The Pittsburgh Pirates were connected to a lot of big names throughout the month of July, in their search to find help for their run at contending in 2012. Names like Chase Headley, Justin Upton, Hunter Pence, Shane Victorino, and even Billy Butler were mentioned in connection with the Pirates. But when the deadline came, the Pirates acquired a different group of players — a group which might not have made the biggest splash, but did upgrade the team.
Last week, leading up to the deadline, the Pirates added left-handed pitcher Wandy Rodriguez in exchange for outfield prospect Robbie Grossman, and left-handed pitching prospects Rudy Owens and Colton Cain. Rodriguez stepped in to the rotation, replacing Kevin Correia, and moving Correia to the bullpen.
On the eve of the trade deadline, the Pirates made their second move, adding Travis Snider in exchange for relief pitcher Brad Lincoln. Lincoln had served as one of the top bullpen options for the Pirates this year, but the upside with Snider is hard to overlook, especially for a team that needs offense and hasn’t had any trouble finding relief pitching. To make room for Snider on the 25-man roster, the Pirates designated Drew Sutton for assignment.
With an hour remaining before the deadline, the Pirates made two surprising moves. First, they dealt Gorkys Hernandez and their competitive balance pick in 2013 to the Miami Marlins for first baseman Gaby Sanchez and minor league reliever Kyle Kaminska. With Sanchez on the team, the Pirates dealt Casey McGehee to the New York Yankees for relief pitcher Chad Qualls. The loss of Hernandez isn’t big. He would have been out of options next year, and there probably wasn’t going to be a spot for him on the 25-man roster. The loss of the competitive balance pick depends on whether Sanchez can return to his pre-2012 numbers. It wouldn’t be a big loss if he became that player for the next four years.
“We feel like we’ve upgraded our rotation,” Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington said after the deadline. “We feel like we’ve upgraded our position player club, and with the depth of arms, we feel like we can sustain a hit. As well as Brad Lincoln was pitching, as good of a pitcher he is, we feel like overall we’ve improved our rotation. We feel like we’ve improved our lineup, our bench. We’ll work to put the bullpen in the same spot it was before.”
Pirates Opt For Long Term Options Rather Than Rentals
In the end, the Pirates decided to avoid short-term rentals. The prices for rental players like Shane Victorino (under control through the end of the season) or Hunter Pence (under control through the end of the 2013 season) were more than the Pirates wanted to pay.
“We’re not real big fans of rental players, certainly not giving up significant pieces for rental players,” Huntington said. “A year ago, the market dictated that there weren’t very many players with years of control available. We added Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick for what we felt was an appropriate acquisition cost. This year, the rentals were very expensive. If we were looking to give up something of value, something of significance, we were looking at years of control in return.”
Both Pence and Victorino come with name value. But they also come with down seasons. Victorino is currently hitting for a .724 OPS, which is down from his .847 OPS in 2011. Hunter Pence is hitting for a .784 OPS, which is down from his .871 OPS in 2011. The Pirates were offered Victorino for Brad Lincoln, but ultimately turned the deal down and dealt Lincoln to Toronto.
“I don’t really like to talk about our players publicly, but giving up a Brad Lincoln plus another significant piece for two months of Shane Victorino, as great as a player Shane has been, in what has been a down year for Shane. He may go to Los Angels and be the glue that sticks that club together and puts them deep into October, but for us, with where we are, where we’re always going to be, we need to continue the pipelines open to help our Major League team win directly or indirectly,” Huntington said of the Victorino talks.
Hunter Pence had an extra year of control, but that extra year would have probably been priced at $14 M. Add in his down numbers, and include the price it would have cost for him (San Francisco gave up top catching prospect Tommy Joseph, outfielder Nate Schierholtz, and A-ball pitcher Seth Rosin), and Pence would have cost too much for the Pirates in the short-term, potentially hurting their long-term chances at competing.
“The acquisition costs on Hunter Pence, as we engaged there, was prohibitive,” Huntington said. “The acquisition costs on every other ‘sure thing’, which I will remind you, there’s no such thing as a sure thing, was prohibitive for us. We’ve talked about being good short-term, long-term and we felt like the moves improved us short-term and gives us a legitimate shot to continue to get better moderate-term and long-term.”
The Pirates opted to go with players who can help in the short-term and long-term, getting years of control with the players they acquired. Wandy Rodriguez is under team control through the 2013 season, and has a player option in 2014. If Rodriguez doesn’t exercise the option, the Pirates could get a compensation pick for him. Travis Snider is under control through the 2016 season. Gaby Sanchez is under control through the 2015 season.
The control beyond the 2012 season not only helps the Pirates this year, but it helps the team for years to come. Wandy Rodriguez can provide another strong arm in the rotation next year, and that’s a rotation which will only get stronger around mid-season when Gerrit Cole is projected to arrive in the majors. Snider could add another power bat for the long-term, filling one of the open outfield spots, and helping boost a young lineup that features Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, and Neil Walker all currently hitting well. Sanchez is having a down year this year, but was very consistent the last two years, with a combined .269 average, .783 OPS, and 19 homers each season. He looks like he would be a great platoon partner with Garrett Jones, and possibly more than that if he returns to his pre-2012 numbers.
Helping the 2012 Team
In the last week, the Pirates have made changes to the following areas on their roster.
Rotation – Added Wandy Rodriguez. Removed Kevin Correia.
This is a good upgrade. If you’re a believer in advanced metrics, then it was only a matter of time before Correia saw a regression in his overall numbers. Rodriguez is a better pitcher, plus this deal strengthens the depth by putting Correia as the sixth starter in the rotation.
Bullpen – Added Kevin Correia, Chad Qualls. Removed Brad Lincoln, Evan Meek.
Daniel McCutchen was called up for one day, but he will likely return to Triple-A once all of the new additions join the team. The loss of Lincoln is the big thing here, as he was one of the better relievers in the game this year from a numbers standpoint. The loss of Meek isn’t as big, since he was only up for a short time replacing the injured Juan Cruz. Correia should pitch well as a long man in the bullpen. Qualls is having a down year this year, so not much should be expected of him. The Pirates have a good track record lately with finding relievers and turning their numbers around. But to expect that out of Qualls might be optimistic. Overall the bullpen was downgraded, but this is the spot to downgrade a team if you need to downgrade one area. The overall value of relief pitchers is much smaller than other positions.
Outfield – Added Travis Snider, Starling Marte. Removed Alex Presley, Drew Sutton, Josh Harrison, Garrett Jones.
The outfield situation for the Pirates was a mess. Alex Presley was the only true outfielder, with Drew Sutton, Josh Harrison, and Garrett Jones all getting regular playing time at the corners. The Pirates called up Starling Marte, then traded for Travis Snider. That moves Presley to the bench as the fourth outfielder, which is a better role for him. Sutton was designated for assignment, while Harrison will move back to the bench/super utility role he’s best in. Jones can move back to first base, which is a better position for him as well. With Marte and Snider, the Pirates don’t have the comfort they’d have with name players like Hunter Pence or Shane Victorino. Then again, Starling Marte has a .759 OPS in his limited time in the majors, while Travis Snider has an .856 OPS in his limited time this year. It’s a gamble for each young player, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get production from those two. Considering that Victorino and Pence are having down years, the Pirates wouldn’t have gotten guaranteed production if they went the “name” route. Snider and Marte won’t have a hard time being upgrades over what the Pirates were working with prior to the deadline.
First Base – Added Gaby Sanchez. Removed Casey McGehee.
The move of Garrett Jones to first base will help. Jones is a platoon player, hitting for an .821 OPS against right-handers this year, compared to a .660 OPS against left-handers. McGehee was also a platoon player, with an .807 OPS against left-handers, compared to a .616 OPS against right-handers. The outfield situation put Jones as the starter too often, even against left-handers. That made McGehee more of a full time starter. The addition of Snider and Marte moves Jones to first base full time. Gaby Sanchez is a better platoon option than McGehee, with a career .878 OPS against left-handers, and a .715 OPS against right-handers. Just going back to the platoon at first base upgrades the offense. But the left-handed side of that platoon received a boost with the addition of Sanchez, replacing McGehee.
Grading the Deadline Moves
The Pirates upgraded their rotation. They upgraded two outfield spots, although the significance of the upgrades won’t be known until we see what Marte and Snider can do. The addition of the outfielders moved Garrett Jones to first base, and the addition of Gaby Sanchez could create a strong platoon. The additions also push Alex Presley to the bench, giving the Pirates a strong fourth outfielder. The one downgrade came in the bullpen, although that’s a small price to pay when the overall result is upgrading in all of these other areas.
Wandy Rodriguez is the one move that has that “making a splash” feel. None of the other moves stand out as massive improvements. But the Pirates did make improvements here, upgrading two outfield spots, their first base spot, their rotation, and their bench. They upgraded over a team that was already 58-44 on the year, so it’s not like they needed a massive upgrade to be competitive.
The best part was that they did all of this without sacrificing the future by dealing away any top prospects. They kept their top six prospects, and the biggest prospect they lost was Robbie Grossman. The loss of Grossman was eased with the addition of Snider. With Snider joining Marte on the roster for the next few years, there would have been less of a need for Grossman. Along with keeping their top prospects, the Pirates added to their future at the major league level with guys like Snider and Sanchez under team control for multiple years.
Looking around the division, the Pirates were pretty much alone in making deadline moves. The Cincinnati Reds only made one move, adding reliever Jonathan Broxton. The Cardinals, sitting four games back from the Pirates, added relief pitcher Edward Mujica. So not only did the Pirates provide small upgrades to their team in several areas, but their division opponents didn’t make any big upgrades.
The big upgrades came in the NL West. The Giants added Hunter Pence and Marco Scutaro. The Dodgers added Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino, Randy Choate, and Brandon League. In the Wild Card race, the Braves added Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson. If the Pirates can’t win their division, they’ll likely be competing with two of these teams for one of the Wild Card spots. Considering the Pirates are already in position for one of the Wild Card spots, their upgrades at the deadline, even if they’re small, should help them counter any “arms race” from the other potential playoff teams.