The Pirates made two trades at the deadline today, but hardly made a splash. They traded Tony Watson, getting prospects Oneil Cruz and Angel German in return for his final two months before free agency. They also added Joaquin Benoit for minor league reliever Seth McGarry.
After the deadline, I pointed out on Twitter that Watson had a 4.61 xFIP this year, while Benoit has a 4.66 xFIP. That’s not really praise for Benoit, as much as pointing out that the Pirates replaced one struggling reliever with previous success for another. I’m not sure if either pitcher will bounce back, although I don’t think it matters for the Pirates as much, since their chances of contending this year are low after the last week.
On the flip side of this, the Pirates traded one prospect who didn’t make our top 50 in exchange for two prospects — one of which (Cruz) will probably end up in our top 50. The Pirates may have stayed neutral in the majors, but they definitely had a small upgrade to their farm system. It seems they were thinking the same thing, based on Neal Huntington’s comments after the deadline.
“We’ve felt we’ve had the opportunity to add two prospects that are very intriguing to us for various reasons,” Huntington said. “And we had the opportunity to acquire Joaquin Benoit for one prospect that we liked. In a vacuum, we like the return we got on the prospects, and we felt like we’re giving Clint Hurdle a legitimate veteran option, with neutral splits, to help us be able to win ballgames.”
Huntington said that they weren’t necessarily looking to make moves that worked in conjunction, but this was how the day worked out for them.
Other Potential Trades
It was difficult getting a feel for what the Pirates would do prior to the deadline. They were in a similar situation as last year where they were technically contenders, but not strong contenders. So I guess it’s not a surprise that they approached this year with the same plan they had last year to trade expiring contracts, and also look for some cheap, short-term help.
“We obviously approached the trade deadline from a similar mindset as we did a year ago,” Huntington said. “We wanted to respect the positive signs from this 2017 club. We have one of the top five records in baseball against teams with a record of .500 or better, but we also need to be realistic, and unfortunately we’ve been challenged against teams with a record of .500 or worse. In terms of the current club, we’ve had a large number of young players that are playing key roles for us. They’re learning, they’re developing, and they’re getting better every day.”
Huntington said repeatedly that the team had more conversations, but didn’t find a deal that worked for them. He wouldn’t comment on any specific players, and had no comment on Andrew McCutchen talks. He did say they tried adding a bat, and different types of pitchers, but didn’t come to a deal.
“We had other expiring contracts that, if we wanted to, we could have moved other players. The returns were not compelling. The Watson return was compelling,” Huntington said. “We had a number of conversations to add more to the 2017 club. The challenge was that Benoit was the only conversation that came to fruition. In some cases, the organizations chose to go in different routes. In some cases, we thought the acquisition cost was above where we were comfortable going. In some cases, there just never was momentum to come together. We sought several other opportunities to add to the 2017 club.”
The interesting thing going forward will be what they do with Juan Nicasio. He has been one of their best relievers this year. As I pointed out a few weeks ago, they kept a few rentals last year, then either extended them (David Freese), or tried to re-sign them in the offseason (Sean Rodriguez). They also added Ivan Nova as a rental and re-signed him. So it’s possible that they could now target Nicasio to stick around, much in the same way that they did with Freese and Rodriguez after keeping them last year.
Huntington also said that the team will explore August trades, as usual.
Huntington described the prospects acquired as “two guys with risk, but two guys with quality ceilings.” My analysis of traded prospect Seth McGarry is in the Benoit article, and my thoughts on the Watson return were that Cruz is the better prospect, while they get a typical hard throwing relief prospect as well. I actually like what I’ve read about German better compared to what I’ve seen from McGarry, but neither pitcher has an easy path to the majors. Cruz is the clear big return here.
Huntington broke down what they liked about each prospect.
Huntington on Cruz: “It’s a very long levered athlete that has quality raw power. Hits the ball about as hard as anybody we have in our system right now. There’s a run and throw tool. He’s growing into his body. He shot from 6′ 1″ to 6′ 6″ in a very short period of time. He’s a good old-fashioned run-throw athlete that teams talk about that has quality raw power. He was very intriguing to us.”
Huntington on German: “It’s a big man with a big arm. It’s a fastball in the mid-90s, complemented by a developing slider and changeup. He’s gotten ground balls, he’s gotten strikeouts, and again, there’s power to his stuff.”
Wishing the Best For Watson
The move to trade Tony Watson wasn’t a surprise. The Pirates traded Mark Melancon last year, who was having a better season, and when they were arguably closer to contending. So it was expected that they’d be listening and could possibly deal Watson in a trade like this. On the flip side, it ends a long run for a reliever who has been very successful for the Pirates, and a great guy off the field.
“We wanted to appreciate Tony Watson for the man he is, for all he’s done for the organization, and for the community,” Huntington said. “But the reality also was that he was on an expiring contract, and we were able to acquire two young prospects that we think highly of. We also acquired a veteran reliever that’s pitched in high leverage roles in the past, that is relatively neutral splits, and gives Clint Hurdle an option as we continue to push this forward for this year, and the young prospects help us continue to push this organization forward in the big picture.”
Huntington went on to praise Watson at length, both for his on-field efforts and his off-field personality. As someone who has covered Watson since 2010, I can confirm what a great person he is, and personally wish him the best in Los Angeles.
“A huge thank you is owed to Tony Watson by us as an organization, and really by us as a community,” Huntington said. “Tony has been the constant professional. He’s helped our young players grow and develop off the field. He’s a tremendous family man. He’s a tremendous friend.
“These are hard. These are not fun conversations when you call a player who has been here a long time and tell him he’s going somewhere else. You know it impacts his family. You know it impacts a lot of people in his life. He’s got friendships that we hope he’ll continue to maintain over the rest of his life.
“We cannot express enough appreciation for Tony Watson as a man, as well as the pitcher. Everything he’s done, the stable force he’s been in the back-end of our bullpen for a long time. We wish him success, and want him to go out and do everything he’s capable of doing, because he’s just a tremendous person, and he’s been a tremendous pitcher since he’s been with the Pirates.”
I understood the reason to trade Watson. The Benoit trade really amounts to no more than a waiver claim. From the sound of things, the Pirates aren’t taking on much of his salary, and hoping to catch lightning in a bottle by getting him back to his old self. You could guess that this is their small attempt to keep the team competitive, although without other moves the Pirates don’t seem to have a strong chance of contending.
The big question is why the Pirates wouldn’t just go with a prospect like Edgar Santana or Dovydas Neverauskas. The answer to that also may answer why they brought in Benoit.
“It’s an indication that we still are working through their growth and development as young pitchers,” Huntington said of Santana and Neverauskas. “Sometimes you can ask too much of a player. We are still fighting for a division. We are still fighting for a Wild Card. Benoit allows Clint to have a veteran that has been there and done that to pitch in meaningful innings, while we’re also continuing to give Santana and Neverauskas growth and development at the Triple-A level. We certainly feel comfortable for them coming up and pitching in a lower leverage role. But we want to make sure we don’t ask too much of our young guys too quickly.”
You could argue that one of those two could come up and pitch in a lower-leverage role. However, both have late inning upsides, and would probably be better working on their issues in Triple-A. I don’t think it’s a problem that Benoit is taking innings from them in August. It will be a different story in September if he’s still taking innings from them, especially if the Pirates are out of the race.