You could easily make the case that Pittsburgh Pirates fans are obsessed with money. Maybe not when it comes to their personal lives, but definitely when it comes to talking about moves the Pirates make. Discussion of every move, whether it’s actual moves, or potential moves, comes down to money. A big reason for this is because the Pirates are a small market team. They can’t afford to spend like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, or even the Philadelphia Phillies and St. Louis Cardinals. That’s not saying they can’t spend at all, but a lot of their spending has to be very calculated.
When it comes to the trade deadline this year, adding payroll isn’t as big of a deal for the Pirates as it is for other teams. A look at the 40-man roster shows that the Pirates will have a projected year-end payroll of $46.4 M. Even if they take on a big salary, such as a Carlos Pena, who is owed $6.5 M for the remainder of the year, they’ll end up at $53 M, which isn’t a huge amount. That said, there is one price the Pirates can’t afford to pay on the trade market this year: their future.
Yesterday, the New York Mets traded Carlos Beltran to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler. Wheeler is a a 6′ 3″, 180 pound right hander who throws in the 94-97 MPH range, and has the upside of a number one starter. The 21 year old has dealt with some control issues this year in high-A, although he’s put up some dominant outings. The Mets paid $4 M of Beltran’s salary to get a better return, and passed on deals where they could have gotten three prospects in order to get a guy with Wheeler’s upside.
To put that return in perspective, Wheeler falls in between Jameson Taillon and Luis Heredia. He’s not as polished as Taillon, but he’s further along than Heredia. Value wise, he falls closer to Heredia, as both are young pitchers who can throw in the mid-90s, with top of the rotation upside. If the Pirates wanted to beat the Wheeler offer, it probably would have cost Taillon, or Heredia and a marginal prospect. That’s a massive price for the Pirates to pay in order to get two months of Beltran, with no draft pick compensation coming in return.
The Pirates do have some prospects they can trade, but they can’t give up their top guys, especially not for a rental. If they’re ever going to assemble a rotation with one or two true aces, those aces are going to come from within. If they want above average position players under control for several years, those players are going to come from within. The Pirates can’t afford to trade potential aces or potential above average position players for a short term solution.
I’ve said a lot in the last month that the Pirates should focus on trades where they can upgrade the team while giving up salary relief as the big return. I’m not against them trading prospects in general, but I would rather see them making 3-for-1 deals, rather than one top guy being sent out for an upgrade. Unfortunately, as we saw with the Mets, teams prefer one top guy to a package without that impact talent. In some cases, it’s impossible to make a deal without including a top prospect.
This might limit what the Pirates can do in the short term, but dealing away top prospects can limit what the Pirates are capable of in the long term. We’ve seen that it’s hard for fans to consider long term goals. In 2008, there were some fans who wanted to trade for pitching in order to capitalize on the offensive production the Pirates were seeing. Had the Pirates put short term goals ahead of long term goals, they would have had to trade Andrew McCutchen to get that pitching help, and they would have missed out on the chance to get Jose Tabata, Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens, and Daniel McCutchen in the Xavier Nady trade.
It’s easy to focus on the short term goals and say “let the long term sort itself out”, but that’s not a realistic option for professional teams. If the Pirates want to compete in the long run, they can’t afford to be giving up a lot in prospects, in exchange for short term rentals. That doesn’t mean they can’t make moves. It just means they can’t make short sighted moves.