The Pittsburgh Pirates need offensive help. Their offense is the worst in the majors. I could go in to detail with talk of how they’re on pace for a record low in runs, how they have the most strikeouts of any team, and so on. But I’ll keep it simple and just say that the offense has been very bad.
The immediate reaction in this type of situation is always going to be a call for a change. That call is usually going to be for a trade. Unfortunately, just saying “make a trade” ignores the reality that trades don’t usually take place in baseball at this point in the season. In the last two years there have been three in-season major league trades that took place before the month of June. Those deals saw Fred Lewis, David Purcey, and Scott Sizemore traded, as well as a deal involving Rule 5 pick Brad Emaus.
This year there have been three trades made. One of them sent Josh Bell to Arizona (the other Josh Bell). Bell has yet to play a game in the majors this year. The second trade was a swap of Marlon Byrd for Michael Bowden and a player to be named later. Since the move, Byrd has put up a .618 OPS with the Red Sox. Sadly, that number probably looks good to Pirates fans right now, but it’s not going to solve any problems. The third trade sent reliever Ernesto Frieri to the Angels for two of the 20-30 ranked prospects in the Los Angeles system.
You can extend this discussion throughout the month of June, and you’re not going to see any changes. For some reason the magic date seems to be the end of June.
Last year, the trades I mentioned above were the only in-season trades before June 30th. On the 30th, the Rockies acquired Mark Ellis from Oakland. The next trade for a bat came on July 19th, when the Giants added Jeff Keppinger, then July 20th, when Detroit added Wilson Betemit.
In 2010 the most notable trade prior to June 30th came on June 26th, when the Mariners added Russell Branyan. Branyan hit for an .802 OPS with Seattle. There were no trades on June 30th, but the Rangers added Bengie Molina on July 1st.
In 2009 there was one notable trade that was made before the end of June, and that was the Nate McLouth trade. Prior to that move, the only major league deals included Ramon Castro, Lance Broadway, Jody Gerut, Tony Gwynn Jr., and Delwyn Young. After that move, the Cardinals acquired Mark DeRosa on the 27th of June, and then the Pirates traded Eric Hinske to the Yankees on the 29th, and made the Lastings Milledge/Joel Hanrahan for Nyjer Morgan/Sean Burnett swap on the 30th.
It’s not realistic to expect a trade at this point in the season. We’ve seen the results of the one major trade that took place before the end of June. The Braves paid a big return for Nate McLouth. McLouth was good for them that year, but to get him that early they dealt Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke, and Gorkys Hernandez. Forget about what those guys are doing now, McLouth included. A few months before the deal, Atlanta refused to trade a package containing those guys in a deal for Jake Peavy, who was coming off a year where he had a 2.85 ERA in 173.2 innings, and was a year removed from a Cy Young award. A few months later, the Braves dealt those guys for Nate McLouth.
Here is the reality of the situation. Trades aren’t made at this time of the year. In the rare case that trades are made, you have to give up a pretty big return, arguably bigger than you’d be giving up a month later. And too often, trade ideas are viewed in a way that ignores the fact that there’s other teams out there looking for help.
The Pirates have a bad offense, but so do the Oakland Athletics. Oakland is 21-21, five games out of first, and two games out of a wild card spot. Their team average is a point lower than the Pirates, and their OPS is only 20 points higher. There’s Seattle — four and a half games out of a wild card spot, with the 27th ranked OPS. There’s Miami — actually tied for a wild card spot and holding the 26th best OPS. And it’s not like teams with good offenses won’t be looking for players. Jerry Crasnick noted that the Indians and Phillies have been scouting Kevin Youkilis, who could be dealt from Boston this year due to his struggles and the emergence of Will Middlebrooks. Cleveland and Philadelphia have the 13th and 18th best OPS’ in the league, respectively.
That’s why early trades cost so much. If there is a player that becomes available, it’s not like the only option is the Pirates. This isn’t a video game where you pull up the other team on the screen, grab the player you want, then either figure out the combination of players that will get a deal done, or switch on “force trades” and give up the struggling Clint Barmes, an un-needed relief pitcher, and one of Rudy Owens, Jeff Locke or Justin Wilson, all while getting an impact player in return. In real life you’ve got a lot of teams looking for offense. And if there is a seller this early in the season, they’re probably not looking at the situation with the same “MAKE A TRADE NOW!” urgency that Pirates fans have.
The important thing to consider is that trades are a two way street. When it comes to discussing trades, no one considers this. No one considers that teams don’t typically make big trades this early in the season. No one considers that, even though a struggling team has a valuable player, they might not be looking to deal that valuable player. As an example, even though the Twins are 14-27 right now, and have Josh Willingham making $21 M over three years, that doesn’t mean they’re looking to deal Willingham just because he would be an upgrade for the Pirates.
When it comes to trades, everyone turns in to Donald Trump. Ignore any legit reasons why a trade can’t be made, and just slam the table and demand that a move be made now. The reality of the situation is that trades aren’t likely to take place at this point in the season. If the Pirates want an upgrade, that upgrade is going to have to come from within, or it is going to have to come through a minor move, such as the addition of a Triple-A player in another organization. Once late-June and July roll around, we can start discussing trades. Until then, trades just aren’t likely.
Tomorrow I’ll take a look at who can help the Pirates from within the system.