I found myself going back and forth between two thoughts when thinking about the Travis Snider trade this evening.
The first thought involved thinking about the possibility that Snider could be the next Brandon Moss. The Pirates got Moss in the Jason Bay deal, hoping that his power potential would translate over to the majors. It never did, although he did have a huge season with Indianapolis in 2010, with an .800 OPS and 22 homers before moving on. He eventually broke out with Oakland, and had an .813 OPS as a starter over the last two years. Snider was once one of the top prospects in the game, and had what looked like a breakout season in the second half last year. It’s very risky to deal him after that season, especially if that was the first indication that he could be a starter.
The other thought went to a long-held belief about how small market teams should be run. I believe that small market teams shouldn’t get attached to their players. Eventually, every player will move on, and ideally you want someone ready to step in when that player is ready to depart. The goal should be to have a replacement ready early, allowing you to trade a player, re-stock the farm system, and replace him with an equal part in the majors. That continued process would lead to the elimination of any “windows” to compete.
Each thought brings up many questions. Are the Pirates selling high on Snider or are they selling low? Will their current internal replacements be just as good? Did they get fair value for Snider? Is there another shoe about to drop? Who will grill the ridiculously thick cut steaks at the team get-togethers now that Snider is gone?
I can’t say that I have an answer for any of these questions. There are some questions that can’t be answered at all right now, and won’t have answers until we learn who the PTBNL is, what Snider does going forward, and how his replacements fare. If you came here looking for a final judgement of this deal, with a determination that this was a win, a loss, a good deal, or a bad deal, then that’s not what this article is about. It’s going to be nuanced, and it’s going to work through the fact that we still don’t know a lot about this deal. Fortunately, I’ve broken it up into small sections, which should make it more organized.
What is Travis Snider’s Trade Value?
Earlier this evening, before the deal was made, I looked at Snider’s trade value. That was going to be the original article tonight if the deal wasn’t complete. What I learned is that the trade value varies greatly, depending on how you view Snider.
If you use Snider’s 1.7 WAR from the 2014 season, then you get a value that would warrant a top 100 prospect. I used a 1.7 WAR, and a $4.5 M salary through arbitration in 2016 (which I’m assuming he’d get with back-to-back 1.7 WAR seasons), and got a trade surplus value of $13.8 M.
Using this value says that Snider will absolutely repeat his 2014 season, and I don’t think anyone can say that.
The other approach is to use an average of the last three seasons, which gives Snider about an 0.5 WAR. This would basically make him a non-tender candidate next year, and give him about $1 M in trade value this year.
Just like the opposite extreme, I don’t think you can take this route, because it says that Snider won’t come close to his 2014 season.
So let’s meet in the middle and call Snider a 1.0 WAR player going forward. I figure he would make about $3-3.5 M next year through arbitration with that production, and would have an overall trade value of around $6.5-7 M. I think this approach is the fairest way to determine his value.
So what did the Pirates get? On to the next section.
Stephen Tarpley and the PTBNL
Prior to the trade being completed, the biggest name attached to the deal was left-hander Steve Brault. Then, a few more possible names came out, including Stephen Tarpley. I was talking with John Dreker about the new names, and mentioned how I liked Tarpley much better than Brault. My familiarity with both guys is limited to what I read tonight, but Tarpley just seems to have much more upside, while Brault seems like one of those lefties who can dominate in A-ball, then will struggle in the upper levels and might make it as a reliever. Tarpley has some upside, with velocity that can hit the mid-90s, and the possibility to be more than a back of the rotation starter or a reliever.
But right now, Tarpley is a Grade C prospect. According to Bill Brink, who talked with Neal Huntington, the player to be named later is “similar” to Tarpley. So we can assume that’s another Grade C prospect.
Huntington said PTBNL would be "similar" to Tarpley.
— Bill Brink (@Bill_Brink2) January 28, 2015
I’ll get to the PTBNL in a second, but as for the value, I’d say the Pirates got at least $5 M in value. That seems a bit low for the mid-point view of Snider, but it’s also close to fair value. It’s definitely not a salary dump with zero return.
A lot of that value could depend on the PTBNL. No, this isn’t an Aramis Ramirez/Bobby Hill situation. But this is a situation where the usage of a PTBNL makes me think this is a 2014 draft pick, and there could be some interesting options there.
There is really no reason to make a trade this time of year and have a PTBNL. If you don’t know who you want, you could just wait and decide on a name. I guess it is possible that the Pirates might want to scout a few guys in Spring Training to make a final decision. However, a PTBNL at this time in the year makes the most sense if it’s a 2014 draft pick. Those picks can’t be traded until one year after their signing date. A team doesn’t have to officially name a PTBNL until six months after the deal. So any player from the Orioles’ 2014 draft is in play.
Going with an assumption that this is a 2014 pick, and taking a very literal meaning of “similar to Tarpley” (as in, only looking at lower level left-handed pitchers), there were two guys who caught my attention. The first is Tanner Scott, who the Orioles took in the sixth round, and who reportedly hit 100 MPH this year. John Sickels says he has a high ceiling. The other guy who drew my attention was Brian Gonzalez, another lefty taken in the third round. He only throws 88-91 MPH, but has a huge frame, and could add some velocity going forward. Sickels says he could end up the best of the bunch, behind Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey.
Sickels also said that Tarpley was a “Sleeper Alert choice,” and if the Pirates can get two lower level pitchers like that, then it might not be a bad trade return, and could potentially have a lot of upside.
A potential problem here is that the Pirates need Snider’s production in the majors a lot more than they need two additional projectable pitchers in the lower levels. Unless they can find a replacement.
Who Replaces Travis Snider?
The reality of the Pirates’ situation is that Travis Snider is a bench player and a Plan B at all three outfield positions. That’s not a bad thing. Gregory Polanco is unproven, and Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen have missed time with injuries before due to their all-out play. Having Snider on the bench is one of the things that made the Pirates look like they had a ton of depth, and a really strong bench. So how do they replace him?
The current internal options would be Andrew Lambo and Jaff Decker from the 40-man roster, and Jose Tabata, Keon Broxton, Mel Rojas, and Gorkys Hernandez from the non-roster invitees. I think the last three can be ruled out for now, just because I don’t see them jumping past the first three.
For as much of a negative reaction that he gets, Tabata hasn’t been horrible as a bench player. He has a career .715 OPS, and is a year removed from a 1.1 WAR. He could very well be a good bench player, but might not have the same upside as Snider to be a potential replacement starter.
That’s why I’d turn to Lambo or Decker. Both guys have similar profiles. They were once top prospects, and were seen as guys who could eventually hit for power. Lambo is 26 and Decker turns 25 next month. Decker’s power is still in that projection area, and he’s getting to the point where you question if he will hit for power in the future. Meanwhile, Lambo has shown his power off the last two years in the minors, but hasn’t had a chance to establish himself in the majors. With Snider gone, he could finally have that chance, especially since first base seems out of the question with Pedro Alvarez and Corey Hart at the position.
I’ve been calling for the Pirates to give Lambo a chance for the last two years, so I don’t think it’s a bad thing if that’s the way they are going. There is some risk here, as his power is unproven in the majors. Then again, you could have said that about Snider not too long ago. It was only last year at this time that you could have cut Snider and not many would have blinked an eye. Then he had a breakout season at the age of 26, which is Lambo’s age in 2015.
I’d include Corey Hart in this discussion, but his performance in the outfield largely depends on how well his knees can hold up.
If the Pirates replace Snider with Lambo, then the hope would be that Lambo takes advantage of this chance, has a breakout season off the bench in 2015, and gives you the same production that you would have hoped for out of Snider.
How Will the Trade Turn Out?
The Best Case Scenario – Under the small market approach that I outlined above, you’d want someone like Lambo to replace Snider and match his production, while getting two high-upside guys in the lower levels to continue to strengthen your system. If Lambo hits well, and if one or both of the pitchers ends up breaking out, then it really doesn’t matter to the Pirates what Snider does. Lambo hitting in the majors and the pitchers breaking out would make the Pirates look very smart here.
The Worst Case Scenario – The big fear here is that Snider does continue his breakout season, and shows that he could be a starter, much like Moss. That would really hurt if Lambo doesn’t work out and the Pirates can’t replace Snider. In this scenario, the pitchers would only be a consolation prize, as the Pirates would have needed Snider’s bat more than two lower-level pitchers. And if they don’t work out at all, then it could make the Pirates look foolish.
As I said above, there are a lot of things we don’t know about this deal, which could impact how it goes down. The biggest things are how Snider follows up on his 2014 season, whether Lambo (or whoever else) can successfully replace him, and whether the pitchers can improve their value going forward (and the identity of the PTBNL will play a role in how this trade is evaluated).
You’d like to think that this is a classic buy low/sell high trade, where the Pirates are selling high on Snider and buying low on some high-upside arms. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough information right now to tell if that’s the case, or if the opposite is the case. This is a situation where the Pirates have earned some trust to make this type of move, and take this type of risk. But I don’t think they’ve earned enough trust on this side of the ball — unlike the reclamation pitchers — to assume there is a great chance of this approach being a success.
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