When the Pirates are contending, you can guarantee they are going to make some sort of addition to the club. Starting in 2011 with the addition of Derrek Lee, the Pirates have acquired players down the stretch every single year they were contending.
They added guys like Wandy Rodriguez and Travis Snider in 2012. The 2013 season brought Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau. They didn’t make any big trades in 2014, but John Holdzkom was a big addition for their bullpen down the stretch. They had a huge under the radar deadline in 2015, led by J.A. Happ, who was one of the best pickups at the deadline.
The Pirates add guys, but they don’t always make a “splash.” As in, they make good moves, but they’re not flashy enough to earn the reputation of a team that improves at the deadline. To get that reputation, you need a move that will be hailed as a bold move, and as an attempt at winning it all the moment the deal is made.
It doesn’t matter if J.A. Happ ended up with the exact same ERA and xFIP as David Price over the final two months. If you add Price, you get the headlines, and people see it as you caring about winning. If you add Happ, you’ll get the headlines later when the move works out, but there will still be questions about whether you’re trying to win, or just search for value.
At least that’s how it usually is with the Pirates. And that’s why there are always questions each year about whether they will add, and doubt about whether they will add, despite their track record.
The Pirates are contending so far this year, and they look like a team that will carry that on as the season continues. I think that’s going to lead to another trade deadline where they add to the team. I’m not sure if those additions will be the flashy kind, or the value kind that has become traditional for the Pirates.
To get an early idea of what the Pirates could do, let’s take a look at their trade depth in the minors to see what players they have to offer.
The biggest area of depth for the Pirates, at least in the upper levels in terms of prospects, comes at the middle infield position. They’ve got Kevin Newman and Cole Tucker as shortstop options, Kevin Kramer as a second base option who can play shortstop, and other guys like Max Moroff and Stephen Alemais. Below the Double-A level you’ve got Adrian Valerio and Rodolfo Castro as long-term middle infielders.
The Pirates will need a replacement for Jordy Mercer, and could use a replacement for Josh Harrison in the coming years. No one has really stepped up to take either long-term job yet, but they do have a lot of options, and could afford to trade from a strength if needed.
At the corner infield spots, there’s not much depth at third in the system, but first base could have a trade option in Jose Osuna. I’ve written many times about how he doesn’t have a spot with the team, since he’s currently the number three depth option at the corner infield spots, and not really a good option for the outfield at PNC Park. Of course, that could all change in 2019 when David Freese is gone, and when Osuna could step up as the top depth option for the corner infield spots. So trading him might be creating a hole for the following season, and cutting down on depth this year.
The rotation is another area where the Pirates have some depth for trades. The current starting rotation in Pittsburgh is mostly under control for several more seasons, with the one exception being Ivan Nova, who has a year remaining on his contract following the 2018 season.
Mitch Keller will eventually arrive. Nick Kingham is looking like a good future option. Clay Holmes is another interesting guy to watch. And then there are guys like JT Brubaker, Tyler Eppler, Taylor Hearn, Brandon Waddell, and others in the minors who might have a difficult time being more than a depth starter or a reliever in this system. Not to mention the two guys in the majors in that role right now — Steven Brault and Tyler Glasnow.
I wouldn’t trade Keller or Kingham due to their value to the current and future teams, but the Pirates have enough depth here that they could afford to deal a pitcher or two.
One final area where the Pirates could have trade options would be in the outfield. Starling Marte is under control through the 2021 season. Gregory Polanco is under control through the 2023 season. Corey Dickerson is under control through the 2019 season. Austin Meadows has arrived, but his time in the majors right now will end when Marte returns. Jason Martin is tearing it up in Altoona, and could move up to Indianapolis by the end of the year. Bryan Reynolds is currently out with hamate surgery, and Jordan Luplow is hitting well in Indianapolis.
With the way Dickerson is playing, the Pirates could afford to trade from their outfield depth, keep Dickerson around for another year, and then wait for either Meadows or Martin to take over after the 2019 season.
I think Meadows has a chance to be an impact guy, and it would be tough to see him traded due to that upside. But if the Pirates want to make a splash at the deadline, he would be their biggest chip without taking away much from their present or future clubs. Of course, that all depends on how much they like Martin in the future, and whether they trust Luplow to be the top backup down the stretch.
And it obviously depends on whether they break their previous trend of making cheaper, under the radar deals that usually end up working out better than most expect at the deadline.
Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates lost 8-5 to the San Diego Padres on Sunday afternoon. The Pirates have off today as they travel to Cincinnati for three games. They will send Jameson Taillon to the mound for his tenth start tomorrow. He tossed 5.2 innings against the Chicago White Sox in his last start, allowing two runs on five hits and three walks. The Reds scheduled starter is right-hander Matt Harvey, who allowed three runs on seven hits in four innings against the San Francisco Giants in his last start. He has a 6.17 ERA in 35 innings over six starts and four relief appearances this season, with 27 strikeouts and a 1.43 WHIP.
The minor league schedule includes Max Kranick making his first start of the season for West Virginia. Our current #31 prospect in the system has been in Extended Spring Training, making regular starts of 3-4 innings, so he should be somewhat limited in his start today. Indianapolis starter JT Brubaker makes his third start since being promoted from Altoona. He threw six shutout innings in his debut, then gave up three runs over five innings last time out. Bradenton starter James Marvel allowed one run over six innings in his last start. Altoona has off today.
MLB: Pittsburgh (26-20) @ Reds (16-32) 7:10 PM 5/22
Probable starter: Jameson Taillon (3.97 ERA, 40:15 SO/BB, 45.1 IP)
AAA: Indianapolis (21-19) vs Louisville (13-26) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: JT Brubaker (2.45 ERA, 7:5 SO/BB, 11.0 IP)
AA: Altoona (21-18) @ Bowie (19-23) 6:35 PM 5/22 (season preview)
Probable starter: TBD (0.00 ERA, 0:0 SO/BB, 0.0 IP)
High-A: Bradenton (22-19) @ Fort Myers (17-24) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: James Marvel (3.94 ERA, 34:12 SO/BB, 45.2 IP)
Low-A: West Virginia (23-17) @ Columbia (22-19) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Max Kranick (0.00 ERA, 0:0 SO/BB, 0.0 IP)
From Altoona on Saturday. Will Craig had an RBI single in the sixth inning, then followed it up with this two-run single in the seventh
5/20: Pirates activate Josh Harrison from DL. Nick Kingham optioned to Indianapolis.
5/19: Pirates recall Nick Kingham. Max Moroff optioned to Indianapolis.
5/19: Sean Keselica added to Altoona roster.
5/19: Brett Pope added to West Virginia roster.
5/18: Travis MacGregor and Joel Cesar placed on disabled list. Max Kranick added to West Virginia roster.
5/18: Pirates recall Austin Meadows. Starling Marte placed on the disabled list.
5/17: JT Brubaker placed on temporary inactive list. Jackson Williams added to Indianapolis.
5/14: Jin-De Jhang assigned to Altoona. Jackson Williams assigned to Morgantown.
5/14: Josh Harrison assigned to Altoona on rehab.
5/12: Joe Musgrove assigned to Indianapolis on rehab.
THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY
Four former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including one of the best relievers in team history. Mace Brown played for the Pirates from 1935 until 1941. During that time, he was used as a long man out of the pen, occasionally starting and also closing out games before closers came in for just three outs at a time. He pitched 778.2 innings from 1936 until 1940 and posted a 3.67 ERA during his time with the Pirates. Brown was an All-Star in 1938 and he finished ninth in the MVP voting that year.
Others born on this date include:
Fred Dunlap, second baseman from 1888-90. He was a star player before he was acquired by Pittsburgh. He had his career cut short by two broken legs (at different times), but he played long enough to put together a solid 12-year career. During the only year of the Union Association (1884), Dunlap was the best player by far, hitting .412/.448/.621, leading the league in all three categories, as well as runs scored, hits and homers.
Steve Pegues, outfielder for the 1994-95 Pirates. He hit .264 in 89 games for the Pirates.
Catcher Ed Fitz Gerald, who played for the Pirates from 1948 until 1953, turns 94 today. He is the fifth oldest living former Pirates player.