Is it just me, or has the leadup to the 2014 trade deadline been quiet this year?
When a rumor came out last week that the Pittsburgh Pirates were checking on Huston Street, it occurred to me that I hadn’t used the “News and Rumors” section of the site in some time. I looked, and realized that the Street rumor was the first trade rumor of the year. And it came on July 14th.
By this time last year, the Pirates had been linked to the following players:
To put things in perspective, I only post rumors from sources that usually show up on MLBTR. I also don’t post anything if the rumor is “Player A makes sense for the Pirates”, as that’s more of an observation than a rumor.
We know that they eventually landed Morneau. We also know that they made an offer of Luis Heredia and their comp pick for Norris. And they were looking at outfield help, ultimately landing Marlon Byrd (who they were connected to later in July, but acquired at the end of August). But that’s the thing. Even if they didn’t make a move in July, we still had a good idea of what they were looking for.
How Active Are the Pirates on the Trade Market?
The lack of activity this year might be in part due to the Pirates not being as active in general. Neal Huntington talked about the deadline with the media last week, noting that there are opportunities to get better, but there isn’t a glowing hole for the team. The full quote:
“We’re looking at all potential options to help this club get better. Whether it’s a starting pitcher, a reliever, position player. We recognize that there are some players out there that would make us better. We recognize that we’ve got some pretty good players here. What is the acquisition cost? How much better can they make us? Does it make sense for us short-term, longer term? We’re always going to find ways to make ourselves better.
The flip side of that, and I hope this doesn’t get parsed, but there isn’t a glowing hole for us. Whether it is in the rotation or the bullpen or a position player. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to try to find a way to make ourselves better. When Liriano comes back we’re going to have guy that probably deserves to be in a major league rotation…And with two other guys in Triple-A that probably should be in the big leagues. And, that’s a great place to be. But that doesn’t stop us from looking for ways to make us better.”
I think you could look at this team and find some weaknesses. The first base platoon has been struggling big time since the start of June. Pedro Alvarez hasn’t been at his best, but he’s not a bad player either. The bullpen has had its struggles, and could use a boost in middle relief. The rotation is without an ace, with Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano both struggling this year.
In all of these cases, the Pirates could upgrade these positions with a trade. Or they could stick with their in-house options, and hope for a better second half. The latter isn’t impossible. We’ve already seen this with several players on the roster. Jordy Mercer had a .508 OPS by the end of May. Since the start of June, his OPS is .787. That’s a great number for a shortstop. Starling Marte is another guy who struggled early, with a .659 OPS until early June. Since the second week of June he has an .824 OPS. There’s also the flip side of things. The first base platoon looked good up until June, then did a 180.
The idea that a player is going to continue playing one way, because that’s the way he played for the first three months, isn’t always true. It’s even less likely if the first three months from that player conflict with what he has done previously in his career. There are some areas where the Pirates would just be better off sticking with the in-house options, and hoping that those options have a better second half. They’ve managed to contend with the current performances from Alvarez, Liriano, Cole, and the bullpen. Things can only get better in the second half.
There are other areas where the Pirates could, and should look for upgrades. The bullpen is one area. I don’t like the idea of paying for relievers, so I wouldn’t make a big deal for a Huston Street type reliever. He would cost prospects, plus he’d take up $10 M over the next year and a half. As I wrote the other day, the Pirates have had success getting quality relievers for nothing. They should continue that approach. They don’t need a late inning reliever with Mark Melancon and Tony Watson on the team. They could use a middle reliever to strengthen the bullpen leading up to those late innings.
I don’t think they should be looking to trade for a starter. The only trade that would make sense would be to deal for a top of the rotation guy. As we saw with the Jeff Samardzija trade, that would cost a lot in prospects. It would also create a situation where you’re strengthening the current rotation, only to weaken future rotations by dealing away a few of your top pitching prospects. I’d rather see the Pirates call up Nick Kingham if they need rotation help, rather than trading him and other prospects away for an upgrade. As for any other starter, I think adding a middle or back of the rotation guy would just be adding more of what they already have. At some point in the second half they’ll have Vance Worley and Brandon Cumpton in depth roles. Kingham is looking great in Triple-A, and could be ready to come up later in the year. They’ve got enough depth, and can turn to that if they need anything other than an ace.
As for that ace, I think they’re better off hoping for a better second half from Liriano and Cole. They’ve been a contending team without strong production from those two. If just one of them has a better second half, it would be a big boost to the rotation. As for other boosts to the rotation, they’ve already seen one big in-season upgrade, only this upgrade came internally. Jeff Locke has statistically been the best pitcher on the staff, and has only been with the team as a regular starter since early June. If Locke continues what he’s doing, then that would be another boost that they didn’t have early in the season.
One thing about first base is that Ike Davis not only looks a bit like Adam LaRoche, but he plays like Adam LaRoche. In his career, Davis has a .698 OPS in the first half, and an .869 OPS in the second half. Coincidentally (or maybe not so much of a coincidence), he has a .698 OPS in the first half of the 2014 season. It would be huge if he continues this trend, and takes off in the second half. I think Gaby Sanchez will revert back to crushing lefties, and if Davis picks up the pace, then the Pirates will be fine at first.
The Pirates have some weak spots on the team this year. However, those weak spots aren’t due to a lack of talent at the positions. They’re a result of the Pirates having talent that hasn’t performed up to expectations. They could go one of two ways with their second half approach. They could make a trade and not have to worry about guys bouncing back. The advantage here is comfort, and the disadvantage here is that you’re going to be paying a lot, and possibly for no reason. They could go the other way, and hope for better results in the second half. The advantage here is that you don’t give up prospects that could help you contend in future years. That advantage is why the Pirates now have Cole, Polanco, and Marte on their team. The disadvantage is that these players could continue their first half numbers, leaving the Pirates in the same situation.
Fortunately, there’s a new trend in baseball, and that new trend means the Pirates don’t have to decide on an upgrade in the next two weeks.
Is the Trade Season Moving Back?
Last year the Pirates didn’t make any moves in July, but added Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau at the end of August. It seemed like last July was slow all around the league, and August was unusually busy. There’s probably a reason for that.
MLB added a second Wild Card a few years ago, and as a result, more teams have the feel that they’re in the mix. At the moment there are only seven teams that are ten games or more out of a playoff spot. There are two and a half months remaining in the season, and while it’s not probable that these teams will have a sudden turnaround, it is definitely possible. A team that is ten games back might be less inclined to trade in late July, but by late August, that same ten game span seems insurmountable.
Then you have to consider that not every team losing this year is going to trade a player that could help them in future years. Sure, David Price will probably be traded, as a small market team like the Rays needs to take that approach to do a quick rebuild. But the idea that the Rangers would trade Yu Darvish and his team friendly contract, all because they’re not winning in 2014, is absurd. There’s no rule in baseball that says you have to blow it all up and start over when you have a losing season. It is possible to just have a bad year.
The overall result is that there are very few sellers available, and there are so many more buyers. There would also be some trepidation on the buyer’s side. A team like the Pirates is only 3.5 games back, but of the eight real playoff contenders, they rank last. They’re contenders, but not strong contenders. Do they go all in for this year and weaken themselves for future years? Or do they look at the makeup of this team and organization, see stronger years ahead, and decide that their best opportunity might be in those future years?
Teams that are on the fringe of the playoffs also have another m0nth to determine where they stand. In the case of the Pirates, this gives them another month to see how Cole and Liriano do. It gives them a month to see if Ike Davis repeats his second half success, or if Pedro Alvarez revives his power. Last year the Pirates had a stronger need for an outfielder in August than they did in July. They had a weakness in right field in July, but when Starling Marte went down in August, they had question marks at both corner spots. A lot can change in a month. It’s possible that the Pirates could look stronger at certain positions a month from now. Again, this is something we’ve already seen, as the rotation today looks much stronger than it did in early June.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the trade deadline is once again underwhelming. The flip side to this is that we could see another active month of August. Personally I think MLB should move the trade deadline back to the end of August, and avoid the whole process with waiver trades. I don’t know when or why the original trade deadline was set, but I’d imagine it came at a time when there were very few playoff spots, and thus far more sellers by late July than there were buyers. We’re now to a point where it’s always going to be a seller’s market in late July, and most teams won’t really know where they stand until late August.
For now, the trade deadline is in July, with the ability to make trades through the waiver process in August. I’d expect some movement in July, but we’re probably going to continue to see an increase of moves in August. Based on the lack of rumors, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Pirates again wait until August to get active on the trade market.