I’m not against trading prospects. That should be apparent by the multiple articles I’ve written saying that the Pirates have the prospects to get Jose Quintana, and could afford to trade the big package of prospects required to make that deal.
There isn’t one sole purpose when building a farm system. The primary focus would be to supply the big league team with young talent that will be under control for many years. The Pirates have achieved this with their farm system. Right now, their starting lineup has six of eight players who were developed in the system, and their current expected rotation has three guys developed in the system, along with numerous other options in the upper levels of the minors.
The farm system should also be used for trades to help supplement the MLB club. The Pirates have done plenty of this. They’ve traded prospects at the deadline almost every year that they’ve been contenders. They’ve never traded an impact prospect, and haven’t really come close. Most of the guys they’ve dealt were either formerly in the back half of the top ten and on their way down in the rankings, or younger guys who had just emerged as top ten prospects, or maybe lower, but with some upside.
You need to find a balance between sticking with prospects for your future and trading away guys for present day help. Trade the wrong prospect, and you might open up a hole on the team for many years. Trade the right prospect, and it really won’t make a difference to you if he succeeds or fails with his new team. You might have seen me repeat a strategy that is similar to this. The best approach is making a trade that won’t hurt a team in the short-term or the long-term.
Austin Meadows would be a guy who wouldn’t hurt the Pirates if they traded him in the short-term. They’ve got Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco for the next two years, so they don’t really need Meadows in that time. However, a trade of Meadows would hurt them in the long-term. McCutchen is only under team control through the 2018 season. Meadows has the chance to be an impact player, and could easily be better in his first six years than McCutchen in his early to mid 30s. Not to mention, Meadows would be a lot cheaper. So the Pirates could trade a guy like Meadows and not have to worry about it for the next two years, but that deal would hurt them in the long-term.
It’s hard to give a current example of a guy who would hurt the Pirates if you traded him in the short-term but not the long-term. Typically, prospects will help in both areas. But over time, players can be in both categories. Tyler Glasnow was a guy who you wouldn’t trade prior to the 2016 season. The Pirates needed him for the short-term, and the long-term. One year later, they saw Jameson Taillon and Chad Kuhl step up, along with Ivan Nova turning things around and re-signing with the team. If they traded for Jose Quintana (which would probably require Glasnow), then there wouldn’t be as much need for Glasnow in the short-term. He’d be more valuable in the long-term, but the Pirates could afford to give that up for a powerful starter now.
The sweet spot comes when you have depth in the long-term at a position in the majors, and depth in the minors. The outfield has been a spot for the Pirates where they can trade from depth. With Meadows in the system, their starting outfield projects to be locked up through the 2021 season, at the earliest. You can never have too much pitching depth, but the Pirates do have enough depth to spare. For at least the next three seasons, they will have Cole, Taillon, Nova, and Kuhl, plus all of the other options in Triple-A, and more guys emerging from High-A and Double-A.
There are some other positions that have depth for the Pirates to trade. There are several shortstop prospects, with Kevin Newman projected to take over in the next year or two. The Pirates could bank on Newman and trade from their prospect depth. The catching situation looks good, with Francisco Cervelli under control for three years, and Elias Diaz in the minors. The Pirates have a few third base prospects in the system, and no need in the majors until after the 2019 season. If they keep Josh Bell, they have their first baseman for the next six years, with some options in the lower minors. If they don’t keep him, David Freese could be the guy for the next three years, with Will Craig being the top replacement option.
The Pirates have built a deep system, with a good number of impact prospects at the top. They’ve got a group in the majors that will largely be together for the next 3-4 years or longer, with some of those prospects taking over for the long-term after that. If there ever was a time where they could afford to trade prospects for MLB help, it’s now. That’s because they’re now in a better position than ever to trade some prospects, and not miss them in the short-term or the long-term.
**I can’t recall a time when the Pirates added a player, and carried more than 40 players on the roster for multiple days. They’ve been at 41 since announcing the Ivan Nova signing. We’ll see if they make a corresponding move tomorrow, and if the wait was due to another move they had lined up.
**Winter Leagues: Playoffs Begin in the Dominican. John Dreker with the latest report on the winter leagues.