Williams: The Pirates Were Big Winners at the Trade Deadline

I’ve said for years that it doesn’t matter who wins the trade deadline. It doesn’t matter who wins the offseason. Those are reactionary “awards”, and the additions don’t make as big of an impact to a team’s chances as the awards would make you think.

If you weren’t a contender before, adding a big guy isn’t going to make you a contender. If you were a contender, then adding a big guy helps, but doesn’t guarantee anything. So it really doesn’t accomplish much to be winners at the trade deadline.

But damn, it feels good to win one.

The Pirates are going to be considered big winners at the trade deadline by anyone writing up such articles. They added one of the best relievers on the market in Keone Kela. They added the best starting pitching option in Chris Archer. They filled two needs on the club, strengthening the rotation and the bullpen, and did it all without trading top prospect Mitch Keller or top position player prospect (spoiler alert for the upcoming mid-season top 50 ebook) Ke’Bryan Hayes.

I don’t know how much these moves will improve their chances this year. After the trades, they were still 3.5 games back in the second Wild Card, and had one of the lowest odds of winning. I’m not sure how much a dozen starts or a stronger 8th inning guy will help there. I just know it can’t hurt.

But here’s the kicker: These trades will have a bigger impact in future years. The Pirates have Kela under control through 2020, and Archer under control through 2021.

Archer gives them a starter to pair with Jameson Taillon and eventually Mitch Keller (probably by mid-2019) at the top of the rotation for a few years. Add Joe Musgrove, Nick Kingham, Chad Kuhl, Trevor Williams, Clay Holmes, and others to that mix, and the Pirates have the makings of a promising rotation.

Things are even more promising on the bullpen side. Felipe Vazquez is one of the best relievers in the game. Kyle Crick, Edgar Santana, and Richard Rodriguez have all looked good this year, with each having the promise for the late innings. Now you add Keone Kela as an 8th inning guy, and you’ve got a bullpen that can really shorten a game for the next two and a half years.

The Pirates might get a boost down the stretch from these two, but the bigger impact will be having those two and building around them for the years to come. The trades today were long-term deals, and if the Pirates are winners for adding Archer and Kela, then those winnings will last for a while.

What About the Prospects?

We don’t know the full impact of the deals yet, since there’s a Player To Be Named Later in each deal. Unless that player is Mitch Keller or Ke’Bryan Hayes (and I doubt it’s either of them), I don’t think there’s a player the Pirates could trade in their system who would make these bad deals, since anyone else in the system would be expendable.

Here’s what we do know: Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow are going to Tampa, and Taylor Hearn is going to Texas.

The Kela trade happened first, but let’s break down Archer’s cost, since it kind of impacts the other move.

The Pirates gave up a pretty significant return to get Archer, but at the same time, they didn’t really give up anyone they’ll desperately miss.

Austin Meadows is the biggest player in this deal. I still think he has a chance to be an impact player in the majors. He probably wasn’t ready to be up yet, and when the league adjusted to him, he was slow to adjust back. I think he’ll get there eventually, and it might eventually hurt to see him play well elsewhere.

But the Pirates already have guys who can help negate that loss. Their current outfield is Starling Marte (under control through 2021), Gregory Polanco (2023), and Corey Dickerson (2019). This move raises a question as to what they’ll do with Dickerson, but that’s not really a question that needs to be answered right now. They can wait and extend him, or they can see how Jason Martin and Bryan Reynolds progress. Those two would probably be stopgaps until higher upside guys like Travis Swaggerty, Calvin Mitchell, or Lolo Sanchez arrive.

The Pirates traded a very promising young player in Meadows, but they also traded from a strength to address a weakness.

As for Tyler Glasnow, this is a case where I’d absolutely trade him if I’m a team like the Pirates going for it, and I’d love getting him if I’m a rebuilding team like the Rays.

Glasnow’s stuff is still electric, and his highest upside is still going to be in the rotation. That probably wasn’t going to happen in Pittsburgh. With all of the starting options they have, I’d have a hard time seeing how he could work his way back into the mix as a starter. The Pirates were just getting to the point where they trusted him in non-blowout situations, so it’s doubtful he would have made it as a starter here, especially after adding Archer and eventually when Keller arrives.

He’s the perfect guy for a rebuilding team to add and eventually work into their rotation. He’s still got upside, and way too much stuff to just be relegated to the bullpen. But unless he’s with a rebuilding team, he won’t get that opportunity. He’ll get that opportunity with the Rays, meaning he had more value to them than he did to the Pirates.

It’s the same story with Taylor Hearn to the Rangers for Kela. I had doubts before the season whether Hearn would be able to start in the majors. He’s been able to answer some of those questions, and has shown improvement throughout the year. But with a future rotation of Taillon, Archer, Keller, Musgrove, and all of the other options for the fifth spot, it’s going to be difficult for him (or any other starter) to crack the rotation.

Regardless of his improvements, Hearn was either looking at being a future reliever with the Pirates, or being a depth starter out of Triple-A, waiting for an opportunity to open up (similar to Nick Kingham or Clay Holmes this year).

Hearn was more valuable to the Rangers, where he’ll probably have a better shot at starting. He has less value to the Pirates than Kela, since Kela can help now and over the next two years, while Hearn’s value was in the future, and limited due to the other rotation options.

The Pirates traded some good talent, but they traded from strengths. They’re not going to miss these guys in the short-term or long-term, all while adding nice upgrades to the team this year and for a few years to come. Those are the types of trades you want to make, especially when you can do it while adding guys like Archer and Kela.

The Impact Off the Field

I’ll probably expand on this section in a future column, but the impact off the field with these moves might be just as important as the impact on the field.

The fan base was down on the team. That happened because the Pirates didn’t have a clear path the last few years, didn’t make big, splashy trades of prospects for Archer/Kela types when they were contending, and then traded Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole prior to the season. Fans no longer trusted that the Pirates were focused on winning.

Adding Archer and Kela, following the recent success from the Pirates, is probably going to change that perception for some, and bring a lot of fans back to the park.

More importantly, the Pirates were facing similar questions in their own clubhouse last year, with players wondering if they were really invested in winning. The reaction from the clubhouse today, at least on the public side, was very positive.


Huntington said that the team’s performance leading up to the deadline would determine their approach. After those comments, the team went 15-4. If Huntington didn’t add after that, it would have been difficult to send a message to the team that the front office was focused on winning, or that their performance actually mattered.

Adding Archer and Kela to the mix sends the right message. It says that the front office noticed what this team was doing, and that they believe this team is a winner, to the point where they would make big moves to boost this team.

These moves make it easy to see where the intent is with the Pirates, both this year and in future years. That should provide a boost of confidence from the players, which can only help them stay on this current run. I think winning will be the ultimate thing that brings all of the fans back, but it will definitely help that the Pirates are winning right now, and making the big, splashy additions that the fans have been wanting to see for years.

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.

Support Pirates Prospects

Related articles

join the discussion

Share article

Pirates Prospects Daily

Latest articles

Pirates Prospects Weekly

MONDAY: First Pitch

TUESDAY: Article Drop


THURSDAY: Roundtable

FRIDAY: Discussion

SATURDAY: Pirates Winter Report

SUNDAY: Pirates Business

Latest comments