The MLB trade deadline is a week away, and over the next week, we’re going to see a lot of pitchers being connected to the Pirates. Some of those rumors will involve players the Pirates have scouted or asked about. Some will involve pitchers who are just on the market, with the Pirates mentioned by default, due to their pitching need. I’ve written many times the last few weeks that the Pirates would be better off trading with Indianapolis for their pitching needs. But then Tyler Glasnow and Chad Kuhl went down with injuries over the weekend, changing the pitching depth.
I could write about who the Pirates should go for, but I’m going to take a different stance. It’s not going to be a popular one. It’s not something you can say about a team that is just two games back from the Wild Card race. It’s not even something that I think has a chance of happening.
The Pirates should be sellers.
I’m not talking the classic “sellers” where you blow up the team. Most of this roster is under team control through the 2018 season or later. So it wouldn’t make sense to deal a lot of those guys. I’m talking about guys under one year deals, who will be free agents after the season. And the biggest guy who should be included is Mark Melancon.
So far, the pitching market has been looking like an extreme seller’s market. That was on display today when Aroldis Chapman landed shortstop Gleyber Torres, right-hander Adam Warren, and outfielders Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford.
Torres was ranked 27th in Baseball America’s Mid-Season top 100. McKinney started the year in the top 100, but fell off the list. Crawford is a nice lottery ticket. And Warren has struggled this year with the Cubs, but had some good results with the Yankees in the previous three seasons. That’s a big return for two months plus the playoffs, even if Chapman is a dominant reliever.
It also makes you wonder what Melancon could get on this market. Chapman has a 1.4 fWAR this year, and has been around 2.5-2.8 the previous two years. Melancon has been a tick below, at 0.9 this year, and 1.5-2.0 the previous two years. So I doubt the same return would be possible, especially because Melancon isn’t as flashy as Chapman. But a big return should be possible.
You wouldn’t just be trading Melancon because he could get a lot of value, though. You’d be trading him because it makes more sense to get the value that would come in a trade, rather than getting the value from his production the final two months. The only way his final two months would be considerably valuable to the Pirates is if they were serious contenders. And they aren’t serious contenders.
Sure, the Pirates are 1.5 games back from the second Wild Card. But they’ve got three teams ahead of them. Not to mention, even if they do jump those teams, and even if they do win the Wild Card game on the road, they’d have a five game series likely against the Cubs. And yeah, they’ve got a chance to beat the Cubs in that five game series. Then they might have a chance to beat the Nationals or Giants in the NLCS, for a chance to go to the World Series. But having a chance is not the same thing as having a good chance.
We used to do a Playoff Odds feature on the site each week. We would only include “Contenders”, classifying that as any team with 15% playoff odds or higher in all three projection systems (Baseball Prospectus, Clay Davenport, and FanGraphs). Here is where the Pirates stand in each projection system today:
Under our old guidelines, we wouldn’t even consider the Pirates contenders. They’d only be contenders in one ranking system, and they’d be dangerously close to dropping their status.
These things can fluctuate. Keep in mind that a week ago, the Pirates had just won an 18 inning game, avoiding dropping to .500 in the process, and had 13.9% playoff odds on FanGraphs. They’ve seen that number increase in the last week. But we can’t assume that the numbers will just keep going up.
And now, let’s look ahead. The Pirates are returning much of the same team in 2017. Their lineup will be the same, except Josh Bell will probably take over for John Jaso at first base. Their pitching will include Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano, with Jameson Taillon having half a season of experience under his belt and no restrictions. They will also have more experience for the other pitching prospects. And since a lot of their team is young and making the league minimum, they could afford to make some additions in the off-season to boost their team.
The Pirates are going to have a much better chance of competing in 2017 and beyond than their chances in 2016. So do you keep Melancon, hope for the best in 2016, and then watch him leave after his final two months, likely for no compensation? Or do you trade him at a time when pitchers are going for a massive value, getting players you can use when the team is in better position to contend (either by those prospects helping the team directly through their performance, or indirectly by making it easier to make a big trade for direct help)?
Like I said, I don’t think this will happen. A team that is two games out of the Wild Card spot can’t exactly sell. The fans would go nuts, and I think the atmosphere in the clubhouse would sink as well (especially since selling would also involve one year guys like Neftali Feliz, David Freese, Matt Joyce, and Sean Rodriguez). In a way, it’s like the Pirates would have been better off in the long run if they didn’t have that big week before the All-Star break, or a big week this past week.
I do think that the Pirates will be active in the next week. My hope is that they don’t make a move to go all-in for this year, when the prices are sky-high and the team isn’t good enough to warrant that approach. Their best plan would be to make some lower key moves, similar to what they did last year when they added guys who weren’t marquee names, but had a chance to provide a boost, and ended up providing that boost.
We’ve already seen one of those rumors with the Pirates connected to Nathan Eovaldi. They’ve also been connected to the Rays pitchers, and those guys seem like the types the Pirates should avoid in this market, as the price would be huge. Sure, you’re getting help for future years as well. But when the Chris Archer price starts with Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows, you know that’s an area the Pirates should avoid.
Jerry Crasnick had a somewhat rumor today, suggesting Hector Santiago for the Pirates. I say “somewhat rumor” because he didn’t say the Pirates were actually interested, but said that they could be in play for him.
— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) July 25, 2016
This makes sense, as the Pirates were connected to Santiago during the Neil Walker trade talks over the off-season. Of course, Santiago isn’t the best guy to get. He does have a career 3.68 ERA, but also a 4.76 xFIP. This year he’s at 4.28/5.12, and you’d have to wonder how long this trend would last (it’s mostly due to a career .268 BABIP, and he’s at .256 this year).
Although, in a way, Santiago would be a fitting addition for this Pirates team, since he’s almost a microcosm of the team itself. He’s been more successful in the past, but is surprisingly still good enough this year to be considered for a contender. He’s not a guy who looks like he’d do a lot, but you’d just be hoping that he gets hot for two months down the stretch.
Anyone hoping for the Pirates to add a player to make a run this year wouldn’t want Santiago, because he’s not close to the best option available, and banking on a guy getting hot for two months, when the odds suggest otherwise, is a bad approach. That’s ironic, since the Pirates aren’t close to the best team in the NL, and banking on them getting hot for two months, despite the odds saying otherwise, doesn’t seem smart, and doesn’t seem like justification to buy on this crazy market, rather than take advantage and sell.
I don’t expect the Pirates to sell at the deadline. And I think there’s a really good chance that in a little over two months, we will be looking back at this as a missed opportunity, thrown away because you’re not supposed to be a seller at the deadline if you’re this close to a Wild Card spot, even if your actual chances of contending are very low.
**Prospect Watch: Nick Kingham Goes Five Innings in Latest Rehab Outing. This should be Kingham’s last outing in the GCL. He is expected to join the Marauders for a few starts, now that he’s stretched out to five innings.
**Top Performers: Newman, Joe, Polo, Ramirez, Brault, Escobar, Williams. Our weekly recap, looking at scouting reports of the best performers from the previous week.
**Huntington on the Impact the Pitching Prospects Will Have on the Trade Deadline. It sounds like the Pirates will go with a similar approach to the off-season, putting a big focus on the pitching prospects, rather than adding a lot of outside help.
**Morning Report: Taking a Look at the Remaining Schedule for the Pirates. One thing that might help the Pirates would be their easier schedule down the stretch, although that would be factored into the simulations mentioned above.