Neal Huntington on the J.A. Happ and Michael Morse Trades

The Pittsburgh Pirates had an interesting trade deadline. They didn’t go out and make a huge splash, but they added a lot of smaller pieces to fill various needs. The biggest addition on deadline day was a trade that brought in left-handed pitcher A.J. Happ. The need for a starter came up suddenly, after A.J. Burnett struggled the last three outings. He was placed on the disabled list today with right elbow inflammation after the Pirates added Happ.

The Pirates also added Michael Morse in a surprising move, sending out Jose Tabata. It was a swap of bad salaries, although Morse could have more value for the Pirates due to his ability to play first base and potential to be a platoon guy with Pedro Alvarez. The Pirates also filled another need last night by adding Joakim Soria for JaCoby Jones.

Neal Huntington talked about the moves today in a conference call with the Pittsburgh media, including our own Ryan Palencer. Below is the breakdown of the deadline deals.

J.A. Replaces A.J.

A lot of Pirates fans were speculating that there was something wrong with Burnett after three straight poor outings, including a dip in velocity. It turned out that was the case, as the Pirates immediately moved to add a starter and placed Burnett on the disabled list today.

“A.J. made us aware [of the injury] after his start last night and it certainly influenced our desire to add a starter today,” Huntington said. “We feel comfortable with Radhames Liz, that he could come up here. Obviously, Joe Blanton could make a spot start. There are a couple of other guys at Triple-A who we feel could do a nice job for us. As we explored the trade market, we felt that J.A. Happ was our best move.”

Huntington noted that it’s too early to say whether Burnett’s injury will be longer than 15 days.

“We will see how it plays out over the next handful of days,” Huntington said. “We will wait for the inflammation to subside and see how he feels when he gets back to baseball activity.”

As for what might happen with Happ and the rotation when or if Burnett returns, Huntington noted that it was hypothetical, but a good question.

“It is not one that we have to answer at this point in time,” Huntington said. “We have been fortunate to have our starters stay healthy. Adding J.A. is a nice addition for us. If we get to a point where we have six starters, or more, we will make the decision of where we go at that point.”

Happ pitched last night for Seattle, so he will be able to easily slide into Burnett’s spot. The Pirates were getting great results from Burnett prior to his injury. Happ has struggled lately, but the hope is that he can immediately turn things around.

“J.A. Happ had a great start,” Huntington said of the left-hander’s season. “I think that he had 10 very good starts. He has not had the same success for the last four or five starts. Our scouts like the stuff and what they see in him. He is a guy that we have actually liked for a handful of years that we tried a couple of times to get. We believe that he will come in here and help us.”

Michael Morse For Jose Tabata

Huntington noted that the Morse trade gave the Pirates a chance to give Jose Tabata a chance elsewhere, while adding a veteran to the bench. The reality is that Tabata didn’t have a spot on this team, and had a horrible contract. Morse has a horrible contract, but might actually be able to play a small role. That role is still up in the air.

“[How Morse will be used] is a better question for Clint, but in my conversations with him, a right-handed bat off the bench that can spell Pedro at first base,” Huntington said.

Huntington noted that Tabata didn’t request a trade, although I’m not sure if the Pirates would have been able to deal him at will without a swap like this where they would take on another bad contract. Morse is under contract through the 2016 season, and is coming off a big year last year. If he somehow bounces back, he would be much more valuable than Tabata.

“We will see how it plays out [to see how important that Morse has control],” Huntington said. “If we get him back to how he was a year ago, it could play out very well. If he continues to scuffle, we will have a decision to make moving forward.”

Morse is expected to join the team on Monday.

Overall Thoughts

The Pirates had a very specific trend, not just on deadline day, but leading up to the deadline. They took on a lot of salary and added a lot of veteran players, while avoiding giving up any prospects that they would miss in the long-term. The biggest additions were the ones to replenish the infield depth (Aramis Ramirez) and replace Burnett in the rotation (Happ). But the Pirates also upgraded a few other smaller areas, potentially strengthening a team that is already on pace for about 95 wins.

“We feel that we have been able to backfill with established Major League players, filling some spots that were open with injuries,” Huntington said. “We feel that adding Soria to our bullpen strengthens our bullpen. While we gave up some players of interest, we felt like the return was worthwhile and we felt like we have continued to position this club to be a postseason club and one that, if we get there, will have a chance to go deep.”

One notable thing was that the Pirates added a lot in salary. Without knowing the financial details of the Morse trade, they added a little over $8.8 M for the remainder of the season with the July additions of Travis Ishikawa, Aramis Ramirez, Joakim Soria, Joe Blanton, and J.A. Happ.

“It is always nice to have flexibility to add to the club,” Huntington said. “Working with Bob [Nutting] and Frank [Coonelly] and their passion to put this club in a good position to make the postseason and then work hard to get it as deep into the postseason as we can. Working through the process with them and knowing that we have some resources available because of some of the decisions that we have made and because of the fans coming out and being able to pour money back into the club. That is tremendous and something that we have been talking about wanting to do and something that we are doing. Bob, Frank, myself, and our baseball ops group have a pretty good alignment and a commitment to put a strong team on the field.”

Without knowing the details of the Morse move, the Pirates are currently projected for just over $100 M in payroll this year, which would make that the first time in franchise history they hit triple digits. But the most important thing is that one of the best teams in baseball added a starter, two bullpen arms, a third baseman, and two first base/outfield options.

  • I have a slightly different take on this.
    1. Sporttrac has the Bucs at 23rd on the payroll ranking – around $96M – the Cards and Cubs are both in the $120M range. So $100M is not the same now as it was 3 years ago.
    2, Spinning the acquisition of two DFAs as pluses is a pretty neat trick. Completely ignores the fact that Mike Leake was available and would have slid into the rotation as a solid #4 – maybe #3. Problem is he would have cost the Bucs one of their precious prospects or two.
    3. Likewise a very good RH bat was out there – Cespedes – again would have cost prospects.
    This is classic dumpster diving which is coupled with wishing and hoping – that worked really well with Hart and S-Rod – will be interesting to see if this turns out any different,

    Pirate fans deserve better – real players – not smoke and mirrors

    • You were somewhere over the winter complaining about the “dumpster diving” of Burnett and Kang too I’m sure…
      I think any “fan base” would be happy to be on pace for 95 wins on August 1. No, they don’t make perfect decisions, but to throw a #1-5 prospect for a SP…which is the price it was going for top tier as you’re suggesting, isn’t smart business. Especially when they are all rentals. And Cespedes?? Does he have a 1B glove?

    • Dude, you really just need to calm down. NH did a great job of making low profile additions that don’t mortgage the future. Not selling the farm is what sustains success. If we traded Bell, Glasnow, Meadows, etc., we might have been on pace to be sellers in a couple seasons

    • Can tell me what high priced free agents or trading draft picks for players that the Steelers have made in recent years? It looks like to me that the Pirates are taking the same conservative approach that the Steelers have done for 45 years. The Pirates fans deserve to have as many playoff runs as possible, not to shorten their window on dumb high priced trades.

    • JoseGuillensArm
      August 1, 2015 7:39 pm

      That vitriol makes all the sense in the world coming from the guy with the steeler logo on a pirates blog. Just go back to scanning Twitter for which back up QB looks better in Latrobe

  • If they thought Happ was the best solution to replace AJ then they aren’t as impressed with Liz as I thought. Without another injury Liz may never see PNC again doesn’t seem right given what he has done in Indy.

    • At the end of the day, Liz is still the only starting depth at AAA. They could have promoted Liz and had Sampson as the only depth. Trading Sampson for Happ makes perfect sense in that scenario.

  • With the revelation that AJ is out…ugh…I begrudgingly accept the Happ trade.

    I like the Morse pickup…just a gut feeling.

    Soria? Meh, I really liked Jones…but, we’ll see. FWIW it’s worth, JaCoby had four AA plate appearances tonight. That runs the total to 14…still without a strikeout. Yeah, I know, small sample size and whatnot…

    Basically trading Worley for Blanton? Ugh…minus a bad start, he’s got a 3.30 ERA. Since going to the bullpen, he had a 3.00 ERA. Not really thinking Blanton is going to give more than that.

    • So, I’m sure your comments are taking into account that Blanton had an ERA of 2.74 as a reliever and the much better Royals’ defense, but a little more detail would be helpful. I’m a Royals and Pirates fan, and I think only one Pirates player is a better defender than his Royals counterpart: Marte versus Gordon, who won the Gold Glove last year.

      • 2.74 with a solid defense versus 3.00 with poor? I’d call that pretty close…

        I guess we’ll only know in retrospect. Blanton may come in and be lights out…or he may get lit up ala Bastardo, but I’m just not seeing much to excited about with the quasi-trade.

      • I’m going to take Polanco over a mid-30s Alex Rios.

        Blanton’s ERA is higher than his FIP, can you really credit the defense for helping him? His issue has always been hits that fielder cannot catch.

  • Eno Saris and Ken Rosenthal liked the Pirates’ deadline, so that’s probably a good sign. I, too, liked it. The market was awful, and Huntington did a good job of staying out of the worst of the fray, I thought. All the core pieces are or can be back next year, plus we’ll get the boosts of Taillon, Glasnow, and Bell. No reason to get rid of any of those for a short-term fix.

    • We kept our top 12 prospects, and filled the holes with the willingness to take salary and part with guys we should not miss. Now we need to get everybody healthy. Has anybody seen two game saving plays back to back in the 9th by an outfielder close to what Marte did tonight? Pure and simple he won this game and saved it for Melancon.

    • Yes, I had hoped for a starter, ideally with a year of control (Cashner, for example), but once I saw the prices teams were paying for rentals I shifted my view.

  • $100M! It was not long ago that a $100M payroll appeared to be improbable, at best. But, this milestone was reached by an organization that remains frugal. It occurred without fanfare.

  • It was good to see AJ sitting next to Ray Searage tonight. Ramirez and Happ were moves that had to be made due to injury. Blanton, Morse and Ishikawa were fair attempts to catch lightning in a bottle, give guys a chance to reignite. Soria should really help this team. I just hope they mix up Watson and Soria based on lefty/righty matchups and not just send them out Hughes, Soria, Watson, Melancon. Watson has been getting hit by righthanders at times. All in all, we are better only if Happ or Liz holds the fort. I believe NH will be looking hard in a few weeks at waiver/trade help.

    • Couldn’t agree more about the sequencing. I hate when managers just blindly throw out their “8th inning guy” or closer and completely ignore the game situation.