Right after the trade deadline, I called the moves made by the Pirates “potentially brilliant.” When I wrote the article, I knew it would receive criticism. I knew the term “potentially brilliant” would be mocked. I knew that, even though I never said the moves were guaranteed to be brilliant, I would never hear the end of it if they turned out to be horrible moves.
We’re now about a month beyond the trade deadline, and while that’s not enough time for a final verdict, it’s safe to say that the Pirates’ trade deadline is looking close to the brilliant side of things. Coincidentally, the amount of mocking of that article from the start of the month has gone way down lately.
They added Joe Blanton and Joakim Soria to the bullpen. The bullpen in August ranks first in the NL in WAR (1.7), WPA (3.34), shutdowns (31), and has the fourth fewest meltdowns (6). Soria and Blanton have played huge roles there. Blanton has an 0.59 ERA and a 2.53 xFIP in 15.1 innings of work after being claimed off waivers. Soria has a 2.61 ERA and a 3.64 xFIP in 10.1 innings after being acquired for JaCoby Jones.
The offense saw the additions of Aramis Ramirez and Michael Morse. Ramirez was acquired for Yhonathan Barrios, and the main goal was filling in the third base position until Josh Harrison returned. The offense has been decent from Ramirez, and the defense has been horrible. He didn’t look like a great starter, but will be a good option of the bench the final month of the season. Morse was added for Jose Tabata, and has done well against lefties in the first base platoon, posting a .440 OBP this month in a very small sample of 25 plate appearances. He has also provided a big boost to the bench, which looks very strong with the returns of Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison.
But perhaps the biggest steal came with the addition of J.A. Happ. The Pirates needed a starting pitcher to replace A.J. Burnett, and they needed one on short notice. While the best starting pitchers were going for top 50 prospects, the Pirates landed Happ for Adrian Sampson, who will likely be a Major League starter in the future, but is a Grade C pitching prospect and far from the returns for other pitchers who were traded at the deadline.
As I wrote tonight, Happ is giving the Pirates exactly what they need this month. That article includes a chart that shows Happ as having the best xFIP in August of all the traded starters, and one of the best ERAs. This includes his horrible first outing with the Pirates. Basically, Happ is looking like another Pirates reclamation project, and it only took two weeks of work with Ray Searage for him to do a complete 180.
Happ’s success also brings up an interesting scenario: What happens when A.J. Burnett returns?
Happ seemed like a short-term option who would move to the bullpen when/if Burnett was able to return healthy. The Pirates will learn a bit more about Burnett’s progress when he throws a bullpen on Tuesday. But if Burnett does return, the Pirates would be best keeping Happ in the rotation and sending someone else to the bullpen. The best option looks to be Jeff Locke at the moment, as he has been struggling once again in the second half.
Things could change in the future. Happ has three great starts, and is looking much better than expected. That doesn’t provide a guarantee that he will continue this success. But if Burnett were to return today, Happ would have done enough to remain in the rotation over Locke. We’ll see if that holds true when Burnett actually does return, and whether the Pirates will stick with Happ over Locke.
**J.A. Happ is Giving the Pirates Exactly What They Need This Month. My live game report from Miami, with some interesting charts on how good Happ has been relative to the rest of the Pirates’ rotation, and the traded starters around baseball.
**Prospect Watch: Hinsz Struggles Through His Outing, Five Hits For Kramer. Kevin Kramer is really starting to break through at the plate. The interesting thing is that he remains at second base, despite an opening at shortstop. His future is probably at second base with all of the shortstop prospects around the same level, and he’s going to need plenty of offense for that position.
**Despite Offensive Struggles, Elias Diaz Eyeing September Call-Up. Ryan Palencer looks at the offensive struggles Elias Diaz has seen, along with what he’s doing to try and get a call-up to Pittsburgh in September.
**2015 DSL Pirates: Twelve Players to Watch. John Dreker recaps the best prospects in the DSL this year, which is always one of the best Pirates international articles of the year.
**Morning Report: A Hidden Gem in Bradenton’s Bullpen. John Dreker profiles Isaac Sanchez, who is having a good season in Bradenton.