Today I discussed the needs for the Pirates as the trade deadline approaches, pointing out that they could use upgrades in the infield, first base, right field, and pitching. I’d say the biggest priority would be the infield, due to the injuries to Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison.
But then there’s the topic of whether the Pirates even need to make a trade at all. Earlier this week, Jonah Keri had an interesting thought about the Pirates, while listing them as one of the top four teams in baseball.
This is the strongest team the Pirates have fielded during the impressive run that started in 2013. And while that strength understandably triggers visions of a deep playoff run and a desire to add big-name players to make that happen, the Buccos might be so good at so many key positions that emptying the farm system to add a star won’t even be worth the trouble.
Granted, this was written when Jordy Mercer’s injury was still up in the air, and things have changed a bit since then. Keri even went on to say that the Pirates don’t need a starter, and that it would be wise to add a position player if Mercer went down for a long stretch, which is something I agree with.
The Pirates are currently the second best team in the NL, and one of the top teams in all of baseball. They would currently be leading four other divisions in baseball right now, including the other two in the National League. They got to this point with the team they have, and that includes Pedro Alvarez at first base, Gregory Polanco in right field, and Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke in the rotation.
The trade deadline brings this feeling that you have to add, because being a good team before July 31st suddenly isn’t enough. If you have any sort of weakness on your team, and if you can make an upgrade, then you must make the upgrade and fill that weakness or else you will never have a shot at winning it all. We’ll ignore the fact that the Giants started Travis Ishikawa throughout the playoffs on their way to win a World Series last year.
On August 1st we will start to hear about the trade deadline winners and losers. The winners will be the guys who make trades and add names. The losers will be the guys who do nothing, even if they were already a good team.
Last year the Oakland Athletics and the Detroit Tigers were both winners. The Athletics added Jeff Samardzija and Jon Lester in July, while the Tigers added David Price. Both teams were first in their division on July 31st, with Detroit sporting a .552 winning percentage and Oakland putting up a .617 winning percentage.
Detroit didn’t see a big change down the stretch, winning at a .561 rate the final two months. They were then swept out of the LDS against Baltimore. That Orioles team added Andrew Miller, Alejandro De Aza, and Kelly Johnson in trades, with the final two being August additions. Miller was a big piece, but no one was anywhere near Price.
Oakland really fell apart, going 22-33 down the stretch. They ended up losing to Kansas City in the Wild Card game. The Kansas City team that made Josh Willingham, Jason Frasor, and Liam Hendricks their big additions (Willingham was an early-August trade). Granted, if Oakland pulls Jon Lester a little earlier in the Wild Card game, this might be a different story. Maybe we’re talking about Oakland going to the World Series and losing to the Giants because it’s an even year and the Giants had to win it all.
The overall point is that baseball can be unpredictable, especially when you reach the playoffs. The trade deadline brings up dreams about how adding [Insert Star Player Here] will lead to a championship run. But Oakland added two of the best pitchers on the market last year, and Detroit added possibly the best pitcher on the market, and neither have anything to show for it.
That’s not to say that the opposite approach works better. The Pirates didn’t add anyone at all, and they lost in the Wild Card game. Kansas City and Baltimore didn’t add much, although both advanced in the playoffs. The Giants won it all, and they did add Jake Peavy. However, their win wasn’t due to Peavy, as he put up a 6.19 ERA in 16 innings over four starts in the playoffs, and the Giants lost three of those starts.
One thing I find interesting is that the two teams who went all-in are now sellers one year later. Oakland has one of the worst records in baseball, and they gutted their farm system to go for it last year. Detroit is sitting at .500, but there are talks that they will trade David Price and Yoenis Cespedes. Meanwhile, the Pirates and Royals have two of the best records in baseball, and the Giants are just half a game back in the Wild Card race.
The idea that you have to load up to make a run for the World Series sounds good on July 31st, but the theory doesn’t always hold up by October 31st. The belief that you need to load up for a playoff run is usually supported by the idea that you won’t get another chance in the future. The irony here is that this process usually limits your chances of success in the future.
The Pirates have taken a good approach in the past. They’ve added guys via trade, but they haven’t given up any key long-term pieces. The biggest loss might have been Dilson Herrera, although that trade for Marlon Byrd came right after they saw a few key injuries to their outfield.
It wouldn’t surprise me to see them make a similar move for an infielder, after injuries to Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison have left their infield depth depleted. And when you think about it, that makes total sense. As I mentioned above, they got here with the team they have, including struggling players like Alvarez and Polanco. But they also got to this point with guys like Harrison and Mercer. The Pirates are still one of the best teams in baseball with Pedro Alvarez at first base. But you can’t say the same thing with two of their infielders on the disabled list.
Beyond adding an infielder, I don’t know if any other upgrade is absolutely necessary. I do like the idea of adding someone like Adam Lind to not only upgrade over Pedro Alvarez in 2015, but to upgrade first base in 2016 until Josh Bell arrives. I’ve always been high on Gregory Polanco, so I tend to buy into short-term success like his July stretch, with the hope that he’s finally figuring it out. Thus, I wouldn’t target right field, unless it’s an addition like Ben Zobrist where you’re upgrading the infield first, while adding security in the outfield. I think the bullpen could use an upgrade, but I don’t see the Pirates making a huge splash there, and I think they could get by with a lower key addition. And finally I think that adding a starting pitcher is just a luxury, although it will be interesting to see if the large amount of pitchers on the market will make the prices somewhat reasonable to make that luxury worthwhile.
I’d expect the Pirates to be active in the upcoming week. I think their biggest need is an infielder to replace the lost production from injuries. But beyond that, they don’t necessarily have to make a move at any of the other positions, since this is a very strong team, even when you consider the few roster spots that aren’t producing this year.
**First Pitch? I remember this feature! A little behind the scenes on the absence: I haven’t written this article since the last day of the draft. A big reason for the break is that I followed the draft with a ton of behind the scenes work on the site. You probably remember the membership software transition, followed by our change in site servers. Both changes have been outstanding, and have made life easier on the business side of things. The result is more time for articles, and some days it feels like that’s just 20% of my job.
Those two things took a few weeks to implement and iron out. Then with all of the other behind the scenes stuff (personnel, booking travel, overseeing projects and upgrades, and other business related items), along with travel, it was just hard to get back into the swing of things with writing a nightly article to go with all of the daily articles, and all of the other work I had. I did have a plan to have other writers featured in this column, and that could still happen going forward. But truthfully, I kind of missed it. And there’s no better time to bring it back than right before the trade deadline.
**Prospect Watch: Heredia Can’t Repeat Success, Allie Hits 15th Homer. I’ve mentioned before that the Prospect Watch is going to get some massive upgrades. We’re almost ready to roll those out, and should have the new and much improved Prospect Watch by Friday. Those of you who have been looking for more stats are going to be very pleased. Be on the lookout for those changes in the next day or two.
**Pirates Receive Competitive Balance Pick in 2016 Draft. And surprisingly the Cardinals didn’t receive anything, which is the way it should be, as the Cardinals don’t need any kind of competitive balance compensation.
**Pirates Call Up Florimon, Option Boscan, DFA Aquino. My thoughts on the moves are included, featuring an evaluation of Aquino.
**Barrett Barnes Promoted to Altoona. I gave my thoughts on his power, which is much better than the numbers indicate.