I started the week writing about how the Pirates should be sellers, and should trade Mark Melancon in an attempt to get some value from the closer, rather than using him for a shot at the playoffs, and a possible playoff run that doesn’t seem like it will have a good chance of happening.

That article also included the disclaimer that I didn’t think the Pirates would take that approach. Trading Melancon sounds great on paper (or horrible on paper, if you believe the Pirates have a better chance at contending this year). The reality of that situation is that it would be difficult to pull off, as it would be a tough sell to the fans (although fan approval shouldn’t be a big factor in making moves) and more importantly, the players (many of whom are under control for years).

The trade deadline is approaching, and as we enter the weekend, we get to the point in the trade season when players start moving around. The Pirates are almost certain to make a move at the deadline. They’ve done that every year, with the exception of 2014, when they didn’t make a trade, but added a few guys on waiver claims and free agent deals, with the biggest addition that year being John Holdzkom.

Last year they didn’t make a big splash in terms of adding a big name, or “winning” the trade deadline. But their approach ended up looking brilliant, adding a lot of lower cost, high upside guys, and getting just what the team needed down the stretch, at a time when other teams were spending big for the same type of production.

This year, the Pirates find themselves in no-man’s land. They’re just good enough that they can’t pass for a seller, but they’re not good enough where it would make sense to go for a big splash. They’ve got an obvious need for pitching, but have plenty of prospects who could fill that need. However, the prospects are probably going to be better in future years, making it tempting to go for extra help this year. The problem with that extra help is the better pitcher you go for now, the more you have to give up in the future — especially with this extreme seller’s market.

The best approach for the Pirates at the deadline would be to go the same route they took last year, dealing from their Rule 5 eligible depth and getting lower cost guys who could surprise and fill a need at a value. If that’s not an option, it wouldn’t be the worst thing for them to avoid making a trade. The worst thing about the trade deadline is the assumption that teams need to make a trade. The winners and losers columns that come out after the deadline never factor in the rest of the team, or the creativity involved, which we saw last year when the Pirates were far from deadline winners on August 1st.

The Pirates could avoid making a trade and still address their needs via the farm system. That could get them to the playoffs, but probably isn’t going to get them far in the playoffs, unless they see Francisco Liriano turn things around, and make it where they’re not relying on the rookies to carry the rotation in an extended series. A smaller trade would just increase their odds of getting an extra rotation option, with the hope that they could work the same magic they did last year with Happ.

It should be an interesting weekend. The Pirates will have to find that perfect balance between trying to improve their odds of contending this year — a year when they’re not the strongest contenders — while not trying to take away too much from future years, when they’re projected to be much stronger contenders.

**Prospect Watch: Duncan Throws Five Shutout Innings in Return from Disabled List. I don’t see Duncan as a rotation option this year in the big leagues. He’s behind a lot of other starters. However, he could end up a reliever down the stretch with the way he’s pitching this year in Triple-A.

**Kevin Newman Made Some Small Adjustments to Improve His Hitting. Sean McCool talked with Kevin Newman about some changes to his swing that have led to strong numbers in Altoona.

**Six Pirates on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects List. A lot of good stuff for the Pirates in the latest top 100 rankings.

**David Todd Podcast: Extended Pirates Top 50 and Trade Deadline Talk. I had three segments with David Todd on Wednesday, discussing the top 50 prospects and the trade deadline.

**Morning Report: The Last Six Weeks of the Minor League Season Could Be Interesting. John Dreker breaks down what to expect in the final six weeks of the minor league season.

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71 COMMENTS

  1. I would hate to see him go. Pirates seem to be good at plug and play and could get someone they could plug in as the closer with very little drop-off while at the same time improving in other areas. I wouldn’t mind seeing a similar trade to what brought Malancon to Pittsburgh. In this case they could keep the integrity of team as contenders and also help them out for next year. Sounds like what NH said his goal is.

  2. Not trading Melancon is like making a trade for a rental, we loose out on a few prospects if we trade for a rental, and if we keep Melancon we loose out on a few prospects we could acquire. Its mostly a gamble and I would rather gamble on our young arms and keep Melancon, maybe move Jaso.
    The Rangers made an interesting trade last year and got Hamels for 4 prospects and he is under control through 2019. Both the Phils and Rangers have benefited, with the Rangers acquiring an anchor Ace Pitcher. At some point, this is the type of trade I would like to see Huntington make. Several years ago, we offered some great prospects (I think Bell and or Glasnow) to the Rays for renting David Price. Fortunately, the Rays went with Drew Smiley and a package of prospects, bet they wish they had those cards back and I’m sure NH is glad that gamble didn’t take. My point is that I don’t mind parting with some youngsters, Glasnow, Meadows, Bell if we get an anchor like an Archer, Sales who we can control for several years. These trades hurt, but typically the trades that hurt produce the most fruit, (J. Happ being an outlier)

    • give the nats the shark and a pitching prospect like kingham for giolito. Then trade liriano for boone logan and then make a deal with the A’s for Sonny Gray. Sonny in the NL versus the Brewers and Reds will turn his year around. We will have a nice rotation for the rest of the year.
      Cole
      Gray
      Taillon
      Giolito
      Glasnow, Brault, Kuhl, Locke

      • Watched Sunny the last couple years when I lived in the bay Area, when he is on it’s electric. Disappointing this year though, but last year had a Cy Young worthy type season. He isn’t just a cheap pitcher to go after, he will take a haul to get as well

  3. Have you watched this team this year? Have they shown you that they can win a playoff game let alone a series or more to get to the World series. This is not the team to do it. Liariano can not be depended on, Cutch is in a year long funk, so like magic, they are both going to turn it around when the team makes a trade. Good grief, this is a team that is playing .500 ball and you are hoping they win the world series. I am a fan too but I do not expect miracles. Lets just get what we can for Melacone and move on from there. Give the kids a chance to learn this year and then go for it all next year.

  4. Random off topic comment….even though I dislike all Philly sports teams, the Phillies have done a remarkable job turning their farm system and future around in less than 2 years….the Braves, not so much….

    • Be careful judging to hardly with the Braves. Last year in current stadium new stadium next year. From everything I have heard they will be big players in the FA market this offseason and try and pull a 97′ Marlins move and try and Buy a good season.

  5. Even if this team somehow snuck into the playoffs, they will not go far. So, if I am NH, I put feelers out there and see if I can sell high on Melancon, Freese, and Joyce….as they are all gone after this year anyway. If I can sell even low on Locke, Niese, and Liriano, it’s addition by subtraction. Get rid of wasted salary. I just hope NH doesn’t do something stupid by trading a top prospect thinking he can save the season. Getting Cy Young wouldn’t save this season.

    • they will not go far.

      I disagree….just getting into the playoffs is the key. After that, a hot/lucky team can go further than you think.

      Look at the Wild Cards that went all the way. Look at the Cards a couple years back who won something like 83-84 games (2011?) and won it all. Look at the Dodgers who had Grienke and Kershaw on the same staff.

      Playoffs are the ultimate crapshoot. Being “built” for the World Series is a long standing myth.

          • From watching the team. They can have a great night like they did the other day. However Cutch, Harrison and whoever is playing first below average defensive players.

            • Well they are the 4th best in Field Percentage in the NL and 8th best in all of MLB. So cant be that bad.

      • Valid points, leefoo, but BFSinMD is correct in that if you look at the Bucs realistically and objectively, they probably don’t get any further than the N.L.D.S., if they get that far. Sure, they could win the wild card game and then catch lightning in a bottle to beat the Cubs, Nats., or Giants, but, do you really think that that is likely to happen based on what we have seen to date? It would not be unprecedented. You are correct in that the post season is a whole new season, but, again, realistically, expecting the Pirates in the N.L.C.S. and even the W.S. is a stretch to say the least in my opinion. They simply do not have the starting pitching talent or depth that those aforementioned teams have. But…there is always a chance. If you are old enough to remember the 1971 World Series, the Orioles had four 20 game winners, and an air tight defense. The pundits were predicting that the Orioles would win the Series in three games, an attempt to emphasize in an exaggerated manner at how much better the Orioles were than the Pirates. Low and behold, the Orioles went up two games to none. But, in games three through seven, Pirates pitchers Steve Blass, Nellie Briles, and Bruce Kison pitched like 30 game winners, and the Bucs, led by that great pitching and the Great One, number 21, emerged victorious. So, it can happen. I just don’t see it happening with the 2016 version of the Battlin Buccos.

      • I also remember a season where Oakland after a red hot start traded “it all” away to try and set up being built for the postseason and playoffs only to go into a tail spin losing the division (after picking up 2 “ace” quality pitchers in Lester and Samardzija) and losing the Wild card game with said ace pitcher starting that Wild Card game.

        I truly believe Oakland had a better team then most that year, but the Royals were the ones who were hot and rode that into the World Series

    • Excellent and valid points, “BFSinMD”. I really think that the Bucs are in a very good position. Neal Huntington should entertain any and all offers for Melancon, Freese, Joyce, Jaso, and whomever else, but only make a deal if he can get EXACTLY what he wants. The Bucs do not have to make a deal. Trade or no trade, the best they can realistically hope for in my opinion is one of the two wild card spots. Even if they garner one of those two wild card berths and then win that game, chances are they are not going to beat the Cubs, Nats., or Giants in the N.L.D.S. I say that if another team is willing to give the Pirates a king’s ransom for Melancon, then make the deal, but ONLY if we acquire a HUGE HAUL in return. I don’t see Freese, Joyce, or Jaso fetching much, and frankly, I would love to see us bring Freese and Joyce back next year, although I doubt that that will happen. If we cannot get a huge return for Melancon, then keep the roster in tact and take our best shot with what we have. Who knows, we might catch lightning in a bottle. It’s not likely, but it would not be unprecedented either. If we can make a deal to acquire a starting pitcher without having to mortgage any of our top prospects, similar to last year with Happ, then do that and see how things go. I do not think that NH will realize your worst fear and trade, say, Tyler Glasnow for Rich Hill, or some other similar scenario. He came on board in 2007 with the mantra of building success largely from within. He has not deviated from that. I do not expect him to start now.

  6. We are 1 game back in the loss column of a playoff spot, with an easy schedule the rest of the way. Go for it.

    • may be just one game out – but the competition is not sitting still.
      1 .The Marlins are a much better team with Dee Gordon back and Cashner in the back end of their rotation – and may not be done.
      2. The Cards always seem to make a deadline move that makes them better.
      3. The Mets have much better starting pitching than the Bucs and could add a the deadline – or wait until the end of August.

      I would assume the Bucs have tried to extend MM – and nothing can be worked out…
      If that is the case then I think you need to consider a trade – reasonable return and start auditioning for the future closer. Would be great to identify him this year so you are set going into next season.

      I would also try and get some return for Joyce and Freese and S Rod…
      they will all be looking for multi-year deals and significantly more money.

      This has the advantage of opening up four slots on the 40 man roster.

      It is probably a good time to try and move some of the blocked rule five eligible guys for prospects with remaining years before they are rule five eligible

      • If you were to punt on this year then they should deal or dump MM, Freese, Joyce, Neise, Stewart/Fryer, Jaso, Feliz.

        The returns on several of those players should be significant.

        Players to move in Bell, Osuna, Diaz, Kuhl, Brault, Neverauskus, and Florimon.

  7. I have a baseball history question. I have been following this sport for over 40 years and I have always been wondering when did (Cue “Imperial March” from Star Wars) THE TRADE DEADLINE become such an all out fetish in MLB.
    I remember summer trades such as the Bill Madlock or the Tim Foli deal, but don’t remember this constant hype about the deadline. In fact prior to about 15 years ago the biggest one I seem to remember was all the talk about Mark Langston in 1989. That was it.
    Was it the change in free agency? The teams structuring deals differently, getting players to buy out free agent years? Of course it could be part and parcel of our 24/7 information/blogosphere/ media culture where we beat everything to death, but still.

    • Don’t have any answers to your questions, just wanted to state my love for the ridiculousness of professional sports trade deadlines. Can you imagine once a year having hardball negotiations with your company’s top competitors trying to pry away a top notch fax machine for a new desk chair, a “veteran” filing cabinet and a coffee maker to be named later?

    • The old deadline was June 15. As I recall, no interleague deals could be made till the off season. I don’t think there were many deals featuring prospects way back when. Things have changed; multi million dollar contracts, more FAs being on rosters and olden days where it was player for player trades.

      Wildcards are the biggest culprit for the deadline frenzy now IMO.

      NH expects to get a medal pinned to his lapel if the Pirates make the WC for a forth straight time, even if it’s only for one game.

  8. 2 things Tim:

    What kind of starting pitching did the Royals have around this time this year? After the 2015 Break they had some of the worst starting WAR in MLB with guys like Volquez, Ventura and Chris Young leading the way. Not really murderer’s row. Even with Cueto that certainly didn’t look to compare with a lot of the starting pitching of postseason teams.

    A large reason we are in limbo as far as what to do is the crap pitching NH put together in offseason. We easily could be a win or 2 better right now.

    • In NH’s defense I don’t think anyone thought Jon Niese would be this bad. Last year he had a 4.13ERA previous 3 seasons he was mid 3’s. IF we had seen the Jon Niese we expected (even like a 3.8 ERA which was reasonable), Cole stayed healthy and Liriano pitched the way he did the previous 2 years we would be probably 4 or 5 wins better and be in the discussion for the division. None of those things are high expectations. I don’t think he put together Crap pitching it just did not work out this year. That happens.

      • I think it was crap pitching. Niese never projected as a true #3 imo. And don’t forget Vogelsong was your #5. And regarding depth and rookies. Injuries happen all the time and no one should be shocked rookies have uneven development. Very poor job by NH in offseason for this pitching staff.

        • Well fair enough everyone is entitled to their opinion. But as a coach myself its always easy to look back and tear apart your decision. Yes Vogey was the #5 but if we really are tearing apart a #5 pitcher then we really have a problem And Vogey would have been great to help mentor the young pitchers. I personally didn’t like the Vogey pick up at all at the time. The Niese move I did. And I personally think he slotted as a 3-4 pitcher and think he would have been there on most teams to start the season. The hope was for TG or JT to step up and take over the #3 slot. You expect top Pitching prospects to do that and most teams would. Again your opinion is valid we can agree to disagree on this one.

      • How could anyone have expected Niese to be #3? I knew at the time that wasn’t reasonable to expect….he’s a #5 on his best day.

        • 2012 he had an ERA of 3.40 FIP 3.80
          2013 he had an ERA of 3.71 FIP 3.58
          2014 he had an ERA of 3.40 FIP 3.67
          Yes in 2015 it went up to 4.13 and FIP was 4.41
          But 2012-2014 for a pitcher that is only 29 would slot very nicely as a #3. Most MLB teams would love a 3.50 ERA pitcher as their #3. One bad year does not make a bad pitcher.

  9. Tim … I was just looking through your Rule V article and there are some interesting players that would need to be added to the roster to ensure that they are not drafted:
    – AAA:
    Williams will probably be added prior to the season ending
    Osuna’s doing well after his promotion
    – AA:
    Holmes will need to be protected
    Wood and Weiss are good trade chips because they are worth protecting but blocked by better players
    Barnes seems to be blossoming in what AB-wise would be only his second full season
    – HA:
    Tarpley not ready to start but could be hidden in someone’s pen
    Polo is a big talent and a bit of a risk to lose

    • Williams, Holmes, Polo for sure out of those you mention. Barnes could be a candidate, but his upside is 4th OF. They might lose him if they don’t protect him but I don’t know how much of a loss it would be. Osuna doesn’t need to be protected, Wood and Weiss are solid AA players, but I wouldn’t worry about them either.

      • I think folks are giving up on Barnes too quickly. He has 1,000 minor league at bats which is about two seasons. Yes he was injury prone and yes because of that he is not as young as you would like in AA.
        But what I am seeing is a lifetime .778 OPS who hasn’t peaked yet. That to me could translate into more of a 3rd OFer

  10. I think that they should offer Melancon a contract extension in the 3 yr $30-33M range. If he takes it, the closer is locked down for a couple of years. I would consider trading him if someone was willing to overpay (ex. Nats offering Trea Turner). It would have to be a top prospect or young major league player.

    This weekend will be interesting with the Cards playing FLA and the Bucs in MIL. It is critical that the Pirates shake off their Miller Park issues and win at least 2 of 3.

  11. Honestly, leading this article off with a photo of JA Happ in a Bucs uniform is just using a rusty cheese grater to remove the scab and rub salt and lemon juice into our collective wound.

    IMO, best approach is to target AL teams with crap farm systems (Angels, M’s, O’s, Tigers), get a decent SP for an assemblage of talent led by a potential MLB-ready starter (Brault/Kuhl/Kingham), Hanson and a bunch of guys who are blocked here or will be Rule 5, and a lottery pick low A guy.

    I’d love to work with Angels to try and pry Shoemaker from them. The Angels system needs almost everything, but especially 1b, middle IF and LHP. We can stock their shelves.

  12. Here is a unique idea, why nor sign Melancon for three years. The guy has flat out performed and looks very healthy. PBC has the money!

    • I would rather not spend 10+ million on a relief pitcher. Yes they have the money but I would rather they take that 10+ to the market and try to acquire another starter via trade or FA.

      • yea but 10+ gets you a Niese type of SP, we’d be better off letting the youngsters play and use that money elsewhere (unless they are willing to get into the 20+/year range for a SP then FA won’t help

      • ajax: They/We are already paying him $9.65 mil in 2016, and he is earning it. Want to find some money? Starters ‘Cutch, Marte, Polanco, Cervelli, Kang, Stewart, Jaso, and Harrison are already signed for 2017. Trade Jaso and Harrison and you have your $11.5 mil to pay Melancon. They can both be replaced very easily from the Farm. Stewart also. Freese will also be gone either in trade or FA.

        Bill: A QO for Melancon for 2017 would cost about $16 mil? I agree with you, and it may be better to do the 3 year even if it ends up being $11, $12, $13. Feliz will leave for FA, and we cannot afford to replace two of the last three innings. He had a few rough times a week or two ago, but he needs to be in that BP as our Closer, or who we want to keep or trade will not make any difference at all for the rest of 2016.

        • Jaso has to go. He’s a small salary, but he is blocking Bell (bad defense and all).
          Stewart is someone I wonder about. Another small salary, but is he better than Fryer?
          It could be a bad time to switch closers, but MM is going to walk at the end of the season. The F.O. has only signed one pitcher to a multi year contract and that’s Liriano, whose 2nd season hasn’t worked out too well.

    • I agree. Maybe $22 M for two years with a 3rd year mutual option at $11 M (small buyout included)? If the PBC wants an established closer who you know can get the job done (MM), it will cost $10 – $12M per year. Why wouldn’t a contender want an established closer. Of course, the Pirates could decide to roll the dice and go with a non-established closer and pay less. Watson maybe? Feliz (have to pay him better to close?). I personally think their both better suited to set-up…not close. Or they could make a big roll of the dice, Dvoydas Neverauskas…give him a chance to close. Who am I missing as options? I just don’t see the other playoff contenders taking such a chance with their closers. Nothing is more heartbreaking than to take a lead into the 9th and see your closer blow 15-20% of his save chances. I extend MM right now. Disclaimer, I wonder if he is even wanting to return to Pittsburgh?

    • I agree, Bill. If they can’t trade him, they will not give him a qualifying offer. I think the QO is up to 16.3M. They would lose him and get nothing. That said, I don’t think Melancon would get anywhere near a QO on the open market. He gives results but not strikeouts, and that seem to put him a notch below other relievers.

      I would like to see the Pirates extend his contract, because I don’t see his low SO’s being a problem. I don’t know the stats, but I would venture to say his hard contact is very low, and he get lot of ground balls. It would be very difficult for a playoff contender to go into a season without a veteran 9th inning closer.

      • Some quick numbers on MM – from when we signed him in 2013 to today, he has posted 130 Saves, and 41 Holds. His earned salary has been $14.4 mil while his Value using WAR is $53.1 mil. Last year he led the majors with 51 Saves and already has 30 through roughly 60% of the 2016 season. His career before coming to the Pirates was pretty much non-existent and I think with the SP’s the Pirates are flashing, he would be hard pressed to find a better place to be the Closer. He strikes me as being a Quality of Life guy, not a money grabber.

    • I think he is or will soon be 31. A long-term deal, even a “mini” long-term deal of three years, gets dicey at that age. He will probably want longer than three years as well. I think it is time to look at younger options.

  13. My ‘approach’ would be to bolster the club by listening to offers from contending AL clubs only. If the AL team desires one of our veteran position players while offering a decent 6th/7th/ 8th inning-type pitcher then go for it. This gives the Pirates’ young staff the confidence to work 5 innings (or 6 or 7) while knowing that the bullpen will take it from there. Since all of August and September is a virtual play-off for all contenders then I would do as much as reasonably possible to give this organization’s up-and-comers the experience of that crucible right up until game 162. Ultimately all our younger guys will be hardened for the runs in 2017 and beyond.

  14. Enough of the “even if we win the wild card game we can’t win a five game series against the Cubs”. I’m sure in July 2014 SF had no clue they could win it all as the 2nd wild card and who would have thought in July 2015 the Mets could have made it to the WS. With expanded playoffs all you have to do is get hot at the right time. In another sport, same example, did the Pens look like SC winners two months before the regular season ended?

    • While I do share your optimism that they can still do it. You can’t compare the Pens and the Pirates. They are two completely different stories. The Pens made a coaching change and completely changed their style of play half way through the season. Injuries (Malkin, Fluery) were the reason people counted them out. Yes this does not mean we can not turn it around. I think Tim has made it clear if we get the old Liriano back then yes we can make a case that is a big IF. JT is pitching well but unlike Hockey where your rookie players can play through the season JT will have his innings limited so that may create a problem come playoffs. There are way too many IF’s on the pitching side for the Pirates still with limited answers available. I don’t think anyone is saying the Pirates CAN NOT do it or they are DONE (which ironically is what they said about the Pens when Malkin went down) but Its becoming less likely even I am doubting more after Liriano’s last start. I am still holding out hope though. Also if you look the best team in the NHL all season was the Cap’s but we were able to show we could beat them in the regular season. Outside of the series just before the break. We have not shown we can even compete against the Cubs this year. Maybe that will change down the stretch. Like I said I am not giving up all hope.

    • “Over? Did you say over?
      Nothing is over until WE decide it is. Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?
      Hell No! Bluto ’78

          • They used to play the speech Elizabeth Swan gave in Pirates of the Caribbean with Raise the Colors which actually is very appropriate considering the team name theme etc….. I don’t mind it I think you can find it on You Tube the Direct cut from the Pirates the change the video to show players hitting home runs etc…

        • They used to play not too long ago… toward the end of the 20 years of agony. Now they play the “Hoist the colors” scene from PotC, which isn’t nearly as fun.

  15. If NH can pull off another trade or two that has a minimal effect on our farm system as a whole, then make those trades and see what it nets for this season. There’s certainly no harm in taking a minimal approach to see if a couple of modest moves are enough to get this team into a Wild Card playoff birth for the 2016 season. It’s worked before.

    But the reality of this season for me is this: the Pirates aren’t serious contenders regardless of the moves that are made at this point. I know I’ll get some flack for my opinion, but that’s just the way I see it overall. It’s certainly not wrong to be realistic in evaluating what this 2016 team looks like to me. If the Pirates have a chance to trade some players and be better off in a year or two, it’s the right call.

    No opinion makes anyone less of a fan. None! I love this site for the balance and knowledge that is shared. Hell, you guys/gals make me a better informed fan, and I thank each of you for it.

    I’m convinced our beloved buccos will still have a winning record and quite possibly make the WC regardless of what happens at the trade deadline.

    I know, I know, just get make the playoffs and you never what can happen. True! But this team is not the Giants or Mets of recent years; we aren’t even close when it comes to pitching. And, as we all fully understand, it begins and ends there.

    Regardless of how this season turns out, the future is very bright. The next infusion of youth will finally round out a complete team that wins us a championship. I absolutely have no doubt!

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