First Pitch: The Pirates Are Taking a Huge Risk With the Francisco Liriano Trade

I expected the Pirates to add a starting pitcher today, predicting last night that they’d go for a lower cost guy, rather than one of the big arms from the Tampa Bay rotation. They did that with the addition of Ivan Nova. I also expected them to deal away one of their starters like Jon Niese, which they also did. You can read my recaps of those moves here.

And so I was all set to write a First Pitch tonight about Francisco Liriano. How he is the key if the Pirates want to contend. How they needed him to become the old Francisco Liriano in order to give them a fighting chance in the playoffs — the playoffs where Gerrit Cole would be used in the Wild Card game, and wouldn’t be available right away in the NLDS.

It turns out, I’m still writing about Liriano. Except I don’t think anyone could have predicted the topic of tonight’s article.

The trade of Liriano was perhaps the weirdest trade I’ve covered. The way everything unfolded was unlike any other deal I’ve seen, and the details surrounding the trade are unlike any deal I’ve seen. First, the news that Liriano was traded came out around 4:45 PM, well beyond the deadline. Then, it was revealed that the trade was Liriano and two prospects for Drew Hutchison. Then the first prospect was announced in Harold Ramirez. And then, about an hour later, the second prospect was announced in Reese McGuire.

The way the entire thing unfolded was confusing. Was this a trade where the Pirates dumped two top prospects in order to save on payroll? Were they sending two big prospects for Drew Hutchison, who seemingly didn’t have that much value, and the Liriano dump was a minor second part of the deal? Should they have just worried about getting rid of Liriano, and forget all about Hutchison? Or what about the opposite? And how would that change the value?

Neal Huntington was very clear after the deadline that the big goal here was to acquire Hutchison.

“Our goal in trading Ramirez and McGuire was to acquire Drew Hutchison, who has 400 innings at the Major League level,” Huntington said. “Our scouts have liked a lot in the past. We believe his surface numbers are not reflective of the potential, and we’ve got, again, multiple years of contribution from Drew. He’s a very nice complement to Gerrit Cole, and then all of the young arms that we have in the rotation as we go forward.”

Huntington wouldn’t commit on whether Hutchison would go to Triple-A right away, but reading between the lines of all of his comments today, it seems that will be the case. He said that they already told Hutchison there were a lot of moving parts in the rotation, and they wanted to give some veterans a continued opportunity. Also, every time he referred to him, he referred to their future rotation. So the odds are that Hutchison won’t be up this year.

And that makes sense. Hutchison currently has three years and 137 days of service time. If he comes up right away, and remains in the majors the rest of the year, the Pirates have him under control for two more seasons. If he comes up on August 30th or later, then he’ll finish the year with less than four years of service time, and the Pirates would have him under team control for an extra year, through the 2019 season. Let’s be honest. The Pirates didn’t trade this much for him just to then trade one month in 2016 for one whole year in 2019. Huntington didn’t say anything about this, but it’s only common sense.

There are three parts to this deal: the prospects, Hutchison, and Liriano. It’s probably best to break them all down separately, rather than taking the fantasy baseball trade approach of stacking the rankings to make one part of the trade look crazy. We’ll start with the prospects, obviously, since that’s what we do here.

Reese McGuire and Harold Ramirez

In the past year, the Pirates have done a good job of dealing prospects who are expendable. They’ve traded guys who they aren’t going to be using in the short-term, and aren’t going to be using in the long-term because of their depth. When Huntington discussed McGuire and Ramirez, he mentioned that they both fit into this category.

“We understand that we gave up two quality prospects,” Huntington said. “We gave up a catcher in which we had catching depth that we like at the same level. And we have [Francisco] Cervelli under contract, we have [Chris] Stewart under contract, we have Elias Diaz that is positioned to be in line, to continue to grow and develop, and be our next guy. We’ve got some catching depth behind that we like.”

I’m going to stop the comment right there, and get to the Ramirez comment in a minute. For now, let’s focus on McGuire, because that might be the biggest issue I have with the trade. We rated him 6th overall in the system in our recent mid-season top 50. I was a big reason for that. The lowest suggestion for him was 10th overall, but I pushed for him to go sixth, and the reason from the article is below:

The big thing that people point to would be his offense. He has a .677 OPS in 241 at-bats in Altoona this year. He also has some of the best catching defense in minor league baseball, and that defense will at least get him a backup catching job one day, and possibly even a starting job. The offensive numbers aren’t good right now, but McGuire is 21. If he would have gone to college, he’d be playing in Morgantown right now, Bradenton next year, and wouldn’t reach Altoona until mid-2017 at the earliest, or possibly 2018. So he’s ahead of schedule. Meanwhile, he makes solid contact, and has great plate patience, with a 28:22 BB/K ratio. His issue is being too selective at times, which he’s working on improving this year. He might need a second full season in Altoona to work on the offense, but at his age, he can afford an extra year or two at the level.

If you’re in the same boat as me, and you think McGuire will eventually start hitting with more consistency, then you see him as either a strong defensive starter who will hit enough to justify being a starter, or in a best case scenario, a good hitter with the defense to make him an All-Star. And this could make this trade one that could haunt the Pirates for a long time.

Aside from liking McGuire’s upside, I don’t like his inclusion here because I don’t think the “we had catching depth” applies. This is an organization that has seen the need for extreme catching depth twice in the last six seasons. The idea that they’re fine with just Cervelli, Stewart, and Diaz — all three dealing with injury issues in recent years — forgets that we are less than a month removed from a catching duo of Eric Fryer and Erik Kratz. I love Elias Diaz, but this is putting a lot of faith that he will pan out as a long-term starter, or that Cervelli won’t continue his struggles this year (basically that 2015 wasn’t a fluke).

So the McGuire move is one I don’t like.

As for Ramirez, I can definitely see the outfield depth argument here, which Huntington explained so well.

“We have arguably one of the best outfields in baseball,” Huntington said. “They’re under contract for years to come. We have Austin Meadows. We have other outfielders that we like either at a similar level, or more than Harold. For us, this was an opportunity to add an extremely expensive commodity in the market for quality prospects that fit for us, but we also have some organizational depth to move from.”

We actually dropped Ramirez in our rankings to 12th overall. A big reason for that was due to his stocky frame, and the concern that he wouldn’t hit for power, and would slow down as he filled out, making him a small, stocky singles hitting right fielder with no speed. If you’re thinking of Jose Tabata right now, then know that those fears came up. But I hate player comps, because that might not even happen with Ramirez. He might stay in shape, keep his speed, and be a line drive hitter to the gaps, capable of extra base power and a high average.

Even if he does that, I don’t see him ever playing in Pittsburgh. Not with Austin Meadows ahead of him, and Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Polanco, and Starling Marte currently in Pittsburgh. Then there’s Tito Polo right behind him, who is another small, speedy outfielder who has more power potential, but some more questions about his hitting ability and K/BB rates. So the trading of Ramirez is fine, as this is a player the Pirates aren’t likely to miss in the short-term or the long-term.

Francisco Liriano

As I mentioned, I was going to write about how Liriano was the key to the Pirates contending in the playoffs. The thing is that I didn’t have any answers. It was more a “the Pirates need to figure out what’s wrong here and fix it”, without the obvious solution. And after Liriano was traded, as I was thinking about the deal, a question popped up in my mind: What if Liriano can’t be fixed?

We’ve written about this a few times this year, and a bit last year, but there was a sudden drop off in Liriano’s production after it started becoming common knowledge that he just didn’t throw strikes. He worked out of the strike zone often, and people chased. And then they stopped chasing, and the slider became less effective. He was so good from 2013-2015, struggled at the end of the year, and really bombed this year. So what if this is actually the pitcher he is now?

That’s a question the Pirates weighed as well.

“It was a challenging decision,” Huntington said on the decision to move on from Liriano. “We had some quality discussion about that. The three years that Francisco was really good for us, or the four months we struggled — which was going to be the guy the next two months? Which was going to be the guy the next year-plus? There was some really quality give and take in the room about where we should go with this.”

Huntington didn’t comment on whether there was something specific that Liriano showed which led to the trade, or whether they decided he just wouldn’t become the pitcher he once was. Instead, he discussed the financial flexibility of the move.

“At the end of the day, I ultimately decided that the financial flexibility, adding Drew Hutchison to go with our young pitchers, the financial flexibility that’s going to allow us to reallocate those dollars onto this club in different ways, was a good move for us as we sit here,” Huntington said. “It didn’t take away from this year, but added to our ability to impact this club in different and potentially better ways for next year and beyond.”

The interesting thing here is that a lot of Pirates fans seem fine with the idea of dumping Liriano and getting rid of his contract. The problem a lot of people seem to have with this deal lies with the inclusion of prospects, and the idea that the Pirates might have traded prospects to save money. This would actually be the opposite of their approach in recent years, where they took on salary to keep prospects.

The easy way to figure all of this out would be to get Liriano’s trade value. We’ll start with Dan Szymborski’s tweet from earlier, with Liriano’s projected 2017 WAR.

Liriano has been replacement level or worse this year, so there are two ways we can do his trade value for 2016. We can either give him the 1.8 WAR projection from above, or make him replacement level. The lower the WAR, the lower the value, obviously. I say the 1.8 WAR, pro-rated, makes sense. Toronto is in a race for the division, and they’re not adding Liriano thinking he has no shot at being more than replacement level.

This still leaves us with -$1.2 M in trade value, with Toronto assuming all of Liriano’s deal. The replacement value in 2016 would make it -$5.3 M. So in some way, the Pirates were paying for Toronto to take Liriano off their hands, although I feel it’s minimal. But if that’s the case, it means they paid a lot in prospects for Drew Hutchison, which brings me to the final breakdown.

Drew Hutchison

A lot of people already hate Drew Hutchison, which is weird because I’m pretty sure no one has actually seem him. The anger seems to come from this confusing trade, plus a career 4.92 ERA in 406.1 innings.

If you look deeper, there are some things to like about Hutchison. For example, he has a 4.92 ERA in his career, but a 4.01 career xFIP. Looking at his ratios, a big reason for the inflated ERA is his HR/FB ratio. Pitching in the AL East and in Toronto could be hurting him there, just like it might have been hurting Ivan Nova. In fact, the Pirates are taking two big risks here that just getting these pitchers out of the AL East can solve their problems. That’s exactly what Huntington discussed first when breaking down what they liked about Hutchison.

“Part of it is the league and the ballpark,” Huntington said, when discussing factors that could lead to better future numbers. “Part of it is we believe there are some things that we can help him with in terms of pitch sequencing, in terms of pitch selection, in terms of how we attack hitters, and how he utilizes the quality of individual pitches that he has a little bit differently. We believe that he can step right in to our rotation next year, and be a quality addition to that rotation, to Gerrit and our youngsters, and maybe a free agent or maybe a trade, depending on how we utilize the financial flexibility we have. There are some things that he does that we believe we can help, and there are also some things that we believe a change of scenery will help him with naturally.”

I’m going to throw out a few stat comparisons here, just to add some perspective to Hutchison.

Hutchison: 4.92 ERA, 4.01 xFIP in 406.1 IP

Player A: 5.20 ERA, 4.17 xFIP, 377 IP

We’re starting here to illustrate the AL East factor. Player A actually looks slightly worse than Hutchison, with a lower ERA and xFIP. The main source of his problems were an inflated HR/FB ratio, and he pitched in the AL East during this time. He was also much older than Hutchison when he had his struggles.

The player? A.J. Burnett in the two years before being traded to the Pirates. And as we know, he did pretty well with the Pirates. The next two years, he had a 3.41 ERA and a 3.17 xFIP. The HR/FB ratio normalized, and he also improved on a few things, while taking advantage of a pitcher friendly park and a new league. That’s not a guarantee to happen with Hutchison, but it shows that there’s some long standing history of the Pirates taking guys out of the AL with bad numbers/good advanced metrics and bringing them to the NL (Edinson Volquez and Francisco Liriano could also fit this bill).

Now here’s the next guy.

Hutchison: 4.92 ERA, 4.01 xFIP in 406.1 IP

Player B: 4.52 ERA, 4.72 xFIP, 193 IP

I’m also going to add here that in Hutchison’s first two years at a young age, he had a 2.3 and 1.5 fWAR. Player B had a 2.7 and 1.9 fWAR. Both fell off after that.

For Player B, the decline was due to injury. He had a shoulder problem after that second year. The numbers posted above are his numbers since returning from his injuries.

Player B is Matt Moore, who was a big target on the trade block this year.

I like Moore, but apparently not as much as others. When the rumors were going around that the Pirates were looking at Moore, with Jake Odorizzi as a backup plan, I didn’t understand why Odorizzi wasn’t the main guy. Moore had a shoulder injury, and hasn’t exactly been lighting the world on fire since his return, as the numbers above would indicate. Granted, he’s better this year, but still has a 4.08 ERA and a 4.67 xFIP. His career xFIP is 4.43, which is 42 points higher than Hutchison, with only about 110 additional innings. Now Moore might not have seen this decline without the injury, but that doesn’t change the pitcher he is right now.

I doubt we’d see the same outrage if Moore was acquired for McGuire, Ramirez, and shedding Liriano’s salary. And yet you could make an argument, based on their history, that Moore should have equal value, or less value than Hutchison. Both can be under control for three more years, Moore has a higher cost, is two years older, and has the injury track record. I mentioned that Hutchison fell off after his first two years. I didn’t mention that they were the last two years. So it’s not like Hutchison has been struggling for a long time. This is a guy who had some good xFIP numbers, and still has some good numbers.

I actually really like the addition of Hutchison. The Pirates seem to like him too. He turns 26 later this month, and if he can live up to the expectations they seem to have for him, then he could be a great addition. So what about a trade value for him? Let’s start with the ZiPS:

From here, things get tricky. Hutchison is eligible for arbitration three more times, assuming he stays down all year this year. I set his 2017 salary slightly higher than 2016, at $2.5 M. From there, I used 1.0 WAR per year, and 60% and 80% of his free agent value for the final two years. This led to salaries of $4 M and $5 M. This all led to a trade value of $11.4 M.

The thing about this value is that there’s a chance Hutchison could do more. If he’s a 2.0 WAR guy each year, his value would be $25.4 M, and that’s with salaries of $6 M and $8 M his final two years. The better he does, the more those salaries go up, and the more his value increases. And there’s definitely that possibility here.

So if we take that $11.4 M from Hutchison, and the -$1.2 M from Liriano, the Pirates would owe $12.6 M in trade value. Ramirez and McGuire are both Grade B hitters, who fall outside of the top 100 prospect lists. The value of a Grade B hitter is about $5.5 M, which means they’d combine for $11 M. That’s fair value for Hutchison, meaning Liriano basically goes for free in this scenario.

But I don’t agree with the Grade B ratings. I think McGuire is closer to a 76-100 prospect, giving him a value of $10.4 M. So the total would be about $16 M in trade value coming from the Pirates, which is more than what they should owe. You could either look at this as them paying a lot more for Liriano, or a lot more for Hutchison. I look at the deal as salary dumping Liriano away for free, and paying a high price for Hutchison. Either way, I think they paid a lot, and the deal would sit a lot easier if it was Ramirez and 1-2 of certain Tier 3 or Tier 4 players, rather than McGuire.

I also think you can make an argument against the idea of paying so much for Hutchison, as there can be a perception that they paid based on their value, and not the market value. On the flip side of this, Toronto doesn’t have to trade Hutchison, and the price for controllable pitchers is really high in this market.

Grading the Deal

There is always a desire to issue a snap judgement of a deal, and grade the trade immediately. This is a weird trade, because you can do that for Toronto, but you can’t do that for the Pirates. Toronto gets Liriano, with the hopes that he bounces back and helps their playoff race. If that happens, it’s a very cheap add for one year and two months (and maybe I write a different version of that “Liriano is the key” article). Plus you’ve got two talented prospects who have already slotted into their top five.

For the Pirates, this deal is all about the long-term. We won’t get to see Hutchison in the majors until next year, unless he comes up in September, at which point they’d still have him for three more years beyond 2016. We also won’t get to see what they do with the savings from Liriano, with about $18.6 M saved over the next two years off his contract in the deal. They did already take on some money in Antonio Bastardo, although they’re getting money, so it’s hard to say how much they’ve added to off-set these savings.

I’ll talk more tomorrow about the payroll, but after this trade, the quick reaction is that they better be spending next year. It’s not a bad thing to dump Liriano if you don’t believe in him going forward. But if you do that just to go the cheap route the following off-season, then it wouldn’t be acceptable at all. And I’m not talking about spending just to spend. I’m talking about aggressively pursuing a good player who costs money, because most of the team is set, and most of the team is making the league minimum or very little in payroll.

As for the rest of the deal, it really all hinges on Hutchison, since he’s the only return. The Pirates are putting a lot of faith that he’s going to live up to their expectations. If he does, the consensus on this deal might be a lot different a year from now. If he doesn’t, then this trade could go down as a disaster, especially if Reese McGuire reaches his upside. And even if McGuire falls short, it would look bad that the Pirates wasted valuable trade chips if Hutchison doesn’t pan out.

For now, we’ll have to wait and see how this all plays out. I know it’s illegal in today’s trade evaluation game, where you must have full, concrete opinions the moment a trade is announced. Right now, my opinion is that I like Hutchison, don’t like giving up McGuire, don’t mind dumping Liriano, and overall feel they gave more than they got. At the same time, I think it’s not out of the question that the trade could look like a win for them in the not too distant future, with the added bonus of payroll flexibility, if they spend properly. But they’ve certainly put themselves in a must-win situation, because this trade could be remembered for years if they miss.

**My goal with this article, and with every article, is to take a level-headed approach and try and see every side of the deal, while still giving my honest opinion. If this is an approach you appreciate, then I recommend subscribing to the site, where you get this same approach on all of our daily analysis. Speaking of which, we had a busy news day, beyond the trade deadline. Subscribe to read all of the other articles below, and all of the articles we have coming up.

**Pirates Are Still Trying to Contend in 2016 With Additions of Nova and Bastardo. My recap of the other trades today, which have more of an impact on the 2016 season. After all of this, the Pirates didn’t really hurt their chances at competing this year. In fact, you could argue they’re better off with Nova and Bastardo over Liriano and Niese.

**Prospect Watch: Kuhl Looks Solid in Return; Keller Continues Recent Struggles. Good to see Chad Kuhl back. I wonder if he can work his way back into the rotation in Pittsburgh?

**Pirates Trade Francisco Liriano to the Blue Jays. The Liriano trade breakdown.

**Pirates Trade Jon Niese to the Mets For Antonio Bastardo. The breakdown of Niese/Bastardo.

**Pirates Acquire Ivan Nova From the Yankees. The Ivan Nova breakdown.

**Edgar Santana Promoted to Indianapolis. This is a good story. Santana was in the DSL two years ago, and he’s already in Triple-A as a legit relief prospect. Read the story to find out what led to this jump and his prospect status.

**Top Performers: Craig, Hanson, McGuire, Tucker, Garcia, Hinsz, Holmes. Our weekly feature, with reports on the top performers from the last week, including our final report on Reese McGuire.

**Morning Report: Checking in on the 2016 Draft Picks. John Dreker checks on the progress of the 2016 draft picks.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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As a prospect guy, Tim, I’m curious: If Hutchison took a normal path toward the Major Leagues, what kind of prospect do you think he’d be right now, based on what he’s shown both in tools and performance? Throwing out his Major League stints, his minor league numbers have been largely pretty impressive, which is the case again this year in AAA. He’s not been Taillon good in AAA this year, but he can clearly miss bats and doesn’t walk too many guys, which are pretty core skills to success.

Considering the injury, it looks to me like this or last year should have been his actual ML debut year. 2012 in AA, he got hurt. 2013 would have been spent mostly on recovery. 2014 he would have pitched in AA for a full year, AAA last year, maybe debuting then, or held until this year.

joe s

Doesn’t NH realize that he has brought the fan base back to the time of when this team was adrift with no leadership that resulted in 20 consecutive losing seasons. All the bad that was associated with that organization at that time was beginning to be forgotten but it now has come back with a vengeance. You do not screw over your fan base and sell two of your best prospects for $18,000,000 to correct your mistake by signing Liariano long term in the first place. This was the year to give the kid pitchers experience and instead you acquire a retread in Nova and a AAA pitcher that has done little to nothing in his major league career. I understand Tim that you see greatness in those dam stats you are married to but I see a guy in AAA that has not done much with his chances in the majors. Just because he switches leagues, it doesn’t equate with him being a better pitcher and this fallacy that the Pirate coaches will fix him is untrue, because if it were true, Liariano would still be here pitching great.
You know Neil, I hope Ramirez and McGuire both turn into all stars like Aramis Ramirez did so that we, the fans, can suffer endlessly watching what we could have had but instead you sold them to save the team/owner or is it you, money. What is going to be done with that money? Put it in your pocket again as the fans will not see it being spent to improve the team. Please Neil, Cooley and ownership you have proven to be true Pirates by stealing the fan’s hope.
Sorry Tim but only time will tell how this disaster will work out. I hope Hutch is great, a 20 game winner for the Bucs for the next 3 years but I hate to say that I have a very hard time seeing this being a positive for this team. I hate the trade and strongly disagree with it, as most other fans do.


Thanks, Tim, for a very level-headed, objective analysis of this confusing trade. I suspect that Toronto sensed that NH was desperate to dump Liriano’s salary and took advantage of him by forcing his hand by insisting on Meadows. I also suspect that most GMs around MLB regard NH as smart and dedicated but an all-day sucker when it comes to tough negotiations. Perhaps 2 years from now this deal won’t look as lopsided as it does now. If so, I’ll admit that I’m wrong and eat my words. However, right now I regard the series of deals we made as the worst collective set of trades made by any team in MLB and NH as a hopelessly flawed negotiator.


We all know the answer is a salary cap but if you believe that’s likely to happen then you also believe in the tooth fairy. I truly feel sorry for Hutchison and ask the Pirate fans to give the poor kid a break. He’s done nothing wrong and it’s an opportunity for him. Like everyone else I hated giving up McGuire, but I’m fine with dumping Francisco. Good luck to him, but I’m not sure the Blue Jays will be able to straighten him out, even working with Russell Martin. And yes, the Pirates better spend and spend considerably this off-season


I hope this works out. It seems that the Pirates under NH are on the losing side of trades more than the winning. Rarely are trades seen as good for both teams.


My guess is this is what happened. The Pirates wanted Hutchison a lot. They really liked his arm and expect him to be a good starting pitcher for the next three years. They had a chance to get him, engaging the Jays in negotiations, and felt they were close. But the deadline was right on top of them, and the Jays wanted more. NH had to make a snap decision with almost no time left in the deadline, and he weighed the next three years of value he felt they could get from Hutchison above the longer-term value of McGuire, who won’t be in the Majors for probably at least two or three more years.

Maybe he feels the team’s best window to win is with Cole and McCutchen on the roster, despite McCutchen’s down year, and he knows both are likely to be gone by the time McGuire debuts. He decided to take a short term risk, knowing he’ll have years to solve any possible problem this might cause at catcher down the road.

He overpaid, but this is probably why he overpaid.


Plausible. But I would hope that they knew for days that they’d be willing to add McGuire and only waited until the last minute in hopes that Toronto would back down. (Or an alternative would be that Toronto was demanding, say, Newman, and it was only in the last minute that they lowered their demands to McGuire.)


Sounds Plausible as well. What stinks as a fan it will take 2-3 years to see how good or bad this trade was. Have to wait to see how all involved end up in the years to come. Waiting stinks!


Excellent article. I can easily see this type of number-crunching analysis being done in the Pirates’ front office — and I’m not intending to denigrate that. Even so, this trade is terribly deflating because we all know that there is zero chance that the Pirates use any of the saved money this off season to address their starting pitching. Even with the new guy in the fold, they don’t have enough reliable starters to be a serious contender next year. They just can’t count on the AAA guys to be consistent, solid performers next year. It doesn’t happen that fast. Next year we’ll have Cole, Tallion, and Hutchinson as the presumptive #3 ? I’m guessing Locke will figure in there somewhere since they don’t mind paying marginal prices for marginal performance. Then any one of the remaining AAA guys. Does that sound like the staff of a WS contender?


No, it does not sound like the staff of a WS contender. 4 of the 5 starters in the rotation failed this year. Call up the youngsters and start their learning curve now to prepare for next year. They might just surprise and push this team into a playoff appearance.


If only they would but again, the bucks drive all Buck$’ decisions so they won’t call them up until September in order to extend salary control over those players. That’s why Volgelsong will be getting another crack as a starter.

Jim Garland

Still struggling with the need to offer one, let alone two, prospects to get this deal done, even after re-reading Tim’s valuation analysis. If the Pirates would have been willing to eat some of Liriano’s salary, why couldn’t they have offered Liriano for Hutchinson straight up? Toronto obviously values Liriano more than Hutchinson, independent of the prospects because they’re going to pitch him in a pennant race in lieu of calling the other guy up. How different would that scenario have been from Niese for Bastardo?


This is a good point, and I think means that they don’t value McGuire and Ramirez as we’d expect given where they fall in our organizational rankings and in national rankings.

Steve Zielinski

There is a flaw in Tim’s analysis. Hutchison now blocks one of the AAA/AA starters. These pitchers would make the minimum were they part of the rotation. The difference between the minimum and Hutchison’s salary must be added into the debit column of this trade. On the surface, each member of the Indianapolis rotation has had a better season in 2016 than Hutchison. So, it’s not acceptable to assume Hutchison will be a better pitcher next year than the remainder of the Indianapolis rotation.

Moreover, the Pirates invested millions in Ramirez and McGuire. The projected return on those investments took a grand hit when they were used to dump salary and to, potentially, pay a premium for Hutchison’s production.

Finally, even though this was a salary dump trade, and frees money the FO can use for other players, it does not follow that the Pirates have obvious free agent and trade targets available to them this winter. On the one hand, they have players in the minors they can put into ML slots. Bell, for instance. They have two strong options who could replace Mercer in a few years. They have infielders and outfielders, pitchers and catchers. Their needs are not compelling. On the other hand, their financial flexibility they gained with these moves will not enable them to acquire and then pay a star quality player who has a contract consistent with his market value.

Steve Zielinski

Hutchison will become a TOR starter?


All true. But maybe they just wanted to fire Liriano for being a pain in the ass, but weren’t in the position to be able to eat his contract for a year and a third.

Eric Marshall

very well said Steve. Only the Homers zipping up NH shorts believe otherwise. Hutchison is not better than any option we have in AAA right now. His numbers do not and have not reflected that. To assume he has value costs us given who we could have had in the lineup at a lower cost. The trades that should have been made were Jaso, Freese, Joyce, Vogelsong, Locke etc. None of those were made.


Why should we trade Freese and Joyce with a chance at the playoffs? Who would want Jaso, Vogelsong or Locke?

Eric Marshall

Do you still believe NH is trying to contend this year with Locke and Vogelsong back in the starting rotation and moving on from Melancon? I believe the Mets are still trying to sell the Brooklyn Bridge… NH cleared salary for this year and next. Upshot is there will be plenty of tickets available for the next 29 home games.


For how upset/angry many of us fans are, I can only imagine what Gerrit Cole, the only core player not to get an extension, is thinking now. If Cole soft tosses 50-60mph lobs over the heart of the plate to start the game tonight I’d only be mildly surprised. He might as well intentionally tank to force a trade this offseason. Get out while you can Gerrit.


Prospects aside, I find it extremely hard to believe that – in a buyers’ market desperate for starting pitching – not only were there no takers for Liriano, but that the Pirates also had to attach a prospect (whether McGuire or Ramirez) in order to “dump” his salary.

Texas is desperate for a 4th and 5th starter; same with Baltimore, Miami, Boston, Detroit, Houston, San Fran, and LAD. Now I’m sure several of those teams didn’t view Liriano as a worthwhile upgrade, but you’re telling me not one of those teams thought they could fix Liriano and turn him back into the 2013-15 version? It’s not like this is an A-Rod / Ellsbury / Sandoval / Kemp, etc. contract either.

As others have speculated, I think NH was searching hard for a SP upgrade (probably via Tampa Bay), but when the acquisition cost was too prohibitive, NH panicked and decided to shed salary. That would explain the deal being done “with 1 minute left before the deadline” (which, from a timing standpoint, makes little sense because NH said Nova – who was acquired ~45 minutes before the Liriano deal allegedly came together – was Liriano’s replacement in the rotation).

I really liked your analysis, Tim. It was thoughtful and well articulated. But even as big NH supporter, it’s hard to rationalize this trade as anything other than a pure salary dump. Between this trade deadline and NH’s blunderous last offseason, I think it’s time to reevaluate whether NH & Co. is the right management team to lead the Bucs from playoff contender to World Series contender.


I see the trade as a Liriano dump, with the salary saved as a big bonus.

Bobby L

Wouldn’t Nutting be the person to evaluate NH whether to fire him or not? I have to think Nutting is who was behind the salary reallocations. Whether directly or as a signoff, BN was involved.

Eric Marshall

but but but, we really liked the prospect for a very long time and if you massage the numbers this way and that and then over and under it all makes sense. These moves were senseless and indefensible.


The problem I have is that this is the only time I have seen one let a lone two of our top prospects get moved in a deal and this deal seems heavily influenced by the ability to shed Franky’s salary. It bothers me that the organization is more inclined to use talented prospects as trade pieces to reduce salary than to better the teams immediate future.

michael t

Can somebody address this scenario:
Pirates DFA Liriano August 1st instead of the trade. What are the financial ramifications if they had gone that route?

Ed Giles

The Pirates are on the hook for his salary unless someone claims him.

michael t

thanks Ed. So it would be a gamble but a claim by another team has that team on the hook for the whole contract. As pointed out below the Liriano who pitched July 21st and struck out 13 with no walks is worth that. The pitcher who showed up the next time out was not.

Ed Giles

No, that’s not the case. If a team claims him, they can work out a trade, which would likely require the negotiation of some of his remaining money paid for by the Pirates.


I thought they could just let him go to that team. Isn’t that how Toronto got rid of Alex Rios a few years back?

My question would be why not count on that and then maybe get Hutchison for McGuire (or for Ramirez) straight up? Of course this assumes that Toronto would have done the deal without Liriano.

michael t

Which explains the move to be free and clear but pay a huge price to do so.


If not claimed, pirates would have 10 days to trade or release right?

Ed Giles



Could this trade have happened in Aug after sending Liriano through waiver process to at least see if there were any other takers? Or would Hutchison have had to pass through waivers as well since he was on Toronto’s 40 man roster even though he was in the minors?

Ed Giles

I’m sure they would’ve put Liriano on waivers this month. The only way to get Hutchison, though, would be to send him through waivers as well, and it’s nearly impossible he would make it to the Pirates without being claimed.

Ed Giles

If he gets to the point of outright release, then the Pirates owe the difference between his salary and the prorated major league minimum.


And then that de-incentivizes any team from making a deal because they can just wait until he clears 10 days and sign him on the cheap plus pirates still have to pay original contract. Got it.
Thanks Ed.

Ed Giles

Correct, the only incentive to claim him and work out a trade would be that you don’t want the other (possibly as many as) 28 teams to be able to get him.


Thought long and hard about the Liriano deal. If I posted when I heard it, would have been all anger. Read several articles about it. Did some more thinking. Final analysis: The Pirates paid a steep price for ridding themselves of Liriano and pick up an experienced SP that has the same type of numbers that Burnett had in the AL East. Ramirez I can understand him being included as he was going to be hugely blocked. The only reason I can see McQuire have been given up is A) the deal does not get done if they do not include him and B) They organization feels Diaz is going to be a quality catcher in the league and they would be moving McQuire or Diaz at some point C) Maybe they did not think McQuire’s bat would ever really catch up to his defense. To be honest, If that is the case, there are always several guys with no or limited bats but great defensive catchers all over the market. End result, it will take several years to see if this was a good deal, decent deal or a horrible deal. Will have to see how Hutchison turns out and if Ramirez and or McGuire turn out. Not as hugely upset now as I was 18 hours ago.


Enjoyed the breakdown of all the parts to this trade, Tim.

I do have one burning question that I haven’t seen directly addressed yet, though.

What was the big rush to squeeze this deal in at the last second before the trade deadline? Pirates got nothing useful in return for the 2016 season. It’s obvious that the Blue Jays were not desperate to acquire Liriano based on the fact that they forced the Pirates to include two top prospects just to take Liriano off of their hands. It seems that the Pirates could have executed this same type of deal in the off-season and it most likely would have accomplished all of the same things and very likely would’ve gotten a better return on the investment.


Thanks, Tim. I missed that comment from NH.


How’s this for simple analysis: Hutchinson is soooo good, sooooooo enticing and talented that the Blue Jays (who wanted SP upgrades) have kept him in the minors almost all season.


Yes, that is clear. It’s too bad they didn’t like Reese and Ramirez for 2017 and beyond…or at least for better trade value. Wouldn’t trade #1 and #2 for Archer, but they’ll trade Reese and Ramirez for someone in the minors that miraculously only has 3 years of control remaining.


Tim, I see the mechanics of the windup and delivery of this kid and i see a whole bunch of future arm problems or he is already hiding something…..

michael t

Nobody but the Pirates seem to think he is anything but a potential 5th starter…..and that is IF he gets fixed.

michael t

The Toronto organization has him in AAA, the Toronto baseball writers think he “may” benefit from a change in scenery, other Toronto writers and the fans are saying generally that he has had plenty of chances with the big club and it just hasn’t worked.
Nobody else appears to have targeted him in trade talks.
I sincerely hope he succeeds, otherwise, as you have written, this trade will be viewed as a disaster.
I feel sorry for the kid. Neal put it all on him with the bullshit line that he traded McGuire and Ramirez for him.

Eric Marshall

and costly. Why people continue to defend this is beyond me. His numbers aren’t close to any of our starters in AAA this year. They are all controlled for much longer, don’t cost 2.2M and aren’t arb for the next three years.

michael t


Kirk V

Any time we say, “then they better be spending next year,” we already know that we’re gonna be disappointed. Maybe they find a Jaso with this extra money, but there is simply no part of my heart that has a shred of belief left that the Pirates will commit 10+MM/year to a consensus quality free agent outside of the organization. And they should be able to afford 4MM/year guys without dropping two top ten prospects to shed salary. That’s insane. Neal Huntington has been amazing and I always give him my faith that he has a vision I don’t see, but this move is impossible. Even if Hutchison works out, McGuire never, ever should have been involved.

michael t

On July 21st Liriano struck out 13 with 0 walks while going six and two thirds. He still has the stuff. Toronto fans think Martin will help him do it more often.
They are gloating over the prospects in exchange for assuming the salary.

michael t

We are all well aware of Liriano’s total inconsistency this year. I am only pointing out he can still do it…..his teammates described him as unhittable that day.


If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, what a wonderful world it would be. Wtf, Liriano has been horrible this year

Eric Marshall

Has Hutchinson ever done that at any level? To call out potential for him and claim Liriano as having negative/no value rings half true.


Liriano’s game score that game was a 69. Last year Hutchison pitched an 87 against the White Sox (9 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 8 K). He also had a 73 and two 68’s. So strictly speaking, Hutchison has had dominant games at the MLB level even. He’s just obviously not done it with any consistency yet.

michael t

This assumes that the organization is being honest about Hutchison and his upside. Many of us believe Hutchison is a face saving throw-in who ranks below many of our upper level pitching prospects.
Please don’t tell us your only criticism of this deal is including McGuire as an overpayment.

michael t

Not getting personal…enjoying the discussion but the lingering disappointment/ shock for me is that people could be buying the statement by Neal that the motivation of this was to get Hutchison and the price was McGuire and Ramirez.
Both he and the Toronto GM then go on to mention “financial flexibility.” In my opinion this is a salary dump that cost us two good prospects, one at a very valuable, injury prone position who has terrific defensive skills.

Eric Marshall

I personally believe they like Hutchison but he clearly isn’t as good as Liriano has been or have the numbers our current AAA pitchers have at that level. The money part i believe is a farce… what position players do they need to sign or go out and get? Do we need more starters if we promote and keep some of what we have? They will lose attendance as a result of these moves. Money will need to be saved. That is what they will do and say the increase in cost for J-Hay, Cole, Cutch, Polanco, Cervelli is how they are spending money when that was already factored in.


Hutchison’s stats this year in AAA compare favorably to Kuhl’s and Williams’ and comparable to Brault’s (you could make a case for either). He’s still only 25 so roughly a peer to those pitchers as well.

I think it’s certainly reasonable to question their valuation of Hutchison and of McGuire, but at worst Hutchison seems to offer as much potential as anyone else making a case for the #4 spot in the 2017 rotation (or even the #3 spot if Glasnow takes longer to transition).

Eric Marshall

Right. not looking at what everyone else value’s him and using their own metrics to explain why they didn’t way, way over pay.

Eric Marshall

And for that type of pitcher, liriano’s salary is a massive bargain. For all the pitcher fixing we supposedly can do, we have failed since Benedict left.

Sean Quinn

I’m not happy about losing McGuire either guys, but let’s give this trade a chance to play out. Some of this negativity towards the GM and front office that led the bucs to 98 wins last year is unwarranted. These guys know what they are doing and previous trades have shown that. Have some faith in your team! Just because Niese didn’t work out doesn’t mean this trade will fail too. It would be unfair and impossible to expect only great trades every time. NH has for the most part been on the right side of the trading spectrum in terms of results. Let’s give it some time!

michael t

What part of this could possibly work out for f**ks sake?
This was not a trade of value for value.

Eric Marshall

Desperation trades are just that… acts of desperation that cannot be viewed otherwise. There is no effort to make a run this year… the SP lineup to start the year should have keyed everyone to that. The recent moves should have solidified that. If you are going to make a run you don’t trade your all star closer for a weaker farm system’s 27th ranked prospect… i know again this was a situation where NH loved the prospect for some time now. Now we trade two top 10 prospects in a stacked system for someone who couldn’t make a weak SP roster… again we have to believe NH loved the prospect for some time. Just a joke. Again, i have been a big supporter of this regime. These recent moves have killed that belief in them.

John W

This farm system still has some very good cream at the top(even in lower levels). But we are going to pay a steep price for not spending more on International signings in Latin America, etc.

Eric Marshall

If NH doesn’t understand the value of our farm system by giving people away for little to no value then that cream is irrelevant. Maybe we can get Matt Morris to come back for a clearly broken Glasnow?


So ESPN lists Hutchinson as the starter on Wednesday. Are they just giving him a spot start against a bad team and will then send him down to get the extra year of service?

Eric Marshall

Probably going to start Locke or Vogelsong which for some reason are still on the roster. Pathetic what they have done over the past year to this team.


I thought they were going to start Locke actually but now they list the starter as Hutchinson which is curious. Just one thing that is curious.

TNBucs lists Locke and Vogelsong and that should be the official listing.


Thanks. Also that sucks. Any chance MLB forgets that Brault’s 10 days aren’t up yet and he can go Wednesday or Thursday?

Eric Marshall

Tim – You always dig deeper in analysis for NH’s benefit but refuse to do so for who we give up. Has Hutchison ever produced like Liriano has… ever at any level? If not why should we assume he should be considered to have a better year next year? This trade was worse than picking Moskos over Wierters. We had the asset and just gave him away in what seems to be a massive regression to Littlefield era. I have stood up for NH and the current management buying all of their platitudes and small market BS. But this trade kills the deal for me. I will not be rooting for the team this year any longer and will be hoping for a change in leadership as they will never get them over the top to a WS title. They burned every bit of leaway they had built up and are now lying through their teeth. Buddy F’ers is what they are at this point. It is irrelevant if NH liked the prospect better… he wasn’t valued in the league or by Toronto so it shouldn’t matter how we as a team personally feel. Just so many things wrong.

Eric Marshall

Your article was apologetic to pirate management. Litterred with twists and turns in attempts to rationalize how this makes any sense at all.


Eric….you summed up my feelings exactly.

I was always “In NH, I trust”. I don’t trust him anymore. This was a Littefield move.

michael t

I think this was a Nutting move and Neal performed like a seal.


Let’s put this another way. Toronto needed a replacement starter for Aaron Sanchez.

Their choices? A 33 year old pitcher with a 5.49 ERA or Drew Hutchison. They chose Liriano.

Nuff said.


They chose Liriano and two top prospects. Even if they like Hutchison, that seems like a logical move given Liriano’s upside. The report on Hutchison’s stuff is concerning, though.


From a BP article
Rather ominous:

Hutchison’s stuff never really came all the way back from his 2012 Tommy John surgery, and in a June look he sat 90-92 with some cut and run on the fastball.


Have actually seen Hutchison pitch in AA. Big dude, impressive arm. I am no scout and he did not impress the way Daniel Norris had, but thought he was better than Kyle Drabek.
Ironically, was really looking forward to seeing McGuire and Ramirez in AA in three weeks. Guess I can see them sooner, but I am not as excited….


so were hoping frankie stays the same, ramirez is a 4th out fielder, and reese is a catch and throw back up catcher and hutch becomes a productive # 4 starter. could very well happen that way and the bucs get 17 million back minus the bonus for harold and reese.

alex w

Assume that the Pirates were located in LA or NY. The trades this week would not have been made. Fact is that the Pirates are in the smallest local tv market and local tv contracts now are the fuel that drives mlb. The sad fact is that over time the Pirates will not be competitive even with excellent leadership. Especially true now that most of the teams located in the biggest markets have very good leadership. Tim why not do your analysis of all of this weeks trades assuming that money was not an issue.


Right, baseball does not have a level playing field. It’s a lot easier for teams like the Cubs, Dodgers, Red Sox and Yankees to compete and teams like the Pirates have a much smaller margin for error. I think what we’ll experience is that there will be years like 2016 when things don’t quite click (too many injuries, under-performing stars, etc.) and we’re only on the edge of contending because we can’t use money to find quick fixes. But smart management should allow those years to be the exception rather than the rule. I’m optimistic about 2017-2019.


Its a horrible trade. No matter how it works out honestly. Hutchison and Ramirez and maybe one of 4512 pitching prospects we have…..sure. You don’t throw in a potential young all-star catcher. The only thing more valuable than a young all-star level defensive catcher is a fireball lefty starting pitcher.

dr dng

Eric Fryer. What is his status after the season?
Free Agent, Abribitration? Still under contract.
I would doubt we keep him long term depending on Stewart’s
knee, but does he have any trade value?


According to BRef, he is arb eligible through 2018


IMO, the most important part of your post is here: “I also think you can make an argument against the idea of paying so much for Hutchison, as there can be a perception that they paid based on their value, and not the market value.”

It’s fair to say that no team in baseball would trade a pair of prospects valued like McGuire/Ramirez straight up for Hutchison. So maybe the Pirates actually do internally value Hutchison pretty high (skeptical) and maybe the numbers will work out, but trades aren’t just about internal value it’s also about market value. That’s where any sort of defense of the trade falls flat. And as others have pointed out, the FA pool is pathetically weak.

Maybe the FO is thinking three steps ahead and there are some offseason trades planned, but any Plan that a trade like this is a part of is really, really hard to get behind.


It’s not market value in this case, it’s only how the Jays and the Pirates value him. The Jays didn’t need to move him so what other teams were willing to pay is irrelevant. If the Pirates really feel like he’s someone poised to break out, then they had to pay what the Jays wanted.


To that I would say, then explore the market a little more and find the right value for a 25yo SP with a 4.92 ERA in 400 innings. One thing this FO does, for better or worse, is get such laser focus on specific players. Like spending years going after the fine-just-fine John Jaso. Projecting here, but it’s almost like they have some to love the restrictions placed on them by ownership and take pride in finding the true diamonds in the rough that nobody else could find instead of just surveying the landscape and seeing what’s there. Like David Freese, which worked out pretty well.

Eric Marshall

As a small market team we CANNOT pay based on what our perceived value is but what the market value is. We cannot overpay. The only way to explain this is NH is lying through his teeth attempting to explain the unexplainable. He needs to be gone. Trust is a funny thing… once it’s gone it is gone. Why this is so frustrating to me personally.

Jason F

There are already so many opinions on this move, mine may have already been taken. NH knows that McGuire and Ramirez are blocked, and wants to give them a shot because he respects their talent and wants them to have every opportunity – player friendly approach. Also, Liriano is un-fixable, so this breaks down as Ramirez for Liriano’s salary, McGuire for Hutchison because of the blatantly obvious need for quality starting pitching, and Liriano to a new scenery for one last shot at making it. I don’t mind the trade if it’s Ramirez for Frankie’s salary, and McGuire straight up for Hutchison. Frankie cost us at least ten games this year, and ten wins sure would mean a lot right now.


Hey I just thought of something, are the Toronto Blue Jays becoming the Pirates as in the Pirates are the destination of former Yankee catchers?
Russell Martin, Eric Kratz, Tony Sanchez (although I understand he has been released) and now McGuire. 😉


I mentioned that last night. I’m suing you for plagiarism. 🙂


oh yeah I have several Chinese people ready to sue you over misappropriating their name 😉


Excellent analysis, and almost identical to my take (maybe because I’m a regular reader of this site :)). I am excited about Hutchison–with the 3 years of control, his age (hopefully just now approaching his peak years), and some success, he’s exactly the type of pitcher I was hoping they’d pick up (guys like Sale and Archer never seemed realistic to me).

That said, I’ve liked McGuire because of the reports on his defense–adding him pains me and made the deal feel too lopsided. However, if you swap out McGuire with someone else in his Tier (e.g., Kingham, Craig, Hayes, Holmes, or Hinsz), then I’d find myself feeling pretty good about the deal. (My list from Tier 3 are players that carry extra risk due to coming back from injury or distance from the majors). So if I put my faith in your tiers, then I guess I should be okay with the deal.


How can anyone say Hutchison makes us a better playoff caliber club? He is another AAA arm. I’m not against a AAA arm but you don’t trade a stud AA catcher for it.
The GM should be using assets to acquire playoff caliber talent. Hard to envision Hutch as that.


For 2017 I figure we have Cole, Taillon, Glasnow and two spots up for grabs. Hutchison’s numbers at AAA this year puts him in a group with Kuhl, Brault, and Williams. They’re all between 23 and 25, and depending what numbers you look at you could make a case that Hutchison is the best of the bunch but in any case at least comparable to our other options to fill the back of the rotation. And we’ll likely need more than 5 SP anyway (most teams don’t have the luck that the Cards, Cubs, and Jays have had this year with SP health). That makes us better.

Eric Marshall

We can’t get a top 10 prospect from Washington for Melancon but feel confortable giving up two for a pitcher demoted from a weak pitching roster to AAA for most of the season? Who cares how we value that player… the market didn’t value that player the way we paid for that player. Liriano has had much more success than Hutchison has ever had in MLB and that is more predictive of his potential turn around next year to being a solid 2/3 which is higher than anyone thinks Hutchison can become.


Weak pitching rotation? They have five established starters and the only one with an FIP above 4 is Dickey, who probably keeps his spot based on his past success. We should be so lucky to have such a rotation.


“I also think you can make an argument against the idea of paying so much for Hutchison, as there can be a perception that they paid based on their value, and not the market value.”

This sentence summarizes why I think this is a bad trade regardless of what money we spend in the offseason. We’ve worked really hard to accumulate trade chips. Our system is far deeper than most others. We need to act like it, and understand that and value those trade chips accordingly. Catching is at a premium. McGuire was the 5th best catcher according to MLB Pipeline recently. No way should we be paying for a guy with “upside.” Rather, it should be for a guy with a track record plus upside. I almost always see what NH and FC are doing. But this still just baffles me.


Bingo. Even if they are correct that Hutichison has untapped potential, Toronto clearly sees him as a AAAA type guy, so why overpay?


To me that’s not clear at all. Toronto has a very established rotation (Dickey, Stroman, Sanchez, Happ, Estrada). It’s hard to make a case against those 5 and they have started all but 2 of Toronto’s games (the other 2 went to Hutchison).

So what does a smart team do with their #6 starter who has an option? Stash him in AAA which not only provides depth but also increases his value by adding a year of control. (A difference in parting with McGuire and a lesser prospect was that extra year of control, as Tim’s valuation shows.)

Eric Marshall

to cut salary plain and simple. This will blowup in NH and Nutting faces this year and going forward. There is no defense for this trade no matter how they slice it. Trust is gone.


I tuned in the “The Fan” yesterday and I thought they were broadcasting a “Best of Pittsburgh Sports Talk Radio” recording from 2003 or 2005 and then I realized they were broadcasting live. Interesting.

Edward C

I still hate this trade. However you make a good point. If they had traded Frankie for a David Whitehead straight up there might have been grumbling but I would have been cheering because I thing Frankie is done. If they had then traded Ramirez and McGuire for Moore there would have been a lot more positive reaction. If Hutch ends up being better than Moore I might put my torch and pitchforks down. Now I’m just waiting for the reaction when they put Cutch on revocable waivers, he gets claimed, and they let him go for a bag of balls. I want the pitchfork and torch concessions on that one. (If I were GM I would let it happen. I think Cutch is quickly headed to becoming Tabata).

Michael C

The problem with NH’s logic about dealing from positions of strength and the players being blocked is he doesn’t factor in the opportunity cost of including them in this deal. If you assume that those guys are expendable, then couldn’t they be used as pieces in a different deal that could have returned something better than Hutchison?

And if you were so desperate to unload Liriano, why not at least put him through waivers sometime this month and see if anyone bites on him? Both the Red Sox and Rangers struck out on adding a SP at the deadline, Cleveland may lose Salazar to an elbow injury, and surely some other SP will go down with an injury this month.


They really like Hutchison–that was made pretty clear in NH’s comments. So in their minds they’re using McGuire and Ramirez to get “something better than” what we perceive Hutchison to be.


What FAs are on tap this winter that would justify giving up that much to clear Liriano’s salary? Seems to me that Hutchison better be Arrietta, Part II. Otherwise this trade looks like a desperate salary dump. Disgusted.

michael t

It is exactly like that…ordered to dump salary NH is forced to include McGuire at 3:59 pm. Desperate, Disgusting, Embarrassing.
What do you think the prospects in the organization are thinking this morning about the Pirate Way?
What about Cole and anybody who signed an extension who cares about winning?


I’m sure NH knew what he was willing to give up before 3:59 pm. That he agreed to the deal so late creates the impression that it was rushed but there’s no way a GM can have the success NH has had without setting parameters ahead of time. If I’m wrong, then we have bigger problems than just a lopsided trade.

Eric Marshall

None of the above can/could be happy. What about players who may be willing to come to the bucs in the future? Sure Jaso, Joyce and Freese may have decided otherwise if they knew this was how NH was going to play his hand.


Unless that money is being earmarked to a Cole extension or a Tailon long term deal, I agree. Nothing worth the inflated off season free agent prices this winter and everyone else of import is locked in already.

Jim Garland

Three reasons why I think the deal stinks: 1) McGuire and Ramirez go to into the Toronto system at #4 and #5 , validating the PP rankings, and making the combined $11M valuation low; 2) Where is this catching depth NH spoke of? If McGuire was a question mark, Diaz is a bigger one, and I don’t see anyone behind him; 3) I guess it’s possible the Pirates will use that money to sign a splash free agent, but why would we assume that? Going on past performance doesn’t support that. Instead we’ll hear, “We looked around and didn’t see anything of sufficient value out there.”


There is nothing of value out there in FA. If they add someone who makes decent money it will have to be via trade. Further decimating the farm. If all the guys graduate this year who have been up that leaves you with Meadows, Newman, Keller, Hayes, Tucker, Kingham, Craig, Garcia and Hinz as your top 10 guys. Hurts to lose McGuire in there a lot. I have a feeling that Nova trade for 2 PTBNL are rule 5 eligible guys. Watch for Clay Holmes, Barnes, Osuna etc to possibly go.


Yeah that’s slight comfort. Those PTBNL guys are usually Rule V guys or guys way down the totem pole

Daniel Bruni

I’m very excited for Tim’s analysis of this trade in September 2019. I’ve got it marked in my calendar.
Jokes aside, I’m a big NH supporter, so I’m willing to wait and see what happens, however, it is bothersome to see the (potential) catcher that is ready to take over in 2018/19 when Cervelli’s deal comes off the books.
Along with gaining financial flexibility, this seems like a white flag that the front office believes Liriano will absolutely not return to strong #2 SP status. Elite Liriano as your #2 for $13mm is more financial flexibility than most teams could ask for.

michael t

This trade is so lopsided the Toronto fans are speculating around these themes:
1.What does Pittsburgh see in Hutchison that we don’t?
2.Is there something wrong or did something happen to Ramirez or McGuire that would impact their ratings?
and their worried the league will step in and block it.
Who would have thought last week that Neal Huntington would execute a trade so bad people are bringing up Charlie Finley, Bowie Kuhn and the sale of the A’s players in comparison?


Like everyone else here, I hate the deal. I am curious to know though why it took the league so long to adjust to Liriano. His MO has always been throw good stuff out of the zone and hope people swing. The solution seems simple….. don’t swing! I guess that is easier said than done, but my untrained eye says his stuff is just as good this as it ever was and this year everyone seems to be able to lay off.


IIRC, MLB has mandated that umpires stop calling low strikes. When I heard this, my first thought was the impact this would have on Liriano. If batters know they’re less likely to have pitches low in the zone or just below the zone called strikes, then it’s much easier to lay off of Liriano’s slider. (Note that I think Liriano will adjust and turn things around.)

NorCal Buc

Tim: I most of all appreciate, again, your even keeled approach to these multi-layered trades. You take in to account these layers, and lay them before the reader, and allow us to to make a decision.

Regarding these trades, I am most surprised, and happy, that this F/O found takers for Liriano and Neise. THIS seems like a miracle, and it is very favorable for the rest of 2016 that they are no longer in the equation.

We musty look as a gain, the roster spot replacements for these two, as they truly failed to offer any value for the next two months.

In essence, I view that we have gained $18M to spend on talent over this winter, as well as adding the young starter Drew Hutchinson for the next three seasons.

We loose in the deals Reese McGuire and Harold Reynolds.

To me, this question concerning McGuire and Reynolds comes down to this: can the $18M buy more talent than these two will provide?

YES, I believe this F/O will add measurably more in 2017 and beyond, than these Reese and Harold would have provided us. It is important to take this trade into context TODAY, as we view their future at this point. NOW, I believe this is a win-win for the Pirates.

michael t

Well….its 530am in northern California. Have you been up all night? What you wrote is nonsense.

Thomas H


Eric Marshall

100% agree. They will not add. This is the same front office that seriously added Vogelsong quickly in the offseason as if he had a large market to the starting lineup when nobody was interested in him. Added Niese for Walker and tried to defend that one as well. They are dropping salary for 2017 with no open holes to their roster… which is something NH has referenced several times recently. Where are we going to spend more…

I think the trade was made for a different reason. Everyone likes the move of getting Freese in the off season. Maybe they know more about Kang and need the money to resign Freese


Tim … I may have gotten turned around on the math but didn’t you say Liriano was -5.3 for the life of his contract? Adding that to Hutch’s 11.4, makes our value 16.7.
That means we got more value than we gave up 15.9 – even taking into consideration your higher ranking of McGuire (10.4).


If my math above is right (above) this was actually a ‘fair’ WAR value trade. But as Tim says, everything would hinge on things like:
– does Liriano bounce back with Martin even for just the next two months
– does Hutch find his way
– does McGuire eventually hit
– does Ramirez turn into Tabata 2.0


What if they decide to use the money they saved to try to
extend Cole? I don’t like the trade of McGuire, I agree with the other 2. Sooner or later you have to fish or cut bait and Liriano just could never seem to get things together. I am ok dumping his salary, I think the trade for Nova was to take his place in the rotation this year. I believe that they have a better staff now, than they did before the trade. The Pirates have been getting very little out of their pitchers, with the exception of Cole and Tailion. I think Nova is a bridge to next year. Maybe the payroll flexibility gives them a better opportunity to extend Cole by boosting his salary the next couple of years and then buying out his first 2-3 years of free agency. I still think they have potential to have that basic rotation of Cole-Taillion-Glasnow-Brault-Kuhl through 2022/23. They have good prospects coming up behind them to replinish the rotation if needed. Maybe they can get Hutchinson pitching like AJ and he takes a spot in the rotation for the next 3 years.

By adding Bastardo, they improve the middle innings relief and I do not think they hurt themselves by trading Melancon, I think they actually improved themselves. Time will tell, but I think this team isn’t any worse than before the trades and throwing in the towel in Liriano isn’t a bad thing, just like it was with Niese and Locke. I’m not ready to call it a year. Its now up to the offense to start scoring some runs and see if we can’t get to the WC game again.

IC Bob

“What if they decide to use the money they saved to try to” When pigs fly they will get around to extending Cole. Why would he take an extension anyways? His team will always be short handed financially. There is no reason for him or anyone who isn’t desperate to take an extension at this time or anytime in the future.

michael t

Very good point that has been ignored. The Pirate Way is bullshit. Prospects are meat to be sold for cash.


Sure there is, see below. He will more than likely make around$30 through arb the next 3 years. I get the “cheap Pirates” opinion. But why wouldn’t he take a guarantee of $70-$85 million the next 5 years he he is only slotted to make around $30 million if everything goes right during arb? Take the money you were going to pay Frankie and spread it out his first 3 years of arb and then pay him $20-$22 million for each of his first 2 years of free agency. He will only be 30 at the end of his contract and still in line for a massive deal as long as he performs. Both he and Boras would have to have rocks in their heads to not accept that deal. The Pirates would be able to keep him and the young guns in the same rotation for the next 5 years. Seems like a no brainier to me. I would give him the $80-$85 million deal for the next 5 years. Then all this talk of the Liriano deal would go away. Say what you want, but the Pirates aren’t dumb. They are probably in constant discussion with Boras about this very thing. Everyone is always looking for them to sign a big name player, why not spend a little more and secure a top notch pitcher for an extra 2 years. They will save 13+ by getting rid of Liriano and 2 prospects who have no guarantee of ever making the majors. They chose to not keep Melancon and try to extend him, smart move since he will be over paid. They got 2 controllable electric arms for him. They are setting themselves up for a great pitching staff for the next 5 years.

I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be any concern. If there is no extension of Taillion and/or Cole, then this was all a bad excercise. If they are able to work something out to extend Cole and/or Taillion, they will look like geniuses.

Eric Marshall

We aren’t extending Cole. Even if we did which will not happen, we did not need to include McGuire to get this done. It was a clear dump last minute that wasn’t managed correctly.


Why not? You seem to think you have an in with Pirates management. If it was salary dumped for the right reason, they should be in good shape. If it was just a dump to dump, then you have an argument. No one knows for sure if they will try to extend Cole, but I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Eric Marshall

Hey loehr22… i have no in with the club. That is obvious. I would be extremely happy if they extended Cole. Just know he wants to play for the Yankees and Boras is his agent. That typically means he will not take a home town discount, do a deal early at below market rates or otherwise provide Pittsburgh with an opportunity to bid any less than what the Yankees are willing to go. This is why i believe there is no shot in hell to get an extension done.


Lol, an $80-$85 million deal for the next 5 years is not a home town discount since he will more than likely only make $30 through arb the next 3 years. They would give him a lifetime of financial security and “overpay” him for the first 3 years of the contract. It is a no brainier for him and Boras. All the Pirates have to do is take the money that they received from dumping Frankie and give it to Cole. Hutch is an improvement over Frankie, now they can take a mistake and do something positive with it. No one else can “bid” for him until his time with the Pirates is over, a lot can happen during that time. He would really be rolling the dice to walk away from that type of money. The Pirates are also taking a chance by guaranteeing that type of money.


You’re going to need much more than $18m to resign Gerritt Cole. He’s gone the day he can be
And while youre argument about rotation through 2022 is true, we knew that when we resigned Liriano, and (according to NH) guys like Glasnow, Brault and Kuhl aren’t ready to be impactful TODAY


I agree that they aren’t ready to be impactful today, which is why I think this trade could be impactful in different ways. I think our rotation for the rest of this year will be Cole-Taillion-Nova-Brault/Locke with a heavy dose of a strong bullpen, which is why I think they traded for Bastardo. Try to have the shut down 7-8-9th inning. Hopefully getting 6 innings out of their starters and then getting shut down by the pen, hopefully similar to the Royals. Rivero-Feliz-Watson-Bastardo is pretty solid. If they were throwing away the rest of the season, they would have traded away Freese, Serpico, and Joyce.

I know $18 million isn’t enough to to extend Cole. But it is possible that they use the money saved by not extending Melancon as some have suggested and dumping Liriano to try to extend Cole. He is probably going to net at least $30 million through arbitration the next 3 years and they more than likely were already anticipating that. They can hopefully buy out his first 2 years of free agency for $20-$22 million per year. Maybe it’s $70-$75 million for the next 5 years. He gets his big payday after 5 years are up while at the same time getting $70-$75 guaranteed, in case of injury. He will only be 30 when that contract is over and can still guarantee himself a big payday if he performs and stays healthy. They already know that they have to pay him the next 3 years, they can even front load a little of that to pay him a little more the first 3 years so he signs the extension, maybe add $4-$5 million more the first 3 years of the deal, essentially over paying his arb years to keep him an extra 2. I would rather dump Liriano and replace him with Nova and extend Cole 2 more years.


As usual, great analysis and agree with just about everything
In my view, this is a clear salary dump with 2 prospects. My issue is that NH is so frugal in terms of dealing prospects, then in one day deals his #6 and #12 just to save $18m. He so regretted his signing of Liriano that he had to dump a potential All Star catcher just to get rid of him. But when he signed Liriano to a 3 year deal, did he think it was not possible for him to have a rough 4 months? He’s had an up and down history his entire career! Who’s to say he can’t turn it around in 2017?
Lastly, I don’t even want to get into the “This trade will ALLOW the team to compete in 2016” but my gosh the players must be furious. After his horrific offseason, NH will ALLOW his team that’s battled to be 3.5 games back from the playoffs to compete in 2016. Since when was that a competing GM’s role on trade day?


Hindsight is 20/20, so I’ll use it. The last several months have been pretty lousy ones for this front office. Charlie Morton was traded for a bag of bones. I don’t care that he’s hurt now. At the time of the trade, it was viewed as a way to increase payroll flexibility and upgrade the pitching. Didn’t happen.

The Walker trade was a joke. They could have traded for a better pitcher with FEWER years of control or….traded Walker and prospects for a proven pitcher. Instead they traded a legit starting 2B for a reclamation project:. Awful trade.

Payroll flexibility bought this organization it’s current pitching situation. Well done.

An organization that only promotes players when they are ready, was relying on pitching prospects that weren’t ready? Banking on them to be ready? They acquired starters that would be replaced by better players mid season. I’m sorry. I just don’t think that sends a good message to the core players or the fans. Guess what? Now they don’t want to put too much pressure on the young pitching prospects! WTF?

Eric Marshall

Very well said GW. You can add in the Vogelsong head scratcher. We ran to the podium to get him signed early when there was no market for his services.

Bill W

I was a big fan of the Walker trade- I quickly regretted my support for this move. I was not a fan of the Melancon trade in the belief they should have extended him. Alas I accepted this move because I hold out hope that they spend money to improve the roster which they have been doing with the last three extensions. If you look back at this season and it has been repeated here often than naught if Cutch and Liriano have played up to expected levels we would not be in a desperate need to do a major roster overhaul. Niese would have languished in the pen and Melancon would not have been traded because in all likelihood we would be one of the top WC teams. But in some perverse way I like these moves. I think they have an air of desperation which might just shake up this team and make a run to gain a WC berth. This shake up is confounding but I support it because maybe you add by subtraction. As we have seen certain top tier prospects never pan out. The 4 that were traded (2 to be named later) may never pan out. But if this trade allows for some financial flexibility and allows talent to move up and be competitive than I’m in. NH reacted to correcting his mistakes and he has thousands of second guessers to micromanage the moves. I have never been a big fan of him and Hurdle but for some crazy reason I respect him more now since these crazy moves over the past 3 days. Hurdle is another problem!

IC Bob

We could have just released Lirano and ate the salary if we did not like the way he was pitching. Other teams including small market teams have done just that. Thats how everyone else rectifies a mistake. Then if we loved Hutchison and thought he was so good then trade one of our ML players or maybe one C prospect along with a blocked player. Thats what a real baseball team would do.

David N

Just my opinion: We loved Reese McGuire so much, we can’t stand the idea of losing him, especially for an unknown quantity such as Drew Hutchison. Problem is, Reese McGuire was not going to be catching for the Pirates this year; and likely not until 2018, if ever. Even if McGuire goes on to have success in Toronto, and a great career, a la Joey Bats, (which is my hope for him) this will not be the worst trade the Pirates ever made, and likely won’t be the last. If Hutchison turns out to be everything Neal Huntington hopes, well, he will have pulled another rabbit out of the hat against all our expectations. We’ll just have to wait and see. And no, Bob Nutting’s wallet doesn’t owe us anything.

michael t

Your talking as if this was a baseball trade. “Financial flexibility” is the term being used by Huntington and the Toronto GM to describe what Pittsburgh received. That is a nice term for “salary dump.”
Hutchison is not a top tier talent.
This trade is so bad independent baseball writers like Joe Sheehan are calling for the league to step in and review it. Toronto fans are incredulous, ecstatic.

Anthony M

Michael, why does there have to be a negative connotation associated with “salary dump”? I view this as a prudent financial decision made by the FO. $18M in future payroll liabilities for an underperforming player is nothing to sneeze at, especially when you can replace his production at MLB minimum salary levels. With respect to fans, I can appreciate their opinions, but I tend to rely on facts and empirical evidence, and not emotions, when making rational decisions.

IC Bob

You don’t build up a talented farm system for the opportunity to pay for the some one to take the one contract that isn’t working out for you. Teams are making big trades trading their minor league talent to acquire major league talent at the deadline. The Pirates are trading their minor league talent to for money. Thier is no other team in the league doing this. Their are teams dumping players and reducing payroll but either they are getting prospects or are in last place. None are actually telling their fan base that they are trying to competing. As for the team I would be shocked if this team wins more then two games this week. They can’t be pleased with the last week of events.


Why? Good chance Nova outpitches Liriano. Niese is gone, opening space for a rookie. Only downer is MM is gone, but they’ll do okay in the pen. Two of the three worst starters are gone. Time to be happy about that!

Anthony M

Bob, I find Tim’s valuation of Liriano to be generous in the trade evaluation. Given the FO’s action, it appears they concur. Liriano’s contract does not have be a sunk cost. Rather than letting his poor performance and contract liability hinder the rest of this season and next, the FO decided to move in a different direction and pay the penalty. In this case, it was two, well-regarded prospects.
Last time I checked, there is no rule that states prospects must be used for player acquisition, regardless of the teams’ current competitive positionature. Furthermore, I highly doubt any FO would pay $18M for one year and two months of replacement level production and not demand appropriate compensation. This is a financial reality for some MLB teams and further illustrates that the Pirates started the year with a maxed-out budget. I remember the FO being extremely transparent about this following the Freise signing.
There is a lot of gnashing of teeth, but nobody seems to be offering any alternate solutions that incorporate reason and logic. Remember, most, if not all, of our starting position players will receive salary escalations next year. This does not include pitchers, such as Cole and Watson. The Pirates still maintain the prospect depth to make a significant move(s) in the offseason, as well as the payroll flexibility to add FA’s. Although not popular within the public eye, this is the type of balanced approach that is necessary for current and future success.


Well said!


I’m not in love with RM. I’m in love with making better trades.

Thomas H

And no one here owes Bob Nutting anything. If he wants to put shit on the field and call it a baseball team, no one need feel obligated to show up.

David N

Absolutely. It works both ways.


Lol what did the pirates lose from the Major league roster yesterday? Liriano and Niese who both have been terrible and Brought in Nova, Bastardo and Hutchison (in September). Major league club actually got better yesterday. The organization overall however took a step back.

Thomas H

Hutchison won’t be coming up until Sept and his ERA in the majors is around 5.0. Nova isn’t better than Frankie OR Neise numbers wise and Bastardo is having a bad year.

Um, no. The major league club isn’t better. At best, it’s about the same.

In my view the Pirates made the organization as a whole weaker in order to pull more profits out of the team this year. I don’t think that opinion is really all that debatable.

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