In the past few years, there have been questions about the Pittsburgh Pirates’ commitment to winning. There have been complaints that the Pirates aren’t acting like a winning team, and aren’t making moves a winning team should make. Complaints that the Pirates are focused too much on the future, and not enough on the now. Complaints that they’re wasting Andrew McCutchen’s prime years, or that they’re just wasting the rare chance they’ve got to contend.
With this off-season, I think we can put to rest the idea that the Pirates aren’t focused on winning now.
In the past few years, they’ve gone with reclamation projects when they needed a starting pitcher. It wasn’t a bad plan at all, and led to some great results. But that type of approach does have risks (even though the Pirates didn’t really deal with many consequences of those risks). This off-season they needed two starting pitchers. They got A.J. Burnett (who is a bit of a reclamation project, although I think just getting healthy will be a huge thing) and Francisco Liriano. The latter signed a three-year, $39 M deal. That’s not ground breaking. It’s the market rate for a pitcher like Liriano (possibly a bit of a discount, based on what Brandon McCarthy and Ervin Santana received), and the Pirates paid it.
A lot of complaints have been about the payroll, which has quietly been showing a steady incline over the last few years. The Pirates have said they will probably be spending over $90 M this year. I don’t know the details of Liriano’s deal, but right now I have them at $88 M, and that doesn’t include Radhames Liz’s deal. That deal was originally rumored as a two-year, $3 M deal, but was announced for one year today. I think it’s safe to say that it will end up around seven figures or more, considering the offers he had on the table from other leagues. That would put them at a projected $89 M. They’ve added about $8 M in-season the last few years, which would put their projected end-of-the-year number at $97 M. Again, it’s nothing that hasn’t been done before. It’s just something Pirates fans have wanted, and it’s happening.
Then there were the two trades recently. I detailed the Antonio Bastardo/Joely Rodriguez trade the other night, pointing out how the Pirates are trading a guy who could be a good lefty reliever for them for six years, and getting one year of a guy who has been a good lefty reliever.
Today the Pirates completed another trade in which they acquired Sean Rodriguez to fill their utility role. They sent out Buddy Borden on the other side of that deal. I think that’s a high price to pay for one year of Rodriguez, especially since Rodriguez was designated for assignment, only has one year remaining, and is coming off a down year. We had Borden ranked high, and probably higher than most. Since he won’t be in the Prospect Guide, I put up his scouting report in today’s article.
I also decided to do a trade value on Rodriguez, just to see what he was actually worth. I went with a 1.1 WAR, which was his 2013 total, and the average of his last five seasons. His projected salary is $2 M, and I went with $6 M per win. The result was $4.6 M in surplus value.
The disclaimer with that value is that I don’t know how being designated for assignment would impact his value. He’s also coming off a bad year where he posted a -0.2 WAR. So by putting him at 1.1 WAR, a team is paying for a bounce back season, and only gets fair value if that bounce back season occurs. If Rodriguez has another replacement level year, the Pirates have lost this deal.
So how does Borden stack up? It really depends on how you view him. A Grade C pitcher of Borden’s age is worth $2.1 M. A Grade B pitcher is worth $7.3 M. We have Borden at Grade B status, but I wouldn’t be surprised if others have him between B and C. If you do have him between those grades, then Borden for Rodriguez is total fair, assuming there is no lost value in being designated for assignment, and assuming you’re paying for the bounce back year.
I also decided to run a Trade Value on Bastardo. I put him at 0.7 WAR, and he’s projected to make $2.8 M. That gave him a trade value of $1.4 M. We graded Rodriguez as a Grade C pitcher, and a Grade C pitcher at his age is worth $1.5 M. So that trade seems fair, although I could see a scenario where the Phillies are better off in the long-term, and possibly the short-term, with Andy Oliver and/or Rodriguez in their bullpen.
In each of these deals, the Pirates traded from their minor league pitching depth to get one year of a player who can provide a small upgrade. If Bastardo keeps pitching like he has been pitching the last few years, and if Rodriguez bounces back to his 2013 numbers, then the Pirates just added about two wins. In exchange for those two wins, they traded away two pitchers who project to reach the majors, and in one of those deals I think they paid too much. But the Pirates now have their utility player and their second lefty. The roster is stronger for it. They’re clearly only focused on 2015 with these moves. That’s something people have been wanting to see from them. And once again, they’re doing it.
The Pirates are paying for established free agents. They will have a payroll that rivals other small-to-mid market teams. They are trading from their depth of prospects just to upgrade for one season. With the exception of Russell Martin, they’ve done everything you could have asked for this off-season to fill the needs for the 2015 season. And then there’s this…
FWIW, former Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd called Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli the top "value" acquisition of the offseason to date
— Travis Sawchik (@Travis_Sawchik) December 12, 2014
Cervelli has posted good offensive numbers, although in small sample sizes. He’s also had issues staying healthy. There are some big “ifs” here, but if he can stay healthy and if he can hit like he has been over a full season, then the Pirates won’t miss Martin that much.
Last night I wrote about how it looks like the Pirates might be done filling needs this off-season. I don’t know if they’ll continue making moves this off-season. What I do know is that you can’t really say they’re not focused on winning in 2015 with all of the moves they have made so far.
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