First Pitch: How Prospects Have Been Valued in the Early Trades

When I was in college, I was a season ticket holder for the Pittsburgh Penguins. I bought the tickets right after the Penguins added Sidney Crosby — section D24, right on the red line. I should add that I went to college in Virginia, and while I sold a lot of the tickets, there were plenty of games I went to with my roommate where we’d leave after class at noon on a Thursday, drive six hours to get there for the game, pick up Primanti Brothers after the game, drive six hours home, and have enough time for breakfast before our 8 AM classes the next morning.

I bring this up because I don’t know how I ever did it. Because I’m about to turn 32, and suddenly I can’t imagine that type of drive. I decided to drive on this current road trip because I planned to hit four cities (one of them twice) in three states over the span of a little over two weeks, and it would have been a hassle flying and renting cars for this. Unfortunately, this meant I had to make the 12 hour drive from Bradenton to Bristol, which I did yesterday. And since I got off to a late start, I ended up going through South Carolina at 3 AM, winding down and needing a nap.

The end result is that I pulled over to sleep for three hours last night in my car (fortunately Mazda makes comfortable seats), drove the final stretch to Bristol early this morning, and then couldn’t get to sleep the rest of the day. That, combined with a lot of work at the game tonight, plus some late night work with articles, means that the quality of tonight’s topic isn’t going to be great. I had the idea for the topic based off some of your requests, but didn’t have the energy to dress it up into a more formal article.

The questions I’ve received are questions I get each year: what are the Pirates equivalents to [Insert Prospects That Were Traded Away By Another Team For a MLB Player Here]. Usually I default to Baseball America’s rankings on this. We follow a similar ranking method of a 2-8 scale for a player’s potential, plus risk factors. But we only grade the Pirates’ system, and I have no clue about the other systems. For that reason, I like to keep the rankings consistent, to say that Baseball America viewed the players traded away the same way as Player A in the Pirates’ organization. Here are a few trades, and the comps.

Ben Zobrist to Kansas City – The big return here was Sean Manaea, who BA graded as a Grade 55 with Medium risk. That was the exact same grade given to Reese McGuire. This is a high price for a rental, although Zobrist isn’t far removed from having one of the best WAR in the game. After the Aramis Ramirez trade, I don’t think Zobrist made sense for the Pirates. When Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer return, they’ll be loaded on the left side, with Jung Ho Kang also joining that mix.

Johnny Cueto to Kansas City – The Royals have been busy, and my friend who is a Royals fan has made sure I’ve known about it (while also reminding me that the Royals beat the Pirates in a preview of the World Series, and that he’s worried that PNC Park will get to Cueto with the Cue-to chant in said matchup…he doesn’t know this only worked that one time). The big return here was Brandon Finnegan, who BA graded as a 60 with high risk. The Pirates don’t have a guy rated the same, but they had Josh Bell as a 60/Medium, and Jameson Taillon and Austin Meadows as 65/High. It seems one of these guys would be required for such a deal. Plus, Kansas City got two more guys who weren’t in BA’s Royals top 30, and I don’t know how to do a good comp there. But the fact that renting Cueto would cost one of the best prospects in the system shows that the starting pitching market might not be a buyer’s market just yet.

Scott Kazmir to Houston – I can’t really evaluate this one, as neither player was in BA’s top 30 for Houston in the pre-season, but the catcher saw a big breakout this year. I wouldn’t know where that puts him, making a comparison hard. I’m just including it here so you know I didn’t forget about it.

Tyler Clippard to New York Mets – The Pirates seem to be targeting relievers, so getting an idea of the price seems fitting. Clippard was acquired for Casey Meisner, who was graded a 50/High and given number four starter upside. The Pirates had a lot of guys with that grade at the start of the year: Cole Tucker, Mitch Keller, Harold Ramirez, Elias Diaz, Willy Garcia, JaCoby Jones, and Trey Supak. That’s not exactly a buyer’s market for relievers, although Oakland sent money in this deal, which increases the return for Clippard. The Pirates would be better off paying more money rather than better prospects if they’ve got the choice.

Overall the prices seem high across the board for hitters, starting pitchers, and relievers. It doesn’t seem like the pitching market is as favorable as expected right now, although that could change if new names get added to the market. Still, I can’t see how top guys like David Price would fetch anything less than a top 100 prospect, as they would otherwise land their team a late first round pick through compensation.

The Pirates need a middle reliever. I don’t think they need a position player now. And I’ll admit that the idea of adding a starter who is under control beyond 2015 sounds very appealing, even if they do have one of the best rotations in the game right now. It will be interesting to see how the prices change over the next few days leading up to the deadline.

But for now, all I can think about is the bed in my hotel room. All while wondering how I ever made it to those 8 AM classes.

**I made this a free article, mostly to advertise some of the great content we had from our live coverage, which you can read about on the links below. But first you have to subscribe. Don’t worry, the rates are very low. Just $2.99 per month or less, depending on the plan you get. This buys you all of our articles and live coverage, which is over 200 articles per month, or 7-10 Pirates updates per day on average. And you’re paying the price of a cup of coffee each month. That’s a reference I feel weird saying, because I absolutely hate coffee. Which makes me really wonder how I made it to those 8 AM classes.

**Prospect Watch: Brault Continues Impressive Season, Garcia Homers. A lot of live reports in this one. Sean McCool in Altoona, Wilbur Miller in Bradenton, myself in Bristol, plus John Dreker got some info on the DSL players.

**Injury Updates: Mitch Keller Close to Bristol Debut, Trey Supak Throwing Again. Good news for the 2014 second round draft picks.

**Pirates 2015 Fourth Round Pick Jacob Taylor Has Tommy John Surgery. Not good news for the 2015 fourth round pick, who looked like one of the more promising guys out of the Pirates’ draft.

**Brent Morel Refuses Outright Assignment. This makes sense for him, as he won’t get a shot in Pittsburgh once Harrison and Mercer return.

**Updated Top 30 Pirates Prospects From MLB. The latest mid-season rankings.

**Morning Report: Some Thoughts on Promotions and Player Placement. John Dreker takes a look at a lot of the mid-season promotions.

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  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    July 29, 2015 11:38 am

    Is it just me, or did the Phillies seem to not get a lot for Papelbon? They just got one prospect, who was #12 I think in the Nats system…

    • I think Papelbon had a no trade clause.

      • BuccosFanStuckinMD
        July 29, 2015 12:14 pm

        Okay, and I understand that would he would have to agree to any trade…but, once he did that, why would that impact what they could get in return?

        • It impacts the return because they have a limited market. It’s kind of like Burnett and the Pirates. They got him for nothing, and the Yankees picked up salary, all because there were very few teams who could deal for him. If he would have agreed to go to the Angels, who wanted him at the time, then the Pirates would have had to pay a lot more to out-bid their opponents.

          Papelbon wanted to go somewhere where he’d be guaranteed as the closer. Washington made that happen. Not many others will take on his salary AND guarantee him the job. Thus the low price.

          • BuccosFanStuckinMD
            July 29, 2015 12:59 pm

            Something tells me that this trade may come back and bite the Nationals – although he said all the right things, Storen cannot be too happy about now being a setup man for Papelbon…not to mention, bullpen help did not seem to be as big of a need for them as hitting and scoring runs.

  • Good article, Sleepy!

  • Where did you go to college in Virginia?

  • Drive safe out there!

  • Nice review

  • To me, the only way Zobrist made any sense was as a Pedro replacement. I do hope they add an arm.