Saunders: Everything, Including Nothing, Should be on the Table for the Pirates

On the eve of the trade deadline, the odds that the Pirates will make a big move seem to be pretty small.

There have been reports that the Pirates have kicked the tires on some controllable pitchers, with Texas Rangers reliever Keone Kela and Baltimore Orioles starter Kevin Gausman coming in as the most-talked-about names.

Both are pitchers of above-average talent and above-average (Kela) to slightly below-average (Gausman) results.

Neither is a household name that will move the needle as far as placating the parts of the Pirates fanbase or the Pittsburgh media that seem intent on demanding that the Pirates add greatly to their team at the deadline.

Unfortunately, neither is likely to have any sort of significant impact on the Pirates’ chances of making the postseason or having any success if they get there.

Coming into Monday’s games, Fangraphs gives the Pirates a 12 percent chance of making the postseason, with a 1.1 percent chance of winning the NL Central. Baseball Prospectus is less forgiving, figuring a 7.2 percent chance of the Pirates making the playoffs and a 0.9 percent chance of them winning the division.

With a 4-3 week against the best-of-a-bad-division Cleveland Indians and decidedly not-playoff-bound New York Mets, the Pirates odds have dropped across the board.

Even if the Pirates somehow made the postseason, the addition of players that right now are performing like a No. 4 starter and a seventh-inning reliever aren’t exactly the kind of moves that would change their chances come October.

Moves like acquiring Kela or Gausman or another controllable pitcher would be just as easily made this offseason as at the trade deadline. As Tim Williams wrote on Monday morning, there will be a hot market for that type of player, and there’s little incentive for the club to engage in a bidding war, because what the Pirates would really be paying for in those deals are the players’ performances in 2019 and beyond. 

The Pirates probably aren’t winning the World Series, without or without a deadline deal. They don’t need to out-bid the Los Angeles Dodgers right now. They can wait until the offseason to get a pitcher for 2019. 

But it’s not a zero-sum game. Just because the Pirates don’t need to buyers, doesn’t mean they need to be sellers. First of all, the Pirates aren’t in a position to sell much of anything, anyway. Their only players on expiring contracts are shortstop Jordy Mercer (0.8 fWAR) and utilityman Sean Rodriguez (0.0 fWAR). If Huntington could get anything out of those two vets, he probably should.

But otherwise, the decision on whether or not to move on from a player like Francisco Cervelli, Corey Dickerson, David Freese, Josh Harrison or Ivan Nova, just like most of the Pirates potential additions, can just as easily be made this offseason as at the deadline.

Huntington said publicly that he needed the team to have a good stretch in July to change his plans at the trade deadline. The Pirates have had a good run. The team, in my estimation, has earned the right to stay together and attempt to convert their long odds into something.

But there aren’t going to be many smart moves out there for Huntington to make that will help his team in both the short term and the long term, the price will be high and there’s very little impetus for getting those deals done this week.

Huntington has made moves at every trade deadline since 2011, adding to his team at the deadline every year through 2015 and fence-sitting the last two seasons by trading players on expiring contracts while making other acquisitions.

Perhaps it will be another deadline like 2011, when Huntington paid little to acquire some small pieces. Perhaps someone will exceed the asking price for one the Pirates’ controllable veterans and it will look more like 2016-17, with moves coming on both sides of the ledger. They shouldn’t shy away from such a deal if the right one is offered. There also seems to be a good chance that the right move ends up being to make no move at all.




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