Vic Black Reflects on Being Traded in the Marlon Byrd Deal

Vic Black. Good dude.

Black was drafted by the Pirates in the first round of the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft with the 49th overall pick. The Pirates were able to take him as a supplemental pick, because they were not able to sign Tanner Scheppers in the 2008 Draft.

He signed and reported to State College in June of 2009, making seven starts in the New York-Penn League. He went to West Virginia the following year and was only able to make two starts due to shoulder and bicep injuries. Due to his injuries and the plethora or pitching prospects coming through the system, the Pirates moved Black to the bullpen in 2010. They wanted to be able to utilize his strong arm and plus frame in a shutdown bullpen role while also limiting his action due to the injury concerns.

He only saw action in five games in Bradenton before being pushed hard to Double-A Altoona in 2012. The aggressive push ended up being great for Black, as he was one of four players from Altoona to make the 2012 Eastern League All Star team. Black’s time in Altoona ended up being the year to turn his career around.

“It was phenomenal,” Black said talking about his time in Altoona. “My time [in Altoona] was one of the best summers of my life. The guys I was with, the coaching staff, everything…this was one of the summers I will always remember most.”

In 2013, Black made his way to Indianapolis and had 17 saves with a 2.51 ERA, eventually being called up to Pittsburgh because of the injury to Jason Grilli that summer. It was on a road trip to Toledo with Indianapolis after being sent back down that he learned that he was being traded to the Mets as the PTBNL, along with Dilson Herrera, in the Marlon Byrd deal.

“I had no idea,” Black said about having any suspicion about being involved in the trade. “I was called by my agent the day before, and he mentioned to me that there was a big trade with a PTBNL, and if he heard anything, he’d let me know. I wasn’t too concerned about it. Little did I know that five hours later, my phone was blowing up because of Twitter. It wasn’t until the next day that it was released.”

The trade happened five days earlier, with Herrera heading to New York and Marlon Byrd making his way to Pittsburgh. How could anyone forget Byrd arriving in Pittsburgh for the Bucs’ August 28th game against the Brewers and launching a ball deep into the center field bushes? Many would say that Byrd’s arrival was that last piece the Pirates needed to push over the top and finally end the 20-year winning season drought. Ultimately, Marlon Byrd would be a key piece to not only ending the drought but also the Wild Card victory against Johnny C-U-E-T-O and the Reds.

The difficult part about acquiring a good player is sending players that you really like the other way.

When we continue to look at the players within the Pirates system, we sometimes forget that there is a strong possibility of a player never making it to the big leagues or being traded, no matter how much we like said player. It is also extremely hard for the players to understand that baseball isn’t only a game…it’s a business.

Black said being traded was an extremely difficult concept to grasp.

“At first, and it is still the same type of feeling, the Pirates were my team,” Black said. “They were my initial team. When you get drafted by a team, you feel like you are going to play for them forever. All of that immediately gets taken away from you.”

The Indianapolis game that night ended with a 1-0 score with the Indians on top. Vic Black went through all of his pre-outing stretching and warm-up, only to be told of the trade and watch fellow teammate Duke Welker go out for the save in the ninth. It was a difficult thing for him to wrap his head around.

“They are your first family. To get that cut off is kind of different, but I’m always rooting for those guys.”

Black was soon able to grasp the thought of going to New York. Rather than report to the Mets’ Triple-A team in Las Vegas, he went straight to the Mets where he made 15 appearances with a 3.46 ERA. The future was bright in New York.

“Nothing shines brighter than New York.”

After being able to reflect on what happened that year with the trade, Black realized that he wasn’t going to be able to be the back of the bullpen guy that he desired to be with the Pirates after they signed Melancon and Grilli. It was frustrating to him. Now, he finds himself as an essential piece of the Mets’ bullpen as a set-up man.

“I like do-or-die situations. I embrace it.”

With Vic Black being a successful story for both the Pirates and the Mets, I asked him on the differences between the Pirates and Mets pitching philosophies. He mentioned how he didn’t have to change anything he was used to when he went to the Mets since he was going straight to the big league club. He did talk about what the Pirates preached to him throughout his stay in their system.

“Dominant pitching and command,” Black said. “The Pirates want to see you control and command your fastball. They want you to throw your fastball and beat the other team with it until they can prove they can hit it. After that, work your breaking ball in.”

This methodology has recently been confirmed to me, learning of goals that the Pirates minor league pitching staff has set for their starting pitchers to continue to work their fastball low in the zone and get a certain number of groundouts every game. For example, Jason Creasy’s recent goal was the get at least eight groundouts in his outings.

So, who got the better end of the Byrd/Black/Herrera deal?

“Of course I think long-term we got the better deal,” Black said with a smile. “Honestly though, it helped the Pirates out. They were able to break the streak.”

“Those were guys I was brought up with, and I got to know them really well. I, of course, think [the Mets] got the better end of the deal since we got Herrera, too, and I hope to be a part of the bullpen for a long time. At the time, that’s how trades work. The Pirates were trying to break the streak, and I feel I was a part of that.”

Sometimes you have to give up something really good to get another thing even better. In this case, the Pirates lost a couple good prospects that could be really good for a while; however, I think ending the streak and making a playoff run was a pretty good return.

  • Very nice article. I always dislike reading game recaps or stories with a multitude of player quotes that are mostly cliches, it is getting worse with the easy at which video can be uploaded.

    I find pieces like this very refreshing, ask the right questions on an interesting topic and you have a very good article.

  • IMO that Huntington made a bad move in letting Byrd leave and not giving him the 2 year 16 mil contract. Three good things could have happened with his signing; He hit 25 homers and 75-80 RBIs for the Phillies last year. With that production the Pirates would have run away with the division and would have their pitching staff vs the Giants and had a real shot at going to the world series. Third, Polonco would have spent the time at Indy where he belonged last year. The Pirates could have traded Byrd after last season. A good possibility of a WS was lost for 8 mil.

    • meatygettingsaucy
      June 4, 2015 4:25 pm

      a lot of speculation on your part, dare I say?

      • How many players on the Pirates hit 25 homers with 75-80 RBIs last year ???? That is facts not speculation. One or two????

        • 25 HR’s by a RH player at Citizen’s Bank Park is not 25 HR’s at PNC.

          Hindsight is an exercise in futility.

          • He was a whole lot better than an over matched Polanco last year. Besides without Byrd I doubt the Pirates would have been in the playoffs.

            • Scott Kliesen
              June 6, 2015 3:38 pm

              Two different seasons. Byrd acquisition in ’13 was good move. He was FA and elected to sign in Philly for 2 years after that season. Who even knows if he even considered staying in Pitt.

              And in the bigger picture, Polanco is the RF, likely for many years. The sooner he is brought up to acclimate to ML pitching, the sooner he will become the impact talent his skills suggest he will be.

              Even though it’s likely Byrd would’ve been a better bat than Polanco last year, it still didn’t make sense in the big picture to attempt to re-sign him.

        • So with Byrd in RF you think we would have gotten 25 HRs and 75-80 RBIs (ignoring that RBIs are team dependent and HRs are park dependent at times). Last year, the total production from RF for the Pirates was 20 HRs and 88 RBIs. At that spot, they get similar production without blocking a quality young prospect.

          Likely lost a bit of offensive production in stats that arent as shaky as RBI and HR, but 2 years is a bad move for a guy his age with Polanco in AAA.

    • Yes I agree. They should of signed him . He would of helped very much last year.

      • Scott Kliesen
        June 6, 2015 3:38 pm

        Very few astute fans would agree with you. Shortsighted opinion.

    • Polonco would have spent the time at Indy where he belonged last year. Something said by no one other than the Pirates front office a year ago.

      You have Byrd and you don’t get Snider’s better overall 350 plate appearances. We can play jigsaw hindsight all day, but at the time signing a guy for his age 36 and 37 seasons who has completely sold out for pulled power isn’t a very good idea.

  • Christopher B
    June 4, 2015 2:17 pm

    Really (mc)cool piece, Sean. That was a trade which, yeah, the Mets probably win in the long term, but which probably truly benefited each team. The excitement Byrd brought to Pittsburgh that summer was worth the loss of two quality guys, especially at positions where we may never have needed them.

    But really the value of this article is the insight into the experience of being the prospect traded. I enjoyed this a lot for that reason.

  • the ike davis trade was the bad mets trade, gave up a player drafted in the 2nd round for a non-upgrade like davis was a panic move. Should have waited for a better move. they still had ishikawa and gabby. ps I don’t even know how the mets players are doing and I still think it was a bad trade,because we were left with ike davis for the rest of the year.

  • I wished we still had him and Herrera, but Byrd help us greatly in that magical season.

    • Ya know Lee, I knew at the time that Byrd wouldn’t win us a World Series. But they had to do it. RF was a black hole. As irrational as it sounds they almost owed it to the City to make that trade.

  • I was literally watching Tanner Scheppers pitch last night on the MLB network. My first thought was “look at that jerk. Too good to sign.” My next thought was “that’s a completely unfair assessment.” Scheppers had shoulder issues and didn’t like the offer? Good for Black though. I can remember a time where he, Welker and Morris were all on the cusp of joining the pen. Crazy that they’re all gone.