First Pitch: The Pirates Definitely Shouldn’t Be Trading Jeff Locke Now

Last week, as part of our new weekly Q&A feature on the site, I received the following question.

Elliot Hicks: Charlie Wilmoth at Bucs Dugout posted a good article on Jeff Locke being a possible trade candidate. What would you think about a Locke trade if Worley wins the 5th starter spot?

I linked the referenced article in the question above. I haven’t had a chance to fully read it, since my Spring Training schedule pretty much prevents me from reading anything. I did get a chance to scan through it, and also received other questions like the one above, which gives me a good idea of what the article is about.

My answer to this question was going to come on Friday. I was going to answer that I wouldn’t trade Jeff Locke, since he provides early season starting depth if someone goes down in the first month. I’d say that the odds are someone will go down in the first month, but the truth is that you don’t know. You don’t know if the Pirates will need Locke in April, just like you don’t know if the Pirates will go the entire season without needing Locke in the rotation, and instead opting for prospects mid-season. And that’s exactly why I’d keep him.

Depth is fleeting. You can never predict when you’ll need depth. And the smart approach would be to keep as much as possible. If Locke is in the bullpen, then there’s a good chance that he won’t be stretched out after a month or two. But what if he is needed in that first month? I’d think a trade would only make sense once you’ve reached the point where Locke is absolutely no longer an option for the rotation. Trading him at the end of Spring Training is basically saying that the Pirates won’t need him in April, and there’s no way that can be predicted.

Today provided a perfect example of how depth can be totally unpredictable, especially with pitchers. Brandon Cumpton will visit Dr. James Andrews next week, and that’s never a good sign. Most of the time, this type of visit leads to Tommy John surgery, which means Cumpton will be out until next Spring, and possibly a little later if the Pirates take the same conservative approach they’re currently taking with Jameson Taillon.

Cumpton was one of the early season options for the rotation if an injury came up. The other early season options were Casey Sadler, who hasn’t really been proven at the Major League level, and Clayton Richard, who is a bounce-back candidate working on getting back to his old mechanics before his recent string of injuries. Aside from Locke (assuming he loses the fifth starter job to Vance Worley), Cumpton was the top option for early season depth. The alternative would be calling up Nick Kingham or Adrian Sampson early, assuming that both will need more time in Triple-A.

The set-back for Cumpton isn’t specific to him. It can happen to any one of the pitchers in the system, even the five guys who are projected for the rotation. It could happen this Spring. It could happen in April. Or maybe it won’t happen at all. But the idea of having too much depth can quickly lead to a situation that leaves you wondering where all the depth went.

It would now be more difficult to trade Locke away, since that means the Pirates would be banking on Sadler making a big jump to the majors and having success right away, and/or Richard bouncing back to his former self. There’s the idea that he could be traded for another pitcher who has options remaining, but the reality is that this pitcher would be a downgrade from Locke, since no one would deal a similarly valued pitcher who has options, all to get the same type of pitcher with no options.

If there comes a point where Locke can no longer be a starting option, due to his time spent in the bullpen, then that’s when the Pirates might consider a trade. Whoever adds Locke would have to stretch him out, although the team adding him would probably be a team that isn’t contending, and would be looking toward the future, which means stretching him out in-season wouldn’t be a big deal. Until then, he looks like the top depth option in April if Worley wins the starting role, and that placement on the depth charts becomes even more secure if Cumpton is out for the year.

**We have about 100 hard copy books of the 2015 Prospect Guide remaining from the most recent shipment. We’ve already sold more than last year’s total, and I don’t anticipate ordering another shipment this year. That means once the current batch is gone, the hard copy version will be sold out. You can order your copy of the book on the products page of the site.

**Every day I upload content on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and the video features on YouTube. Be sure that you’re subscribed to all of those sites to follow everything we upload throughout Spring Training (there is different content for each social media site).

**What Is The Difference Between Mel Rojas And Keon Broxton? My video feature today looks at what Mel Rojas did to improve his power and walks in 2014, leading to the best season of his career. It’s a similar story to Keon Broxton, but I point out how they’re very different players.

**Pirate City Notes: Heredia In Good Shape, Surgery For Castro, Nevarez Bringing Heat. I spent the day at Pirate City, and have some great features coming up this week. I’ll be back tomorrow, watching the morning workouts before the 1:00 PM game at McKechnie.

**Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 Minor League Spring Training Roster. This is always good to have when you’re at Pirate City. The roster also gives an idea of who will make the jump from the DSL to the US in 2015. John Dreker profiled all of the players making that jump for Spring Training. Wilbur Miller added player pages for all of the players, which can be found below.

**Brandon Cumpton To Visit Dr. James Andrews Next Week

  • Monsoon Harvard
    March 5, 2015 12:26 am

    Over my decades of following baseball I have seen major league teams put a lot of stock into so many less-than-mediocre left handed starters it would make one’s head spin.
    I would never take Jeff Locke and his proven successful track record for granted. If they didn’t get a top notch player in any trade of Locke, it would be a shameful mistake to let him go.

  • First of all, I would trade anyone at anytime, I do not believe anyone is untouchable, for the right price. As far as Locke is concerned he is a much better pitcher than he gets credit for. I believe the Pirates have hurt his value because he is basically a pinch hit pitcher for them, but guys with 4.0 ERA’s usually are not afterthoughts, his numbers would put him in a rotation on a lot of teams. IMO, the Pirates will stash him away in long relief and will use him “Off The Bench”. If someone comes calling for a left handed pitcher, Huntington will surely listen. Could be the Pirates will wait till the end of ST to see how Clayton Richards does, since he is a veteran that pitches similar to Locke.

    • Colin Balester is another under the radar reclamation project in the system.

  • Nice job, Tim.

    One name I expected to see mentioned was Travis Snider. Locke’s general role is fairly analogous to that which Snider would’ve held with with 2015 club at a high-level view, but I do think there are key differences…

    -First and foremost, there’s generally much higher risk involved with pitchers than position players. Much more likely to *need* pitching depth than outfield depth.

    -This one could be seen as debatable, but I think the options to replace Snider’s 2015 production are far greater than Locke’s.

    -Lastly, the Pirates were able to get real value for Snider. Stephen Tarpley immediately became the best LHP prospect in the system and is a guy that scouts say has real upside that has more than just a chance of being reached. Jeff Locke’s a big league pitcher, certainly, but is he really a guy that contenders are going to be looking to bring in? And if not, does it make much sense for a team out of contention to give up future value for a couple years of his services?

  • This has nothing to do with anything, but since it’s the first time on PP since we arrived in FL, just wanted to post that as we were walking up to McKechnie on Tuesday (late… didn’t arrive until 3rd inning), this came bouncing across the road and stopped at my wife’s feet. An official Rob Manfred souvenir!

  • How important do you think it is for a team to have some level of mix of RH and LH starting pitchers in their rotation? Is that important or just the ideal?

    I agree trading Locke would not likely net much, and other than Liriano, he is our only LH starter on the horizon. I would trade someone like Morton, before I would trade Locke or Worley. We would likely get a little more for Morton, and the organization is stocked with RH starters.

    • For starting pitchers, I think it’s fairly well established that a mix is more of an ideal than a necessity. Without the ability to play with match ups, as you do in the bullpen, you’re almost always going to be better off going with the better overall pitcher, regardless of handedness.

      Extreme situations, such as a home ballpark that plays drastically different from LF to RF, could tip the scales a bit.

  • It was interesting to witness Locke’s transition from a four seam pitcher to a two seam pitcher. At the same time he threw more changeups which is counter-intuitive. I suspect Locke works with AJ (with whom Locke developed his curve) and will use his knuckle curve more this year.

  • Steel City Scotty
    March 4, 2015 9:35 am
  • Lee Foo Young
    March 4, 2015 8:49 am

    Locke is a viable #4 pitcher, so, unless the return is pretty darn good, I am hanging onto him. IF first half Jeff shows up for the whole year, we really have something.

    Do we really know that Worley is the real deal? What does AJ have left? Cole and Liriano both spent time on the DL last year. Then there’s Charley “Mr DL” Morton.

    • Has there been anything more regarding CM? I think at one time his rehab was going well and he was going to be ready to start the season, but then there was talk that he may stay longer in Florida? This is the good alternating year for both he and Liriano

      I think AJ has a lot left in the tank, but last year his undoing was the steep rise in Walks and HR’s compared to the previous year in Pittsburgh. Locke is a solid 4/5, and seemingly much better at the beginning of the year – sort of a 2/3 in the first half and a 6/7 in the second half!

      • Luke sutton
        March 4, 2015 3:29 pm

        Seems like the team is confident Morton will be healthy and ready to go on OD, but the lack of a need for a 5th man the first 2-3 weeks could let them hold him back and get some extra work in if they want it.

        • Luke: Since he ended 2014 on the DL, if they choose to keep him for extra work in the warmth, would they be able to keep him on the DL thereby opening a spot for Worley/Locke for a few extra weeks?

          • Luke sutton
            March 4, 2015 4:40 pm

            I’m not sure about “keeping” him on the DL, but he could certainly be placed on the DL to open the year for a 15 day stint and allow Locke to stay stretched out for that time. Interesting idea i had not really thought of, but it would allow Locke to stay in SP form and not worry about the bullpen until at least 15 days into the year, or 30 if you really wanna give Morton a wide amount of time.

  • Give Loche a shot. with Lirano, Cole, AJ at the top, Loche and Worley to start the season, once Morton is 100% split the 5th spot with Loche and Worley. If Kingham or Tallion show up and Loche is showing All-Star potential again.. dangle him out there and see what kinda offers show up.

    Hopefully Cumpton’s issues are not as bad as they sound

  • formerdraftpick
    March 4, 2015 7:27 am

    Would it be beneficial to have a six man rotation? Has an organization in recent years done this?

    • yes it has, usually doesn’t work out well. The pirates kinda did it a couple years ago for a time.

    • A six man rotation only makes sense if you don’t have a top starter. The Pirates have some good starters at the top, and a six man rotation would take away starts and innings from Liriano, Cole, and Burnett.

      • How about this? A 5.5 Man rotation. to wit: Lirano, Cole, Morton, Burnett, Worley, Liriano, Cole, Morton, Burnett, Locke……repeat as necessary?

        • FrankRestly
          March 4, 2015 8:30 pm

          You want to try to keep everyone on the same schedule. Having Worley and Locke alternate starts is not a good way to go.

          You could do something like putting a 4 inning limit on any starter and have the next guy up pitch middle relief.

          Day 1 – Liriano 4 innings, Worley 3 innings
          Day 2 – Cole 4 innings, Locke 3 innings
          Day 3 – Morton 4 innings, Burnett 3 innings
          Day 4 – Worley 4 innings, Liriano 3 innings
          Day 5 – Locke 4 innings, Cole 3 innings
          Day 6 – Burnett 4 innings, Morton 3 innings

          Each pitcher would start every sixth day, but would pitch every 3rd day. You could parlay this into fewer at bats for your pitchers with a pinch hitter always scheduled to bat sometime in the 4th / 5th inning. On four of six days you have have alternating righty / lefty pitchers and so teams can’t load up for a matchup advantage (lefty heavy batting versus righty pitcher or vice versa).

      • FrankRestly
        March 4, 2015 6:20 pm

        Tim,

        I think there is more to it than that. Most teams want a “solid 6” from their starters on a five man rotation (6 innings pitched, 3 runs or less allowed). And so on a 162 game season with 5 starters, each is expected to get around 195 innings per starter over the course of a season (162 * 6 / 5 = 194.4).

        You can go to a six man rotation and get the same kind of inning workload, but most teams don’t have 6 pitchers that can give a consistent 7 innings of quality pitching. Doing the math again – 162 * 7 / 6 = 189 innings per starter.

        There are also pitch count considerations. Not sure where the magic number of 100 pitches per game comes from, but that seems to be the time when teams think about pulling their starter.

        Finally, scheduling plays a part as well. The way league schedules are constructed these days, most teams don’t play many day / night double headers and it is a rarity for a team to play a regular season series lasting more than 4 games.

      • formerdraftpick
        March 7, 2015 9:47 am

        I guess I was going with the hypothesis that the starters would be healthier after six days rest and produce more innings per start, thus preserving the bullpen. On the flipside, I think you are right and would lose innings from your 3 best guys who you would want on the mound. Btw, thanks for replying to my post.

  • Scott Kliesen
    March 4, 2015 5:25 am

    I seriously doubt NH is considering trading him, nor should he. A LH SP who has shown he can get out major league hitters plays well at PNC Park.

  • Luke sutton
    March 4, 2015 2:45 am

    For me, the smart approach is keeping him as stretched out as possible while in the bullpen so as to possibly use him in the first month or two if/when needed. Once you hit mid-June, he likely isnt in a great spot to be starting more than 4-5 innings, so he becomes a long man and in case of injury you start looking more to the Kingham/Sampson options as they have gotten at least partially more time in AAA and would hopefully just be needed for a very short time.

  • Very good article, and I completely agree. Bottom line is, what they’d get for him (a “c” or “b” prospect) does not equal his value as a fallback option. Even if they have to move him into the bullpen for awhile, he would be more valuable as a trade chip at the deadline (should they determine at that point they don’t need him) than trying to move him now, when there are a lot of 5th starter-types like him on the market.

    The only exception I’d make is if they can move him for a similar guy with options left. But I doubt they will find that this time of year, maybe at the deadline…

    • If it comes between a trade or trying to send him down to AAA and exposing him (I think he is out of options), then the trade is a necessity. He has 61 MLB Starts, 18-19, 4.00 ERA, in his age 27 season – there are at least 10 teams out there who would be very interested. If traded, the best we can hope for is a player/pitcher with Lo A or less experience. He would have to be paired with others to get a decent return (something we need).

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