The non-waiver trade deadline is at the end of this week, meaning we can expect a ton of trade rumors, and probably some action from the Pirates this week leading up to the deadline. The Pirates have already made their first move, landing Aramis Ramirez last week in exchange for Yhonathan Barrios. Don’t expect them to stop at that one move.
“We’re exploring basically everything, and trying to find what the acquisition costs are, in our mind, both on the field from a production standpoint but also being sensitive to the clubhouse and what move X or Y would do to our expected production as well as the intangibles,” Neal Huntington said on Sunday.
The Pirates have already been rumored to be going after a relief pitcher, which makes a lot of sense. Their bullpen has been fantastic in the late innings, and Jared Hughes has done well in the seventh inning. But they need one more consistent middle reliever to really put their pitching staff over the top.
“There’s a reason why the Royals advanced as far as they did last year – they played 6 inning games,” Huntington said. “When they got ahead and the 6th inning rolled around, you’re going to have an awfully hard time scoring against them unless you can get into extra innings. There is a benefit to that.”
The Pirates are set up well to do just that. They’ve got one of the best rotations in baseball, and two of the best late inning guys in Mark Melancon and Tony Watson. Hughes has been solid, and if they can add one more key reliever, they could bridge the gap every night from their rotation to Watson and Melancon.
“As we get close to the deadline, there are more teams that tend to realize that maybe the math is working against them. There are some teams that are realizing that the math isn’t working in their favor but not against them. There are some teams that realize that the math is working in their favor. We’re experiencing that. We’d still like to add to this club. We shored up what we felt was our biggest soft spot, but that doesn’t mean we are done. We will continue to look. It just gives us some versatility and flexibility to find where we think the match or next best fit is.”
Last year the Pirates tried to make deals at the deadline, offering up prospects in return. Other teams ended up looking for MLB-ready talent, and the Pirates were left without a trade. As I wrote last night, they’ve got the prospect depth to make some trades this year. Huntington noted that there are some teams looking for such returns.
“It’s case-by-case, there are still clubs looking for ready or near-ready major league talent in return for their players, and there are other clubs looking for the best available prospect, and they will take a shot at the ceiling vs. taking a shot at the lesser ceiling prospect that is closer to the big leagues,” Huntington said. “It’s more case-by-case. I don’t know if we are going to see the same major-league for major-league talent we saw of late, but I didn’t anticipate it a year ago. But there were still a level of prospect for major leaguer deals on the table that didn’t come into fruition.”
The Pirates already dealt one prospect in the Ramirez trade, sending out hard throwing right-handed pitcher Yhonathan Barrios. He’s a Grade C pitcher, so the return wasn’t big, but it does create an interesting scenario.
“Five years from now, Barrios might be pitching in some meaningful games for the Brewers, Aramis Ramirez will be in year four or five of retirement, and some of you might be questioning the move that we made at that time,” Huntington said. “The big thing for us is the balance of short-term need and impact compared to our goal of remaining competitive as many years as we can in the future.”
I don’t know if anyone will question this move in five years, but I also don’t think anyone should be questioning this move. The Pirates have plenty of relievers like Barrios in the upper levels of their minor league system, although he was one of the more promising hard throwers. Still, they had an immediate need on a contending team, and traded a lower grade prospect that they won’t miss to fill that need. This is the type of trade you make every time.
The interesting thing will be if the Pirates deal someone graded higher than Barrios, or deal someone who might have been in the future plans for the organization. That might lead to some long-term questions. But if they deal the right prospects, then they could avoid those questions, as they’d already have players in place at the major league level for those exact same positions.
Other Pirates Notes
**Last week I wrote about how the Pirates might have found the new Cuban market when they signed Jung-ho Kang out of the KBO. Huntington was asked on Sunday how the Kang signing might impact future scouting of the Korean league.
“When we signed him, we believed that he was a regular player – we just weren’t sure where and weren’t sure when,” Huntington said. “He’s come over here and done everything we could’ve asked of him on the field and off the field. If anything, it’s kind of solidified our belief that the better players over there can probably play over here. There is still a lot more that goes into it, and Kang deserves a lot of the credit behind the scenes for how hard he has worked to become a part of this team and how hard he’s work to become comfortable in American culture and American baseball. This young man has done a ton of really good things behind the scenes as well as what he’s done on the field.”