The Pittsburgh Pirates have sent outfielder Tito Polo and left-handed pitcher Stephen Tarpley to the New York Yankees as the players to be named later to complete the Ivan Nova trade.
Ivan Nova has shown a lot to like so far, and if the Pirates were trading for this version, then Polo and Tarpley would make a lot of sense as fair value on the market. But that’s not the market Nova seemed to have on August 1st. He had a 4.90 ERA and a 4.10 xFIP. He seemed like a reclamation project (and has immediately jumped in value, posting a 2.87 ERA and a 3.44 xFIP with the Pirates). The numbers he’s putting up now would probably demand more than Polo/Tarpley, but the numbers he had before seem like they would only be good enough for one of those players.
In our mid-season rankings, Polo moved up to the 20th best prospect, while Tarpley dropped down to 21st. So the Pirates traded two guys who were in the bottom third of the top 30, which isn’t the worst. They also traded from a position of strength, as they have plenty of outfielders, and plenty of future back of the rotation starters, which is what Polo and Tarpley project to be at their best.
Tarpley saw improvements to his secondary stuff this year, but took a step back with his fastball command. The improved fastball command after he came over from the Orioles was one of the reasons I was initially high on him, and that’s the big reason he dropped in our latest rankings. He was going to drop even more once Taylor Hearn passed him up, which would have been certain to happen at the end of the year. I like Tarpley’s upside as a future back of the rotation starter, and maybe higher if he gets consistent command. Lefties who sit low-90s and touch 97 have value, but I don’t see him as more than a back of the rotation starter, with a small probability that he improves everything enough to go higher.
Polo is a guy I was really high on. He’s not really hitting in Bradenton, with a .697 OPS, but this league can kill offense, and Polo has looked good every time I’ve seen him. I think he’s a high upside guy, with the ability to hit for some power and add some speed, while hitting for average and getting on base. He can be a bit of a free swinger at times, and I’ve said his upside would be a Starling Marte-lite. That might be an average-to-above average starter, and maybe eventually higher if he really breaks out. And the thing is, the Pirates probably wouldn’t even need Polo if he does reach his upside, since they’d have better outfielders.
I talked with Polo briefly after the trade, and he said that the move would be difficult for him, but he was going to play hard whether it was the Pirates or the Yankees.
“I’m very happy,” Polo said. “A little bit sad. The Pirates signed me five years ago. That’s okay. I’ll keep working.”
So the Pirates traded two guys they aren’t going to miss in the short-term, and two guys they probably aren’t going to miss in the long-term, getting a guy who could help their biggest need this year, and has helped their biggest need so far. I think they over-paid, considering Nova’s value at the time. It would definitely help if they extend Nova, as that would soften the blow of losing these two prospects for a guy who had little value when acquired.
I think the Yankees will win this trade in the long-term, and it could end up being very good for them. Meanwhile, the Pirates are benefiting this year from Nova, but it would definitely help if they got some long-term value from the deal, and based on Nova’s comments about being comfortable with the team and with Searage, it seems like they’ve got the inside track for that.