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First Pitch: Breaking Down The Musical Chair of Relievers

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The Pittsburgh Pirates had a busy day of moves. None of the moves were major, but a set of three moves led to the Pirates playing musical chairs with relief pitchers, and ending up with a first round compensation pick in the process.

First, the Pirates traded Bryan Morris to the Marlins, receiving the 39th pick in next week’s draft. Then they called up Casey Sadler to replace Morris on the roster. To cap it off, they claimed Wirfin Obispo from the Atlanta Braves.

I like the stuff that Morris has. He’s got the stuff to be a late inning reliever. However, for some reason his numbers have never matched the stuff. This year he had a 3.80 ERA in 23.2 innings. His advanced metrics were worse, with a 4.48 xFIP. Morris learned a two-seamer during the off-season, which led to a 67.1% ground ball ratio. His strikeouts have always been low, with a 5.3 K/9 this year, and his walks have been too high, with a 4.6 BB/9 in 2014.

Morris showed better stuff this year, with a fastball that averaged 95.3 MPH. He also has a nice cutter that you’d think would lead to more strikeouts. Maybe the Marlins can get him turned around. From the Pirates’ standpoint, he wasn’t exactly dominating, the advanced metrics said he’d be worse, and they’ve got the depth to replace Morris with another talented pitcher.

The fact that they got a draft pick for Morris is surprising. Two years ago, the Pirates traded a compensation pick to the Marlins for Gaby Sanchez. I thought that price was high at the time, and it still looks a little high, although it’s better now with Sanchez dominating lefties. I’ve made my position on relief pitchers known. If you can get value for them, then deal them away and replace them with the next guy in line. I think a first round compensation pick in a deep draft like this one is a good return for a guy who has put up average middle relief numbers in his career. John Dreker wrote about what the new draft pick could mean for the Pirates.

That type of move is only good if the Pirates can replace Morris with a guy who is as good as him, or better. Enter Casey Sadler. I’ve been high on Sadler for a few years, dating back to when I first saw him in West Virginia in 2011. He was a long reliever then, showing good velocity and putting up some nice numbers. I saw him a year later in the Bradenton rotation, and that’s when I started viewing him as a potential starter.

I still think Sadler can be a starter in the majors. He’s got the stuff to be a back of the rotation guy. Long-term, he doesn’t have a spot with the Pirates in the major league rotation, and would only have a spot as a reliever, or as rotation depth in Triple-A. Obviously the Pirates are going the reliever route right now. That weakens the rotation depth in Triple-A right now, although I think Sadler would have been number three on that list. That’s not a knock against him. It’s just that the organization is high on Jeff Locke, and he seems to be next in line. Then there’s Vance Worley, who has been pitching well this year. The Pirates would be smart to add Worley to the active roster at some point this year, this getting control of the right-hander for three or four more seasons beyond the 2014 season. That left Sadler as the number three rotation option this year, assuming Nick Kingham doesn’t emerge as a starting option by the end of the year.

In the short-term, I think that swapping out Morris for Sadler will at least be a wash. The fact that the Pirates got a first round compensation pick, all while seeing little to no drop off at the major league level, is impressive.

Then there’s the addition of Wirfin Obispo, which might be the hardest name I have to remember for the rest of the year — and that’s considering that the Pirates will be adding up to 42 new players to the organization next week. This move seems very similar to the addition of Josh Wall a few weeks ago. You’ve got a hard thrower (93-97 MPH) who is on the old side, strictly a reliever, and has dealt with control problems. He’s got options remaining, meaning you can use an open spot on the 40-man to claim him, send him to Indianapolis, and hope that an adjustment will reduce the control problems and help the arm reach its potential. I don’t expect much from these moves. The Pirates had three open spots on the 40-man roster after the Morris trade, so there’s no harm in making this claim. Worst case, you just used a roster spot that wasn’t being used, and get a guy who will struggle in Triple-A and won’t turn things around as expected. In other words, it’s very unlikely this deal will do anything to harm the Pirates.

Overall, the Pirates didn’t make any big splashes here. I like the fact that they got a draft pick for Morris, especially considering the quality of talent in this draft. It also helps that Sadler should be a good replacement for Morris. Then they added a high upside arm whose numbers haven’t lived up to the stuff. That sounds very much like Morris, although Obispo is on a much lower scale than Morris as far as success. But the Pirates dealt a great arm/poor results guy like Morris for a draft pick, then got a great arm/poor results guy like Obispo for free. That’s getting good value, even if the deals are minor.

tl;dr

**Bryan Morris has a great arm, and his stuff has been better this year. His numbers have never lived up to the stuff, and that trend continued this season.

**The 2014 draft is deep with talent, so getting a compensation pick for a reliever like Morris is a good move.

**Casey Sadler could be just as good as Morris in the bullpen, meaning the Pirates don’t lose anything.

**Sadler as a reliever weakens the rotation depth, but he was probably behind Jeff Locke and Vance Worley to begin with and had no long-term future in the Pirates’ rotation.

**It’s hard to remember how to spell Wirfin Obispo.

**Obispo is an older reliever with a good arm and bad stuff in his career. He’s a low risk/high reward project who is unlikely to work out, but costs the Pirates nothing.

Transaction Links

**Pirates Trade Bryan Morris to Marlins For a Draft Pick

**Casey Sadler Takes Roster Spot of Bryan Morris

**Draft Prospect Watch: What the New Draft Pick Could Mean For Pirates

**Pirates Claim Pitcher Wirfin Obispo From Atlanta Braves

**Wirfin Obispo Player Page

Links and Notes

**Prospect Watch: Josh Bell Homers During Jason Creasy’s Gem

**Chris Dickerson Being a Mentor to Gregory Polanco. Ryan Palencer writes about how Dickerson is having a great season for Indianapolis, but his biggest impact might be the guidance he is providing for Gregory Polanco.

**Adrian Sampson is the Pirates Prospects Pitcher of the Month For May. Not a top of the rotation prospect, but he is breaking out and has a chance to be a middle of the rotation guy if all goes well.

**Keon Broxton is the Pirates Prospects Player of the Month For May. He’s got the upside of a fourth outfielder, and should move up to Indianapolis when Polanco gets promoted.

**Prospect Highlights: Gregory Polanco Moves to Lead-Off Spot. The final step until his promotion, which might be a week away.

Tim Williams
Tim Williams
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.

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