. “Connor Joe was a reach and wont ever blah blah”.

          • NMR

            This Morris/Grilli trade backtracking is without a doubt the worst of any move in Huntington’s tenure, Jose Bautista included.

            If anyone claims to have thought either trade was a poor move at the time, then I was at the game when the Babe called his shot – and caught the ball.

            • R Edwards

              I did think the Morris trade was bad at the time and stated so on this board the day it was made. Feel free to go back and check if you like…..but you are dead wrong on that note.

        • Andrew

          Marlon Byrd is doing what some analysts call harvesting, trading contact for pulled fly balls. This is the decline, older hitters who can no longer do any damage to the opposite filed undertake this approach of punish mistakes left out over the plate. The problem it leaves your swing full of holes and can be exploited on the inner half, thus why Byrd contact is in the low 70% and his strikeout rate was 25% last season and has climbed.

          I give credit to Byrd, he overhauled his approach and ensured himself the biggest payday of his career, but I don’t think 2 years and $16 million (and whatever Amaro’s vesting option is) was a sound investment for a team that plays half its games in least friendly park for right handed power.

          • R Edwards

            I would like to know if there are stats available on where Byrd hit his HRs this year – because it seems like every time I saw his HR highlights, they were HRs hit to right center.

            BTW, whatever you want to call it in order to try to dismiss his production this year, I would have loved to had a guy with 25 HRs and 80 RBIs in our lineup all season playing RF. We would likely be in first place.

            • Andrew

              I didn’t dismissed his production, I simply stated that a player with his profile wasn’t the soundest investment, and especially so given what Philadelphia offered. And the relevant information is not this year production, (home runs by location, Pull 12, Center 4, Opposite 8), but last years, when his power numbers where even more pull oriented.

              And the Pirates would likely be in first place if a whole host of things could have been different, but that is baseball.

              • R Edwards

                I don’t know how accurate this is, but according to this website and link, of Byrd’s 24 HRs this year – 8 were to right field or right center field.

                http://www.hittrackeronline.com/detail.php?id=2014_1262&type=hitter

                In comparison, via the same web site, of Mike Trout’s 30 HRs, only 5 were hit to right field or right center.

        • Lukas Sutton

          So you would be okay with paying a bench player that much? on this team, Byrd has no spot after this year. Marte and Polanco and Cutch are the OF. So that leaves him as a 4th OFer, which the Pirates will never pay 8 million for. A guy like Lambo can be quality bench 4th OFer for a fraction of the cost and with no fear of decline. Also, if we bring Byrd back we likely never see Harrison get as much playing time as he did early on in the year and its likely his year changes drastically. Ill take Harrison over Byrd for this year.

    • leowalter

      Wrong answer, see Doug’s comment.

  • Joe Sweetnich

    I agree with you completely Tim, but am still in pain over losing Herrera. Good example of why I’m not in favor of outlandish deadline deals, although if we hadn’t made this one we probably would not have made the playoffs last year.

  • IC Bob

    I think this may be one of those rare cases where both teams won. We got what we needed and the Mets look to have cashed in as well. Herrera really blossomed this year in the Mets organization. he may have a fantastic career at the majors or maybe they find out he can’t hit a curve. We will find out but I wold venture to say both teams are happy with the results. (I do agree with NorCal that resigning Byrd would have been a nice move

    • stickyweb

      Exactly Bob. As Tim states in his article, the Bucs got exactly what they wanted/needed and the Mets got a couple of prospects that could turn out well for them, which is exactly what they wanted/needed at the time. For some reason Tim ignores his own evaluation when declaring the Mets to be winners of the trade. The playoff berth and wins were well worth a couple of prospects, especially ones from areas of depth in the org.

  • smurph

    I also agree with Tim on this one. Usually when a contender makes a late season deal, they “lose” the trade in the long run if that guy becomes a FA after the season. The Pirates took a shot, and gave up 2nd tier prospects. Le’t remember they were one game away from advancing to the NL championship series. People have complained about Wilson this year, but I’d rather have him than Black, who (IMO) will never be a top bullpen guy. As for re-signing Byrd, yes I would have liked to have him. But they gave a 38-yr-old a 2-year contract with a 3rd year option. Too much in my opinion. Also, look at it from Byrd’s point of view. He knew Polanco would be coming up at some point, thereby making him a 4th outfielder if he went with the Pirates.

  • leowalter

    I myself am not discounting Dan Gamache, particularly because of his bat and some of the power he has shown on occasion.

  • NMR

    Yes, the Pirates still “lost” the trade.
    Yes, that’s still OK.
    But I disagree with the notion that the Pirates don’t “need” Dilson Herrera.

    Depth at the Major League level is fleeting. Depth in the minors doesn’t even exist.

    Jordy Mercer is a second division regular, at best. Alen Hanson’s development has stalled. And Jacoby Jones doesn’t sniff Hererra’s prospect status. The Pirates, as an organization, have an absolute need for a player of Hererra’s ability.

    • leowalter

      Hanson’s develement has stalled ? Where are you getting that information NMR ?

      • NMR

        I should have made it clear that was my word, and it was specifically meant defensively. I think that while he’s not reaching the heights of his low-A breakout, he’s still shown he can make adjustments and has a nice contact/power/speed profile offensively. Defensively, though, it still seems like he’s more tools and talent than polish, and that hasn’t improved much at all.

        I’d just hate to see him ML ready at the plate without a home in the field.

        • smurph

          I believe Jacoby Jones will be a better major league player than Dilson Herrera

          • NMR

            Well that says a lot.

          • leowalter

            I told somebody this a while ago : when Jones gets to AA and produces, I will take him a little more serious as a prospect.

        • leowalter

          Thanks NMR, I understand your point much better. Seriously though, I think you don’t have to worry that much about him at second base. He has the range and the athleticism, he only needs the repetitions. The offense is the main topic though. Some of that ability you either have or you don’t, and he has all the tools.