The Pittsburgh Pirates have acquired J.A. Happ from Seattle for Adrian Sampson, according to a team press release. The move is an interesting one, as it gives the Pirates either a third lefty in the bullpen (or a replacement for Antonio Bastardo), and/or it gives the Pirates rotation depth.
Happ currently has a 4.64 ERA in 108.2 innings with Seattle, although his 4.02 xFIP is much better. He’s only under team control through the end of the 2015 season, making $6.7 M this year. That means the Pirates would owe just under $2.4 M the rest of the year.
Looking at the splits, Happ has dominated left-handed hitting, with an 11.84 K/9 and a 1.85 BB/9 this year. He also has a 2.10 xFIP against lefties, compared to a 4.58 xFIP against right-handers.
The Pirates must see something they think they can fix in a hurry to get him back on track. That would give them some rotation depth, which could be where he is headed, according to Ken Rosenthal.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 31, 2015
That could be just chalked up to an assumption from Rosenthal, but A.J. Burnett has been having issues lately, and there’s this bit of information from Travis Sawchik.
Clint Hurdle had a meeting with AJ Burnett today. He would not disclose details of the conversation
— Travis Sawchik (@Travis_Sawchik) July 31, 2015
So it’s possible that Happ was brought in for immediate rotation depth to deal with Burnett’s struggles. If that’s the case, the Pirates would need to hope that he pitches closer to his xFIP going forward, starting immediately. UPDATE: Burnett has been placed on the 15-day DL with right elbow inflammation.
As for Sampson, we rated him as the 16th best prospect in the system in our mid-season update, putting him in the same talent tier as JaCoby Jones, who was dealt for Joakim Soria yesterday. Sampson has a fastball that sits 91-94 with good command, and a curveball that has good break and can be a strikeout pitch. His changeup came along in recent years, leading to a breakout in Altoona last year. He would have been rotation depth this year, but was struggling with his command lately. He’s got the upside of a number four starter in the majors, with a chance to be a sleeper mid-rotation starter who can throw 200 innings per year.
I had Happ’s trade value at $0.8 M, although as I noted last night, starting pitchers were getting about four times their value on the trade market. That puts his value at a Grade C pitching prospect, which would describe Sampson.
This is another deal that doesn’t hurt them in the short-term or the long-term. Sampson’s value in the short-term was rotation depth, but Happ fills that need. In the long-term, he still would have been rotation depth, as the Pirates have better options for the rotation who will be making their way up in the next two years, such as Tyler Glasnow, Jameson Taillon, and Nick Kingham when he gets healthy. There is also a wave of starting pitching prospects coming up from Altoona who can fill the depth role, like Chad Kuhl, Jason Creasy, and the already promoted Angel Sanchez. So the Pirates had plenty of depth in the next few years, and several options who would be better than Sampson for the rotation.