First Pitch: The High Prices on the Starting Pitching Trade Market

This trade deadline has looked like it could be a seller’s market for a long time. That’s what happens when you add an extra Wild Card spot in each league, and leave a lot of teams believing that they’ve got a real shot at making the playoffs this year. But there was some belief that the starting pitching market would be a buyer’s market, due to all of the available names out there.

This just hasn’t happened. The prices paid so far for starters has been high. Johnny Cueto fetched Brandon Finnegan, Cody Reed, and John Lamb. That’s three power pitchers, with Finnegan being a top 50 range prospect, or up in the top 20 in some rankings. David Price landed Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd, and Jairo Labourt — three left-handed pitching prospects with Norris being a top 20 guy heading into the season.

Price and Cueto are both rentals, and the current rules for compensation say that their new teams get nothing when they depart as free agents. Giving up top 20-50 prospects and more is a lot for two months, even if the pitcher is a number one starter. I pointed out the other night that the equivalent return for Cueto’s deal is probably something that would include Jameson Taillon, Josh Bell, or Austin Meadows, and then two guys the equivalent of Lamb and Reed.

Let’s take the same approach with the Price trade, comparing the pre-season Baseball America rankings of the traded players with similar players in the Pirates’ system.

Daniel Norris: BA rated him a 60 upside with medium risk. That’s the exact grade given to Josh Bell.

Jairo Labourt: He got a 50 upside and high risk. Guys who got that pre-season: Cole Tucker, Mitch Keller, Harold Ramirez, Elias Diaz, Willy Garcia, JaCoby Jones (traded for Joakim Soria today), Trey Supak, Buddy Borden (traded for Sean Rodriguez pre-season).

Matt Boyd: The lowest ranked guy, but still in Toronto’s pre-season top 30 with a 45 upside and high risk. Comparable for the Pirates: Gage Hinsz, Stetson Allie, Wyatt Mathisen, Connor Joe, Luis Heredia, Chad Kuhl, Tito Polo.

Keep in mind that these are pre-season rankings that could change. I don’t think Allie and Heredia still hold those values, and other players may have gone up and down (including guys in the deal). But for two months of Price, the return would have been a top five prospect, a prospect around the 8-15 range, and a prospect around the 25-35 range in the Pirates’ system.

And it’s not just the number one starters getting this type of return. Mike Leake was traded tonight for two players. One was rated a 55 upside and high risk pre-season. The other was rated 45 and medium. The Pirates didn’t have anyone rated 55/high, but they did have Reese McGuire at 55/medium and Nick Kingham/Alen Hanson at 50/medium. The only 45/medium they had was Stolmy Pimentel. Again, a lot has changed since the pre-season, but it seems the return here would have been a guy 5-8 in the Pirates’ system, plus a guy just inside the top 30. And that’s for two months of Mike Leake, who has never put up a WAR greater than 2.2 in a season.

Then there’s the Cole Hamels trade, which is really complex with all of the exchanged salary and moving parts. The prospects acquired were graded as follows.

Jake Thompson: 60/medium. Josh Bell is the only equivalent.

Jorge Alfaro: 60/high. No similar players, although Reese McGuire is closest at 55/medium.

Nick Williams: 60/extreme. Again, nothing similar except Bell and McGuire. So you’re probably now talking Meadows or Taillon at 65/high.

Alex Asher: 50/medium. Nick Kingham and Alen Hanson both had those ratings, and I think Hanson is probably the only one who keeps it.

Jerad Eickhoff: NR. This would probably just be a guy competing for the number 50 spot in the organization. Not a big piece.

The Rangers got some salary relief in the form of $9.5 M, plus getting rid of Matt Harrison. And they got Hamels for several years. But that’s a big price. You’re talking three of the top five prospects in the system, or four of the top seven, plus a throw in, and you’re still paying about $15-20 M per year on a pitcher who is over 30.

I think adding a guy like Tyson Ross would make all the sense in the world for the Pirates. I’m not as concerned with their starting pitching depth this year, even with A.J. Burnett’s current struggles. I think if Burnett has this type of bad stretch at the end of May, no one panics and demands a trade (he did, by the way, over two starts). And while Morton and Locke have been inconsistent, they’ve been on this team most of the year, and have led to the Pirates having the fourth best rotation.

I like the idea of adding a starter more for the post-2015 impact. Adding a guy like Ross, or anyone else with control beyond 2015, gives the Pirates a nice boost when Burnett leaves and they’re waiting on Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon. But looking at the prices above, the cost could be huge. Getting the extra production in 2015 is just a bonus for one of the best rotations in baseball.

I estimated Ross at just over $21 M in trade value. I estimated Price and Cueto around $5 M, and they each got about four times that. Leake also got about four times his value. Hamels got around two times his value, although again, it was difficult to pin down an exact figure here. I don’t know the markup for Ross, but I can imagine it would be at least double, due to his years of control (through 2017), and estimated low salaries. So you’re probably looking at two of the top five prospects in the system not named Tyler Glasnow, and one of the guys around the ten spot. And I don’t think it’s going to be any better for any other starter (multi-year guys like Andrew Cashner, or rentals like Jeff Samardzija, Yovani Gallardo, or Ian Kennedy).

Getting a starter would be nice for the Pirates. But I’m not concerned with their 2015 rotation enough to the point where I think they should be paying these high prices. And while they need a starter for 2016, I think they can take care of that over the off-season.

**Prospect Watch: Gage Hinsz Shows Why He’s a Top Prospect. We had live reports from Altoona, Bristol, and the GCL. My report from Bristol was basically an article on Gage Hinsz, who had his best outing of the year tonight. I know that this is the trade deadline, and all of the attention goes to the transactions and rumors. But this is one of the top 20 prospects in the system, and a lot of people were wondering why he was rated so high, despite poor numbers. This gives some insight into the early season struggles, and why he’s still a top guy. Also, you’ll notice a change, as we added our Top Performers section. More changes to the Prospect Watch are coming this weekend after the deadline.

**Pirates Acquire Joakim Soria For JaCoby Jones. Full breakdown of the trade, including my report on JaCoby Jones, thoughts on the advanced metrics for Soria being so poor, and quotes from Neal Huntington.

**Pirates Outright Gorkys Hernandez, Promote Logan Ratledge to Morgantown. We’re hearing about a lot of moves throughout the system, with several guys moving up as a result of recent trades and promotions. Expect a lot of activity to be announced tomorrow, either when we confirm the moves, or when they’re officially announced.

**Huntington: Pirates Don’t Plan to Add a Starting Pitcher Via Trade. This could change if the prices change, but Neal Huntington said they aren’t looking to add a starter. It’s not a bad decision.

**Pirates Trade Justin Sellers to White Sox. Minor deal here, most likely for cash considerations. I’m guessing this was a move to give him a better opportunity.

**Pirates Designate Vance Worley For Assignment. A lot of debate about this move today, and why they sent out Worley instead of Deolis Guerra. I’m guessing that Guerra is the next to go after the addition of Soria. As for the Worley/Blanton debate, it seems they’re more comfortable with Blanton in shorter outings. I do know that Worley has never really been comfortable in short relief outings, based on my conversations with him after he came over from the Twins (who tried making him a set up man), and his comments on being a reliever this year. The Pirates will see if someone wants him as a starter, and if not, they’ll stretch him out in Indianapolis.

**Morning Report: A Sleeper Pitching Prospect in the GCL. John Dreker takes a look at Luis Escobar, who is having a nice year, and has been hitting the mid-90s in his jump to the US.

First Pitch

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    July 31, 2015 2:43 pm

    We shoul have pursued Haren…Cubs got him for two marginal prospects. I hope we have a Plan B….Ross or Cashier would be awesome. Neither would be a rental.

  • Anyone have thoughts on Bud Norris? Haven’t really followed him this year. Obviously he’s not doing too well. But he was a solid pitcher the last couple of years.

  • I’m agreeing with tim on the need as well as the high price for getting a starter. I still say the priority is a first baseman and another reliever would not hurt.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    July 31, 2015 10:51 am

    Dan Haren, Tyson Ross, Gallardo, Cashner, and Carrasco all appear to be available on the market…I think we need to get one of these guys, along with a LH reliever..maybe a Neal Cotts type?

    • Pirates are pushing $100m as we sit right now…I’ll be pleasantly surprised if they have anything left in the tank.

  • how about liz and glasnow in for morton and aj. cost for liz 333,000 paying it anyway glasnow200,000 . move aj to dl with something wrong with shoulder. morton to pen .dfa guere and dl bastardo with something wrong with something.

  • How about Dan Haren?

  • Like I said earlier, Daniel Norris was the favored prospect in both those deals and they said his ceiling was that of a #3 starter. I’m not sure the hauls were nearly as extravagant as people might suggest. I think Shields would be a possibility…What about Carrasco or Salazar from the Indians?? All I know is, unless he plans on promoting Glasnow to the Bigs this year….he better find himself a big time starter for the remainder of this year or else this team will be in a serious dogfight just to get the 2nd wildcard. We have 1 bonafide stud starter. A filthy lefty starter that’s a little bit unnerving at times. A 38 yr. old who self admittedly said “I’m 38 yrs. old. I have what I have left.” And Morton and Locke. Are some of you seriously gonna trust Radhames Liz or Adrian Sampson to get them to the wildcard???

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    July 31, 2015 9:10 am

    Most of the starting pitchers dealt did cost a lot – Hamels, Cueto, etc. But, I thought Houston got Kazmir in a relatively reasonable trade, in terms of the two prospects they gave up for him. I do think we need another starter, and a LH reliever, but don’t know if either will happen at this point. Jake McGee would have been awesome as the LH reliever. As for starters, Hellickson looks to be available, but he’s not much of an upgrade over what we have…Gallardo of Texas is another possibility….who else?

    • It’s really hard to tell with the Astros return for Kazmir. The guys they got, especially the catcher, had breakout years. So their pre-season rankings really tell us nothing about where they are now.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    July 31, 2015 9:07 am

    I was shocked to see what the Astros gave up in prospects for Gomez and Fiers. I Phillips and Santana are studs – it would be like Bell and Meadws, plus a couple of top 20 pitching prospects from our system. The Brewers did well there.

  • Ok crazy idea time, SDP wants to shed salary so lets do a crazy and slightly risky thing.

    SDP send us Shields, Upton and Ross
    PIT sends Meadows, Garcia, Supak and Locke

    Reasons they would do this, they shed a ton of salary and get a solid return back, ie lower spec cost to dump those big salaries.

    Then we get smart.

    NYM get Upton
    PIT gets Wheeler and Flores or Lagares.

    We get two guys to really round out our rotation. Maybe we see if there is a taker for Morton maybe we keep him which ever.

    The gamble comes if we can build up Shields value then move him this offseason, maybe even with Flores to make it more enticing.

    Thoughts? Or am i just crazy?

    • no soup for you.

    • Not bat s$#y crazy although the cost in the original trade with San Diego seems light and I’m of the opinion this team should target at least one of the 3 San Diego pitchers. San Diego desperately needs middle infielders. I’d be interested in a deal for James Shields + cash for say a Jordy Mercer + a lower level prospect?? Or maybe Alan Hanson and Adam Frazier type combination?? The Pirates have loaded up on middle infielders the past couple of drafts. 2 college MI’s this year alone. Lots of depth. The question is do you believe JHK can field the position for the next say two years??? Jordy has a ridiculous amount of value as a starting boniified MLB SS with some pop in his bat.

    • So we get more for just Upton when we flip him to the Mets than we send them for Shields, Upton, and Ross? Your return wouldn’t even get us Ross.

  • Here’s how Mcdaniel characterized prospects in Hamels trade:

    Alfaro probably best prospect and would grade him “probably higher than 53rd” overall prospect wherever that puts him

    Nick Williams- back end 55 FV which could put him as low as 79th overall

    Jake Thompson has dropped to the 50-70 range now

    Asher and Eichoff basically throw ins

    So quite frankly I find your comps that an equivalent trade for us would have required Josh Bell, Mcguire, either Meadow/Taillon, and either kingham/Hanson completely off the mark.

    • Now that the Giants got their starter in Leake (a rental) at the cost of their top prospect, will there be bargains this afternoon? Or at least fair opportunities. I’m glad the Reds are being dismantled…………..I hope Bruce and Chapman are both gone by 4pm.

      • yeh…maybe we might win one of these 4 games, then…. 🙂 🙂 🙂

        • You know Lee, it seems like every year we play teams that have just undergone a dismantling through trades and I expect 2 of 3 or 3 of 4 and it just never seems to happen. Even if Bruce and Chapman go today I’m not so sure they get anymore than tonight’s game and that’s only because Cole is pitching. You’d expect the opposing team to be demoralized with the fire sale and saying goodbye to their friends but that’s not always the case much to my surprise. I guess pride kicks in and guys see the chance to audition for starting roles. But if you told me that there was no Cueto and no Leake in this series (who I think would’ve been a nice bench bat for us) I would’ve wanted 3 of 4. Now I’m hoping for a split.

    • I heard people talking on Sirius/XM about the returns for Cueto v. Price. Overall, they preferred the return for Cueto as a whole but if they picked a single piece it would be Daniel Norris. When asked to comment on his upside, they said…Norris has a ceiling of a No.#3 starter. Further, they commented the Brandon Finnegan guy going to the Reds has a big arm but will probably end up in the pen. Doesn’t seem like exorbitant prices.

    • When you can only use players in the Pirates system to find comps, then that doesn’t leave many options. Bell, McGuire and Taillon seem comparable to the top three and Kingham for the other two seems pretty close. Wouldn’t call that completely off the mark when you only have so many players to choose from

    • Your mistake here is taking numerical prospect rankings way, way too literally.

      Step back and think about this for a minute…how exact of a science is scouting? How well do prospect rankings correlate with relative Major League success?

      I assume you’ve followed baseball long enough to know the answers to those questions.

      In that case, how silly is it to assume with any sort of certainty that Prospect #75 is appreciably better than prospect #50?

      The reason prospects are graded on the 20-80 scale, and more crudely into A/B/C bins is that in all reality there’s very little difference between players that closely “ranked”.

      The comps Tim used are literally graded out exactly the same as the prospects traded, by Kiley McDaniel himself. Meaning their future value is equivalent. At that point, arguing between #79 and #50 is immaterial.

  • I think you dramatically overstate the comp on Nick Williams. Kyley Mcdaniel explictly stated when grading this trade that no one he talked to would put him in top 50 right now. Preseason he had him 136th and said right now could grade as low as 79th. Meadows and Taillon are not fair comps for Nick Williams

    • Agree! Nick Williams has the look of a stud.

    • MLB top 100 has Williams about 10 spots below Taillon. So if the injuries cause any slight depression of his trade value during this deadline, Taillon likely sits near (even if not directly at) Williams value. I think it’s fair in that PGH doesn’t have anyone below Williams very close and Taillon is near ish him while slightly better.

      We all nearly always over value our own guys.

    • That would be a debate between McDaniel and BA, since I was using BA’s rankings here.

      • Mcdaniels are much more up to date and prospect ratings are fluid

        • We basically have a disagreement on which source to use for rankings. I prefer BA, with the idea that most of the players aren’t seeing extreme changes in their values in a few months, and the disclaimer that they are pre-season comparisons.

  • Granted, it’s only been two weeks since the ASG, but Bucs are 28th in pitching in MLB in that time. Not something that can be allowed to continue for very long without corrective action.

  • AJ Burnett never had close to a stretch like this in May. Game log Xfip is above 5 in 3 of last 4 starts. Over 4.4 in 4 of his last 5 starts.

  • Gee if we would have traded ALLIE and HEREDIA when they had some potential what would that have brought us? I am remembering the Zane Smith trade which we gave Moises Alou to the Expo’s many credited the playoff’s achieved in the early 90’s to this move. He did stabilize the rotation. I really would like to see an internal option to bolster the rotation. I am still concerned about first base.

  • If only the Bucs could beat the Reds. What are they now, like 2-8 against the Reds? I don’t understand they are 13 games ahead of the Reds and yet the Reds have absolutely owned them this year. I was arguing with some guy on facebook last night who was suggesting Meadows, Hanson, and Kingham for Tyson Ross. I said no way do I make that deal.

  • What’s the consensus on AJ, injury or mechanical flaw(s)? I know he says he’s having trouble executing, but that could mean he’s hurting and just trying to play through it.

    I’m not ready to hit the panic button yet on AJ, but 3 bad starts in a row has to be concerning to Pirates brass.

    As for acquiring a SP, no way they get Ross. He’s going to be waaaayyyy too expensive. I read Astros are looking at acquiring him and Kimbral. That’s gonna blow out what’s left of their farm system if it’s true.

    • AJ blew a gasket when a dribbler made it into right field due to a defensive shift and Walker lead feet. He immediately went from aiming his fastball at 88 mph with no movement to a wicked 94 mph. Speculation on the air (Bob Walk) switched from injury to some attempt at fine-tuning his control at the start of the game. He was throwing BP stuff at the beginning of the game. Terrible error by Pedro killed all hope. Look at our weakness….Decker, Ishikawa, Rodriguez, Pedro. If you were Clint would you be lobbying for help today? I think so…….Lind or Napoli, even Byrd. Neil may have decided to wait until waiver trade deadline, but I feel something else could happen today. A SP is not the priority, IMHO.

    • The consensus on AJ is that he’s 38 years old. There was a ton of risk involved from the start because of that alone. Far from saying he’s done, but nobody should be surprised that a 38 yo starter is fading in the second half of his final Major League season.

      • Fading is like flight path of a glider. This is more like flight path of Black Hawk Down!

  • What about internally with Liz?