Last year the Pittsburgh Pirates had a need for a starting right fielder. By the end of August, they made a deal for Marlon Byrd, sending Dilson Herrera and Vic Black to the New York Mets. In the same deal, they also got catcher John Buck, who they used as their backup the rest of the season.
Buck wasn’t a very good backup catcher. He was replacement level, and was horrible at pitch framing. You can’t really say that the entire return in this deal was for Byrd, but it’s safe to say that he was the reason for the bulk of the return, and Buck was a much cheaper part of the deal.
The Pirates have been looking for relief pitching this year. They were interested in Huston Street, who was dealt to the Los Angeles Angels for a group of prospects, including Taylor Lindsey, who entered the year as a top 100 guy. They were interested in Joakim Soria, who was dealt for two of the Tigers top six prospects entering the year. There are a lot of teams looking for relievers, and not many teams selling relievers, which means the price should continue to be high.
I don’t think the Pirates should pay a high price to add a relief pitcher. But if they’re looking to make another trade — such as adding a starting pitcher or a piece to the offense — then it wouldn’t hurt to take the John Buck approach in adding a reliever. That doesn’t mean adding someone who won’t really help out or make a difference, as was the case with Buck, but adding someone who would be the Part B in the trade, and wouldn’t drive the price up much.
You’re probably not getting a closer or eighth inning guy. But you could get a quality reliever, and might not have to pay much for that reliever if he’s being paired with a bigger return. For example, the Pirates were watching Jon Lester this week, and have also been looking at Red Sox relievers. If they did decide to trade for Lester, that would be a good opportunity to add a seventh inning guy to the mix. Of course the reason this would work is because the return for the first piece would be so big. The Pirates would have to decide whether the price for the main piece in the trade was worth the upgrade.
I’m not sure if it’s a coincidence that they’re tied to teams for both relievers and a main piece. Aside from Lester and the Red Sox, there’s A.J. Burnett and Antonio Bastardo from the Phillies. I’m not sure who they could look at with Arizona, aside from the bullpen, although I’d certainly pursue Didi Gregorius as the primary piece. They have also been tied to Ian Kennedy and were tied to Huston Street before he was dealt. Maybe this is nothing more than the Pirates looking for all types of pitching, and most sellers having both starters and relievers available.
Personally I don’t think the Pirates need to make a splash in this seller’s market, as they don’t really have a big enough need that would warrant giving up so much in prospects. It seems like they’re looking hard at relievers, which goes against their approach in previous years of finding value relievers. I’m still going to be very surprised if they actually pay for a reliever this year, unless that reliever comes in a deal with a bigger piece that they’re paying for.
Links and Notes
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.