The MLB trade deadline is a little over a week away, and we’re starting to enter the period where teams begin to make trades, and where rumors come out on a daily basis. This is the fifth year in a row that the Pirates have entered the deadline as buyers, and in four of those years they’ve added at least one player via trade, and usually more than one. The lone exception was last year, although that wasn’t for lack of trying, as they made a run at David Price, offering up prospects in a year where Tampa Bay and other teams were looking for MLB-ready talent.
They’ve taken different approaches in previous years. In 2011 they simply took on salary by adding Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick. In 2012 they went for lower upside on the short-term in exchange for more long-term help, adding Wandy Rodriguez, Travis Snider, and Gaby Sanchez. In 2013 they paid prospects just to get rentals, sending out Dilson Herrera and Vic Black for Marlon Byrd and John Buck, and then dealing Alex Presley and Duke Welker for Justin Morneau.
Their pursuit of Price last year would have been a blend of the 2012 and 2013 strategies — going for a bigger upgrade by paying prospects, but also adding help beyond the current season.
It’s hard to say what the Pirates will do, because they never really do the same thing year after year. We do know they’ve been active, and there are definitely some areas they need to upgrade. Here is a rundown of those areas of need.
A month ago this might not have been a need at all for the Pirates. Then they lost Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer, and now they’ve got Sean Rodriguez getting starts at third base and Brent Morel on the roster. Alen Hanson has started taking ground balls at third base in Indianapolis, but he hasn’t gotten into a game yet at the position, and might not be ready right away. The loss of Harrison and Mercer probably puts infield as the top priority for the Pirates moving forward.
Yesterday’s rumors had them looking at multiple infielders, including Ben Zobrist, Cliff Pennington, and old friend Clint Barmes. Zobrist is obviously the biggest name there, although he is having a bit of a down year this year. A lot of that is due to a decline with his defensive numbers, where he has been solid in the past. Offensively he’s down a bit, with more power, but fewer walks and a lower average with a lower BABIP.
In theory, a guy like Zobrist makes the most sense for the Pirates. He solves their need for a short-term infielder who can start until Mercer and/or Harrison return. And when one or both of those return, Zobrist can play enough positions that he could continue getting regular playing time. He would also be a good backup in the outfield at that point. In this particular case, the Pirates would have to hope that he bounced back to his pre-2015 numbers in order to make the addition worthwhile.
First Base/Right Field
I wrote an article on Sunday about how the Pirates need an upgrade over Pedro Alvarez. They don’t necessarily need that this year, but they can’t go with Alvarez as their first baseman next year, and Josh Bell won’t be ready until the middle of the season at the earliest. The best move would be adding someone who can help the rest of this year, and who is under team control next year. I suggested Adam Lind in my article, although the Pirates would most likely have to pay a big price to get him.
You could say the Pirates also have a need in right field. Gregory Polanco has struggled this year, posting a .241/.318/.344 line in 359 plate appearances. He’s been worth half a win so far, and the Pirates could definitely upgrade here. However, it’s far too soon to write Polanco off, especially since he’s been hitting well lately, with a .270/.387/.381 line in 75 plate appearances this month. That’s a small sample size, and there isn’t much power, but it’s an improvement.
Polanco is still the long-term option for the Pirates, so if they added someone, it would only be to guarantee better production in the short-term. The Pirates have been connected to rental outfielders, with Justin Upton being the big one. However, I think a utility guy like Zobrist would work best, since he gives an immediate replacement in the infield, and insurance for Polanco the rest of the year.
The reason I combined first base and right field is because I don’t think the Pirates can focus on both, especially with the far more pressing need in the infield. They might be able to upgrade one of those two spots, but I think it would be more of a luxury. This is a team that has posted one of the best records in baseball, even with offensive struggles from first base and right field. Filling the infield need is a more pressing matter, while upgrading first base or right field would be more fine tuning.
I simply listed pitching because I don’t think the Pirates need a starter, although there will definitely be calls for them to add a starter. It sounds great to suggest adding Cole Hamels or one of the other talented pitchers rumored to be available in the next week. However, the Pirates have one of the best pitching trios in the game in Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, and A.J. Burnett. Add in Charlie Morton as their fourth starter, and you’ve got a great playoff rotation. Adding a top starting pitcher would make that more dynamic, but isn’t necessary.
The Pirates could use bullpen help though. Their late inning guys are dominant once again. Mark Melancon has been one of the best relievers in baseball this year, and Tony Watson is joining him. Jared Hughes has stepped up as a key guy for high leverage situations in the middle innings. Beyond that, they need some help.
Arquimedes Caminero has nasty stuff, but has struggled with his consistency this year. Antonio Bastardo has been a disappointment this year, and while there have been flashes of him reverting to the pitcher he was in Philadelphia, he hasn’t been able to maintain that. Deolis Guerra has looked interesting, although it’s a small sample size. Vance Worley is in the mix as a long reliever, and has seen seldom use.
There are some options in Triple-A. Blake Wood has been fantastic as the closer in Indianapolis. John Holdzkom is nearing a return with the hope that he’s finally healthy. Radhames Liz looks amazing as a starter, although there would still be questions about whether he could have success as a reliever. And Guerra had solid numbers in Triple-A, and they could roll the dice that this is legit.
The Pirates could use another middle inning guy. Their rotation is one of the best. Their eighth and ninth inning guys are among the best. Hughes is solid, especially with men on base when they need a double play ball. But they could use someone else — either by trade, or an internal option stepping up — to really solidify that seventh inning, bridging the gap from the rotation to Watson and Melancon.