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Thursday, December 8, 2022

Should the Pirates Trade Felipe Vazquez?

With two weeks to go before MLB’s trade deadline, it’s clear that the big topic surrounding the Pirates will be what they do with Felipe Vazquez. They’ve got their closer under team control through the 2023 season, with team options in 2022 and 2023. He’s making $10 M or less in all of those years, and has been a 2+ WAR reliever in each of the last three years.

Regardless of whether the Pirates intend to go for it in the next few years, or whether they try to rebuild for the future, you can see why trading Vazquez would make sense. He’s one of the best relievers in the game, and under a very team friendly contract for his production. The Pirates would lose their star closer, but it would be easier replacing Vazquez than getting the guys Vazquez could bring back in a trade.

I always have a difficult time evaluating reliever trade values. I run them in the same way that I run any other position, but the actual reliever trade values are always much higher than the numbers would suggest. In the case with Vazquez, the numbers are already high.

If we give Vazquez a 2.5 WAR for the remainder of his contract, and grade that at $8 M per WAR, he’d have $52 M in trade value (assuming a trade on July 31st). By comparison, Chris Archer would have had an $87.9 M trade value last year at a 4 WAR value per year. Let’s ignore the results from Archer, and focus more on the value he had before his struggles kicked in.

Since reliever values are already elevated, Vazquez would be worth more than the $52 M value above. As probably the top reliever on the market, he would generate a premium return, especially with the Pirates having him under control for so long, at an affordable price, and in years where they wish to contend.

We’ve already seen dream trade scenarios going around about the return Vazquez could get. I’m not going to go into that. Instead, let’s look at the history of reliever trades.

The Yankees have made a few big reliever trades in the last few years. They landed Gleyber Torres for Aroldis Chapman, and Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield for Andrew Miller. Chapman was a free agent at the end of the year, while Miller had two years of control remaining following the year he was traded. So you can imagine the type of value that Vazquez would have with four more years of control after the 2019 season.

Buster Olney recently broke down the pros and cons of trading Vazquez. The cons were that it would fuel cynicism with the fan base, and would remove a solid reliever. The first part is true, although I don’t think the Pirates will get any gains in fan support until they are winners again. The return that Vazquez could get would be a big boost toward making them a winner again.

The pros focused on small market tactics to sell high when a player develops the value that Vazquez has, and to sell high on relievers due to their volatility. Neal Huntington hasn’t been perfect with reliever values, but he’s been very successful with the buy low/sell high game. He traded Sean Burnett in a deal for Joel Hanrahan, traded Hanrahan for Mark Melancon, and traded Melancon for Vazquez.

The biggest con I see for Pittsburgh is that they’d be without Vazquez going forward, needing to turn to one of their other relievers to take over the closer role. I don’t see that as a big issue, due to the return from Vazquez, and the history of finding good relievers. I think Huntington is more likely to find another solid closer versus finding the equivalent of an impact prospect that Vazquez could bring back.

I think the Pirates should be sellers at the deadline. That doesn’t mean they have to blow it all up and rebuild, but if they can provide a boost for the 2020 and beyond seasons, they need to do it. Trading Vazquez could provide that boost, giving the team some everyday players who could help their chances at contending going forward.

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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.

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