The Pittsburgh Pirates got Oneil Cruz for Tony Watson.
Cruz’s ascension to the majors, and the upcoming trade deadline got me to wonder, what if the Pirates were able to consistently mine and develop farm-to-market relievers?
Watson for Cruz is one very good example of this process, and it piqued the thought.
During Neal Huntington’s tenure, he often showed an ability to piece together a bullpen. More often than not, those pieces came from outside acquisition’s as opposed to in-house. Of the few in-house success stories, most were starters turned reliever — like Watson, Jared Hughes, and Justin Wilson.
Wilson was the only one of the three drafted by Huntington, but the transition for Watson and Hughes happened under his watch.
Watson was flipped for Oneil Cruz and Angel German. Wilson was traded to the Yankees for Francisco Cervelli, who was a key piece to the Pirates 2015 season. Jared Hughes was eventually released March of 2017. A dominant Brad Lincoln (another starter turned reliever) in 2012 was traded for Travis Snider, who was a very effective bench piece in 2014.
The current outlay of the upper minors indicates the tides could turn into having a plethora of useful bullpen arms, mostly from starters turned relievers. Some of the candidates include Travis MacGregor, Osvaldo Bido, Hunter Stratton, Noe Toribio, J.C. Flowers, and Colin Selby (although hurt again). Then there’s the possibility Luis Ortiz or Carmen Mlodzinski are eventually converted. Maybe Cody Bolton to preserve health.
Here’s where it can get sticky though, and subjective. Grading returns for relievers. What do you consider a solid return?
Would you take, at the time, 21 year old LHP Joey Wentz (former first round CBA pick by Braves) in Double-A, and 24 year old power hitting OF Travis Demeritte (Former first round pick by Rangers) in Double-A, for one and a half years of Shane Greene?
Austin Nola was the bigger ticket at the time, as a controllable catcher, but Mariners threw in Dan Altavilla and Austin Adams, mediocre controllable relievers, for an increased return that netted them Taylor Trammel (Former first round CBA pick by Reds), Ty France (who might be the best player of the trade), Andres Munoz (finally healthy and pitching well out of bullpen), and Luis Torrens.
Chris Stratton, another failed — or we’ll say reallocated — starter to reliever had been an effective bullpen arm for two and a half seasons prior to 2022 in Pittsburgh: 156 IP with a 3.69 ERA. But 2022 has shown us how quickly the tides can turn with relievers, if not just luck, as his FIP and xFIP are more in-line with his numbers over those previously mentioned 156 IP.
Duane Underwood Jr showed promise, but was essentially used till his arm fell off, and hasn’t been able to remain healthy in 2022.
There are a lot reliever trades. A lot (Best tracker I could find was Spotrac Trade Tracker). It’s difficult to really sift through, as there are so many different variables to trades. Present production, track record, control, LHP vs RHP, etc.
Everyone is searching for their Clay Holmes, or Casey Sadler for that matter, who had a near as dominant 40.1 IP in 2021 for Mariners.
So, you keep a David Bednar for now till another arm showcases an ability to handle late inning relief. Perhaps Yerry De Los Santos. Otherwise, I think all other names should be on the table as they see success in the majors, for the right price of course. Teams are always looking for bullpen help, and especially teams with deep playoff run aspirations.
BREWERS @ PIRATES
Time: 4:05 PM EST
Pirates Starter: Bryse Wilson, (0-4, 8.29)
Brewers Starter: TBD
Wilson notes: He’s pitched well his last two starts in Indianapolis, since his previous spot start for Pirates. In those last two starts in Triple-A: 12.1 IP, 4 ER’s, 2 BB’s, and 13 K’s. The issue has been translating that to the majors.