First Pitch: Trades Are Graded on a Different Scale For Contenders

The Pirates have officially reached the other side of the rebuilding process.

It was only a few years ago that we saw the Pirates trading away rentals, hoping to land a piece that would help them build for the future. Pirates fans were searching everywhere for information on the player they just acquired, trying to figure out what kind of player he could become in the future. Trades were evaluated on whether the Pirates won the deal, and in some cases you couldn’t believe that another team would make such a move for a rental.

Now we see how the other side lives. The Pirates today traded away a promising prospect, plus a player to be named later who is said to be promising as well, in exchange for two rentals. There is no deep searching for information on the players acquired. Everyone knows what Marlon Byrd and John Buck bring to the table. And you can evaluate the deal, but to do so, you need some perspective.

I thought James Santelli had a great summary of the current situation earlier today. James pointed out that Neal Huntington said the Pirates were willing to make a stupid trade at the deadline back in July. He also pointed out that this deal would qualify as one of those stupid trades, but that it was necessary for the Pirates to make a stupid trade in their current situation.

There are two ways to look at this deal. The first way is to look at it in a vacuum. You have Marlon Byrd and John Buck, who are both only going to be around for one month each, plus playoffs. In exchange for those two, you’re losing two prospects who have promise of a future in the majors, longer than one month each. In a vacuum, you lose that deal. Herrera and the PTBNL aren’t guarantees to have long major league careers, but if just one of them has one good year, you’re giving up much more value than you’re getting back. And remember, this is only in a vacuum.

Now let’s look at the actual situation. The Pirates are contending and need a boost down the stretch. Right field has been an issue all year, and they needed catching depth. They have a loaded farm system, which means they can afford to lose a player or two and not feel the impact.

Dilson Herrera is a great prospect, but the Pirates won't miss him in the long-term. (Photo Credit: Tom Bragg)
Dilson Herrera is a great prospect, but the Pirates won’t miss him in the long-term. (Photo Credit: Tom Bragg)

As it stands, Herrera is a great prospect, but the Pirates have better options. Before the trade, I projected a future middle infield of Alen Hanson and Jordy Mercer. The Pirates also have other options like Jarek Cunningham, Gift Ngoepe, Chase d’Arnaud, Dan Gamache, JaCoby Jones, and Ulises Montilla. None of those guys are strong bets to be a starting second baseman. Herrera ranked ahead of all of them, and I still have Hanson/Mercer as the future middle infield. But all you need is one of those guys to have an Andrew Lambo turnaround, or one of the lower level guys to work out and you’ve got one more strong option to add to the mix. Herrera is a great prospect, but the Pirates won’t miss him.

As for the PTBNL, I’ve heard a name that is unconfirmed. I’m still working to confirm it. I will say that this name isn’t anyone ranked ahead of Herrera in our rankings. He’s also a guy who is talented and has a major league future, but who the Pirates probably wouldn’t miss. That’s a common side effect when you’ve got a top farm system. You’ve got elite prospects at the top of the depth chart, and then you’ve got strong prospects behind them who are totally expendable.

In a vacuum, the Pirates lost the trade. In the actual situation, it’s not about winning or losing a trade. The Pirates just made the right move. You have to consider the short-term and the long-term. In the short-term, the Pirates filled a lot of needs. They added a right fielder (need #1) who can hit lefties (need #2) and another backup catcher (need #3). They didn’t trade away anyone who projected to be a part of their future major league team. The Mets won this deal no matter how you look at it from their perspective. For the Pirates, the deal just made sense.

Looking back at some of the trades the Pirates have made, there are two examples of trades the Pirates clearly won that were completely different and illustrate how trades should be evaluated for contenders.

The Pirates won the Charlie Morton trade, but that's not saying it was the wrong move for Atlanta. (Photo Credit: David Hague)
The Pirates won the Charlie Morton trade, but that’s not saying it was the wrong move for Atlanta. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

The first trade was the deal that sent Nate McLouth to Atlanta for Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke, and Gorkys Hernandez. McLouth almost immediately went downhill. Four years later, Jeff Locke and Charlie Morton make up 40% of the Pirates rotation, and Gorkys Hernandez was part of a deal that brought back Gaby Sanchez, who has been successful against lefties. The Braves clearly lost this deal, as Morton and Locke have been more valuable than McLouth was. But the deal made sense for Atlanta. They needed to try and win in 2009. They weren’t focused on their 2013 rotation. And the deal doesn’t really hurt them now, as they have plenty of strong starters in their current rotation.

This was a case where the Pirates clearly got the better players in the long-run. However, the only thing that mattered for Atlanta was the short-run. The Pirates got an important boost for their future, but the Braves didn’t trade away an important piece of their future. They also addressed a big need for the present, although it didn’t work out for them. It was a smart move where they addressed a current need and didn’t mortgage the future.

The second trade was the deal that sent Octavio Dotel to Los Angeles for James McDonald and Andrew Lambo. The Pirates were trading two months of Dotel, plus his option year, which wasn’t a great price. In exchange they got two prospects who were the top guys in the Dodgers’ system the year before. James McDonald almost immediately stepped into the rotation for the Pirates. Three years later Andrew Lambo is in the majors after hitting 32 homers in the minors. The Dodgers aren’t missing McDonald or Lambo right now, thanks to their insane TV deal. So why is this different than the Atlanta deal?

Unlike the Dodgers in 2010, it made sense for the Pirates to trade a future piece for a rental.
Unlike the Dodgers in 2010, it made sense for the Pirates to trade a future piece for a rental.

The Dodgers didn’t just make a stupid trade in that situation. They were stupid to make a trade. They were 54-51 on August 1st, eight games back in their division, and in fourth place. They weren’t contenders, so to give up any kind of value for a relief pitcher was a stupid move. Of course that’s my feeling on all trades for relievers, but in this case it was especially stupid because the Dodgers were basically throwing prospects away. That was apparent when they traded Dotel a month and a half later for a guy who made it to Double-A and isn’t playing this year. The deal would have made sense if the Dodgers were contending and needed a reliever. They weren’t contending, and paying that much for a reliever was stupid, especially since James McDonald (3.52 ERA in 64 IP) out-performed Dotel (3.38 ERA in 18.2 IP) for the rest of the year.

The Braves were in a position to actually contend. They addressed one of the few needs on their 2009 team. They traded guys away who probably wouldn’t help for a few years, and who wouldn’t even be the top options for Atlanta when they were able to help. Meanwhile the Dodgers weren’t in any position to contend, and probably would have been better off going with McDonald in the rotation or the bullpen. Their TV money makes it so that they don’t have to feel this move, but the Pirates don’t have that luxury.

The Pirates are more like the 2009 Braves in this situation. They are actual contenders. They filled a need. They traded away guys who won’t help for a few years, and who wouldn’t be top options when they are able to help. The Mets absolutely won the trade, but it’s not that complex from the seller’s standpoint. You just need to focus on whether you’re getting more potential long-term value than what you’re giving up. It’s more complex for the buying team. You need to make sure you’re getting the players you need in the short-term, all while making sure you don’t sacrifice any long-term plans. The Pirates handled this well. They filled the short-term need and didn’t hurt the long-term outlook of the team.

This isn’t something the Pirates can do repeatedly. They don’t have the financial resources of the Dodgers to go out and buy a team. They also can’t fall into the Dave Littlefield trap of relying on only one prospect at each position to work out. The Pirates can trade Herrera because their future middle infield projects to be Hanson and Mercer. But if they take that approach with every position, they will inevitably run into a situation where their projected starters don’t work out, leaving them with no Plan B.

In this one case, it makes sense for the Pirates to make a deal like this. The Mets won, and that’s how their side of the deal is graded. For the Pirates, the only grades are based on whether the deal made sense for the team, and whether they acquired short-term help without sacrificing the future. They succeeded in both regards.

Links and Notes

**The newest episode of the Pirates Prospects Podcast is up: P3 Episode 18: Prospect Talk With Pirates Farm Director Larry Broadway.


**Prospect Watch: Taillon Strikes Out Six; Polanco Hits 12th Homer.

**Pirates Sending Five to the AFL, Including Alen Hanson.

**DSL Prospect Watch: Vivas, Herrera Keep Pirates2 Alive in 6-5 Victory Over Tigers.

**Minor League Schedule: Heredia Tries to Push West Virginia Closer to Playoff Spot.


**Pirates Acquire Marlon Byrd and John Buck for Dilson Herrera.

**Pirates Notebook: Marlon Byrd acquired on day of his jersey giveaway.

**Pirates DFA Russ Canzler, Add Kyle McPherson to 60-Day DL.

**Pirates Looking at Justin Morneau After Byrd Trade.

**Pirates’ Comeback Attempt Fails in ‘Strange Game’, Lose 7-6 to Brewers.

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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Nathan 'Socrates' Lott

Hooray for commenting on old discussions!

The trade I immediately thought of was the Nady(/D. Marte?) deal with Yankees for Karstens, Ohlendorf, DCutch, and Tabata. From the Bucs perspective they got a lot more value than they gave up, but none of those guys are people the Yankees really miss. Nady hit well for them and Marte pitched some key innings in the playoffs. The Bucs may have “won” the trade overall, but the Yankees got exactly what they needed.

There are probably a bunch more examples of trades like this in recent Pirates’ seasons as well. I guess you can pick whichever ones you want.


Funny how the trade happened when play off order forms landed in mailboxes…

IC Bob

Would posters prefer we bring up Polonco there by loosing a year of control or get Byrd and trade Herrera? This really may have been the options at this time. I here the Tampa argument but Tampa never had a situation like we had in RF and if Martes injury doesn’t heal timely that would have created the same situation in left. Just a thought.


Still happy with the trade given the news on Marte and the fact our farm system has depth and we can afford the deal even if we overpaid. But my question is this – what kind of leverage did the Mets have?


As far as the trade was concerned it was a win-win for both sides, the Pirates got what they needed the Mets got what they wanted.
IMO, the Pirates did what they could to appease the fan base and take a shot, I do not believe this team is good enough at this moment to make any kind of run, but strange things happen, I still believe they are below the mid point in their maturation growth. IMO, the Pirates will fade, love to be wrong.
Totally disagree with arguments stating that the Pirates could have done better, no one knows who they talked to or what anyone wanted from them, therefore these arguments are useless to me.

Vince Riedy


You have many times used the “what would the Tampa Rays do?” question when you analyze transactions and potential transactions. Do you think the Rays would make this trade? I do not.

I looked through the years since the Ray became a contender and they never made a move like this. They traded some low level prospects here and there for bullpen and bench help but never anyone of note. It is not like there weren’t glaring holes in their offense through the years.

2008: OPS+ of their starting leftfielder = 89

2009: OPS+ of their starting catcher = 54, centerfielder = 82, Rightfielder =82, DH =81

2010 OPS+ of their starting rightfielder = 96 , DH= 83

2011 OPS+ of their starting catcher = 71, shortstop =28, leftfield =91

2012 OPS+ of their starting catcher =79, 1st baseman =93, leftfield =96, DH=100

The Rays despite offensive needs stay the course that is why they are perennial contenders.


As long as we are discussing how circumstances alter valuations, the Pirates are going into what has been described by some as the most important two weeks of the year. They are doing this without the 4th most valuable outfielder in NL (there was an illustration of that value last night.)

I was incredulous when comments on this trade assumed yesterday that Marte was done for year (I wasn’t completely wrong), two weeks without being able to grip a bat is almost as bad . This aspect may be lost when this trade is evaluated in the future, but the Pirates offense is average at best and has lost 2nd/3rd best hitter. I think this facet should receive some consideration, the Pirates are on the steep slope of the win curve.

Stephen Brooks

Wish it were Sands.


I do but he was what? In AA when the pirates traded him. He wouldn’t be in majors yet. Pirates develop players so slowly

Thom Kay

Anybody miss Robbie Grossman and his .908 OPS since the AS break?

With him, the Pirates probably wouldn’t have needed to make the trade at all.


Of course Grossman’s .198/.310/.243/.553 before the All Star break would have landed him in a worse purgatory than Presley, Snider, Tabata, Jones, et al, are currently in. In fact, having him around would have made those 4 look like All Stars by comparison. He wouldn’t even be on the ML roster right now, let alone getting any playing time.

Sure he’s having a decent month. But if none of the other guys listed, who had better numbers in the first half, are considered good enough, why would the Pirates have waited around to finally see this decent month? Short answer, even if we still had Grossman, this trade would have been neccessary.


I hope that is not a serious statement (hindsight bias?), you mean that 0.1 WAR player, whose 2nd half is propelled by a .440 BABIP

Thom Kay

Huge hindsight bias. If Wandy were healthy and pitching well, I’d feel differently.

But Grossman is a 23 year old playing for league minimum whose 0.8 fWAR since the break is equal to Marte’s. Given that scouts were never critical of his defense, I find it hard to believe he’s as bad as his small sample size UZR makes him out to be, and his 152 wRC+ since the break is amazing.

His BABIP is high because he’s hitting an astounding 29.9% LD% and, like Marte, has always had a high BABIP.

I like the Byrd trade, but wish the Bucs hadn’t had to do it.


I see your point , additionally I share your sentiment, it would be nice if the Pirates did not need to make this trade. I just don’t think looking retrospectively at the trade is all that informative. Pirates gave up potential future value for more certain present value (less b/c of the injury) and at this point it is a sunk cost.


My feeling is that Stolmy is the PTBNL. I heard the pregame radio guys said that the player is on the 40 man, and Neal say he is a decent prospect, this seems to fit the bill. He is out of options next year and depending on who is signed may not be able to crack the rotation. I’d be more than happy if it were one of the relievers but based on Neal’s comments, I tend to think it is someone more significant than that.


I don’t think it would be Stolmy unless the Mets scouts were really in love with him. I’d think being out of options is as much of a concern for them as it would be for the Pirates.


If it was Stolmy, it most likely would have been announced as such. He’s healthy and currently eligible to be traded. If I was to make a wild guess, I’d say it’s McPherson.


Scratch that, wasn’t thinking it all the way through (40 man, waiver, etc). Still, could be either of those guys. I hate seeing us lose prospects, but pitching is something we have a ton of in the high minors.


I still wouldn’t take back the deal if it were Stolmy but what a deal for the Mets if it were. I’m just looking forward to Byrd in the lineup tonight and taking the glass half full approach that we upgraded our team for the playoff run.


That’s not fair Tim. Next time this happens just lie and say you don’t know who the player to be named is. I’m hoping for a reliever since the Bucs seem to grow them on trees.

IC Bob

Tim you brought up the Dotel trade. While most Pitts fans have viewed that a major victory for the Bucs it could be argued that Mcdonalds 90 days of stardom never have made up for his 3 years of below average results. As for Lambo the jury is still out but the only reason the Bucs got him was because he had some social issues and the Dodgers didn’t want to deal with it anymore. This is a perfect example of a bird in the hand is better then two in the bush. To me the only downside is I have to believe we could have made this deal at the end of July with the talent we gave up. While other teams are paying nothing for waiver trades the Pirates did seem to pay a lot.


The only comparable player traded post July 31 is Rios, and while the White Sox certainly didn’t receive an Herrera in return, they were dumping about $15 million in salary, so the return couldn’t possibly be as big.


I have to disagree with you andrew. You might bring up career numbers but maxwell was batting .241 with 2 HR in only 40 games. He struggled with injuries all year. Rios and sheirholtz asking price was too high at the deadline. Pence not available. Pirates traded for an extremely hot hitter with middle of the order power. That’s what they needed. It has nothing to do with career numbers. It’s what they are doing this year. Byrd is batting over .300 after the all star break. Show me the numbers this year to dictate who the best hitter has been. I’m working so I don’t have the time to look it up, but if my memory serves me right then Byrd has been the best hitter this year. Rios had money and 1 if not 2 top ten prospects attached to him. Everyone else didnt make it to us on waivers.


2 reasons this deal had to be made
1. Garrett Jones just isnt giving the Pirates good AB’s. his August OPS is .492 (in 60 AB’s) you can’t have that in the middle of the order. Marlon Byrd isn’t a small upgrade over Jones, he is a huge, consistent upgrade. Byrd has an OPS of .900 over his last 300 AB’s, with no real wild fluctuations. He also hits RH better than Jones (that’s correct)….giving Hurdle more lineup flexibility. Jones should become a bench player in October, but they might trot him out at first vs RHP in the playoffs. I hope they go with Gaby or make another move. Byrd will play every day, and should.
2. Tony Sanchez’ defense isn’t trustworthy. He let 5 balls in the dirt advance base runners in the game I went to in SF last week. I don’t really know the extent of Bucks defense, but I would guess he is Russell insurance.

I love this trade. Give us the best chance to move on in October. Finishing 2nd (and having to play the one game playoff) may be a blessing in disguise if we avoid Kershaw and Greinke in round 1……

Andrew Smalley

First, I agree that the Pirates needed to make a trade. I agree that that trade should have been focused on RF. And, further, Marlon Byrd is a clear upgrade in RF and therefore gives us another bat down the stretch that has the potential to impact our line-up and our playoff success.

But, this analysis is incomplete. And, ironically, despite saying that you can’t view trades in a vacuum….Tim’s analysis does *precisely* that.

Marlon Byrd wasn’t the only option in RF. There were several others, including Nate Schierholtz, Alex Rios from a month ago, Hunter Pence, David DeJesus, etc. Also, there was the following guy:

Player A – Career 824 OPS, wRC + 125 vs. LHP and an above-avg defense.

Player B – Career 803 OPS, wRC + 110 vs. LHP and an above-avg defense.

Player A took one prospect of considerably less potential than Dilson Herrera, let alone Herrera *and* a ‘decent’ PTBNL.

Player B took the #11 prospect in a stacked organization at the middle-infield, plus a PTBNL that is decent and therefore a legit prospect.

Oh, and Player A had additional years of control left, while Player B is a rental.

Player A was Justin Maxwell and could have been had at a MUCH cheaper price. Player B, obviously, is Marlon Byrd.

While this trade analysis doesn’t reflect the addition of Buck, that hardly makes up for the vast discrepancy of value give for value returned.

The Pirates needed to make a deal. Byrd upgrades them by about a .5 win or even 1 win the rest of the season. That’s important.

Yet, NH shouldn’t get a pass just because ‘trades should be evaluated on a different scale’ when you’re a contender. In a *vacuum*, maybe. But, these aren’t done in a vacuum. There are other options, there are other players that would also fit.

Yes, we overpaid. But, we also probably *paid* the wrong guy, considering the other options. We shouldn’t move the goalposts in our analysis just because we’re on the other side of the contender vs. non-contender equation.

Tim’s analysis does just that….

Andrew Smalley

First, You’re saying I’m the one using the SSS-argument? Isn’t all of Byrd’s worth based on the fact that he is having a career-year, ie: judging him on a SSS? I’m using career numbers, both w/r/t Byrd and Maxwell. If you are of the opinion that only looking at this year’s stats is more credible than a player’s entire career, you’d be the one relying on a SSS-argument.

Secondly, just saying that Byrd is a full-time player and Maxwell is not is not an argument. The better question is, should Byrd be playing full-time, not just assuming he should be.

Third, Kyle Smith is a decent prospect. He’s not Dilson Herrera, at least from the prospectors I read (BP, Fangraphs, etc.) If you want to say that Kyle Smith is the equivalent to Dilson Herrera, I’m pretty sure you’d be in the minority, along w/ BA if that is their grade.

Finally, I’m not saying that Byrd is better than Maxwell. He’s not and I would prefer to have Byrd. This discussion is centered around the value given up for each player, and whether we overpaid or paid the right guy in return.

Giving up Dilson Herrera and a decent PTBNL for Marlon Byrd/Buck, rather than giving up a lesser prospect than Herrera for Maxwell (if you assume, like most do, that Herrera > Smith) is a decision made by the FO. I disagree w/ that decision, based on career #s of Byrd/Maxwell, other options available, and the potential upside of Dilson Herrera at a position that is devoid of answers.

That’s a pretty rational argument, in my eyes.


Maxwell only has 800 PA’s in his career! That’s not even 2 years. And Byrd’s “career year” is also driven by a number of underlying factors that suggest a change in approach. Also, 5 different times in his career he’s had a WAR above 3 so it’s not like he’s never been productive before.

In addition, nobody “gave up on Herrera”, nor is Smith anywhere near as bad as you seem to think.

I never thought I’d see the day where somebody defended a Dayton Moore move.


Andrew, your analysis would be spot on if Byrd was a platoon player. But the Bucs needed a full time RF much more than they needed another platoon player. Here is BA’s write up on Maxwell when the trade was done:

“The Astros picked up the out-of-options Maxwell on waivers when the Yankees were clearing 40-man roster space at the end of spring training 2012. He didn’t fit in Houston’s long-term plans, but as an outfielder who can play all three outfield spots, he’s a reasonably useful part-timer, especially in light of his career .253/.370/.455 batting line against lefties. The less he plays against righties, the better, or so says his career .203/.272/.397 line against same-siders.”

He also had a slash line .234/.305/.372/.677 when the trade went down. I for one think the Pirates already have enough of this type of player. He appears to be less valuable than Tabata at this point.

On the other side of the deals, Kyle Smith is pretty much dominating Hi A as a 20 year old, and is now Houston’s 15th best prospect according to Mayo’s updated list. Houston has a pretty stacked top of their farm system, and these things are VERY subjective, but to say Herrera as our 10th-15th prospect is “MUCH” more of a price than Smith as Houston’s 15th best prospect doesn’t pass the smell test. He’s having a better year than Herrera at a level higher and a year older.

Of course there’s the PTBNL, plus the fact that the Bucs got another MLB catcher for the stretch run to consider. Until we know who the PTBNL is, it’s useless to try to evaluate this aspect.

But clearly the Bucs got the right OF (compared to Maxwell, at least) since Byrd can play more than 20% of the teams games.


You just didn’t your vacuum counter in a vacuum….it’s like a vacuum paradox. First, Marlon Byrd has 6X as many career at bats as Maxwell and over 1000 more AB’s against LHP. Second, Marlon Byrd will also likely be playing and batting 5th against RHP where as Justin Maxwell would be sitting his happy butt on the bench. I see no comparison, and by the way, Kyle Smith was the Royals #12 prospect, so considerably worse is a bit of a stretch.



From my knowledge,(which is not much and can be completely wrong) the other team is given a list of players they can chose from. Gives them a better chance to evaluate. But again I can be making stories up in my head which I’m prone to do once a week. (Comes with old age)

Second, Tim I completely agree with you. I’ve had conversations with people who feel the pirates lost this trade and are stupid. I informed them that this is the other side of rebuilding. That these are the more difficult trades. This is the first time in 20 years where the pirates need to make a trade based off need for thr short term. This is a stupid trade but a good trade for the pirates. No matter if they make the playoffs, win thr playin game or a series. It’s what is best for the team NOW. It’s a high reward, low risk trade

Matt Beam


What level is the PTNL that you’ve heard unconfirmed? Also, what is the typical reason that it’s necessary to use the PTNL vs just announcing both prospects names? isn’t there some rule about players not being able to be traded within a year of signing after being drafted? Somebody along the lines of Wyatt Mathisen?


I’ll also add I can think of only 3 reasons the Pirates and Mets would have a player in mind but not actually included him in the trade right now.

1) The player is on the 40 man roster and didn’t clear waivers. So as a work around they agreed to the PTBNL and will complete the deal in the offseason (see Jerry Sands to the Red Sox last year).

2) The player is less than a year removed from being drafted and is not eligible to be traded. In this case the deal couldn’t be completed until a year was reached.

3) The player is injured and the Mets want to monitor his recovery to make sure all is well.

To me the most logical of those three options is number 1 which is why I put a little stock in the Vic Black rumors.


Good points, but I don’t see how the “1 year after being drafted” restriction could possibly apply here. Everyone drafted in 2012 has already passed the restricted year while nobody drafted in 2013 will pass it by the time the PTBNL is actually named. I think they only have a couple of months to name him.


I’ve heard Vic Black rumored as the PTBNL. That would make some sense because as a 40 man roster guy he would have to clear waivers to be traded right now. Using him as a PTBNL allows the Pirates and Mets to avoid the waiver process and just complete the deal in the offseason.

Lee Young

Matt…I, too, am worried now, about the PTBNL.



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