Pittsburgh Pirates: Only Move Left Is To Make A Trade

Neal Huntington has been a wheel and dealer, but 2014 looks like a different story

Neal Huntington has been a wheel and dealer, but 2014 looks like a different story

The Pittsburgh Pirates are out of moves.  With so little talent available at a reasonable acquisition cost on the free agent market, the club needs to make a trade to improve their roster.  The biggest acquisition to their roster in recent memory came via a Neal Huntington trade.  So just what do the Bucs have that would interest other Major League teams?

Yep, you guessed it.  Arms.

Specifically bullpen arms.  While the Pirates haven’t always had the best bullpen on paper, they have had specific individuals lock down innings out of their self titled Shark Tank.  When you dig into the numbers and realize how often the Shark Tank rescued starters in recent seasons, it has without question been a strength.  It’s also been an area that the Bucs have used to add pieces to their roster puzzle in the past.

It might not even take the Pirates giving up one or two of their more talented arms, but trading pitching for bats has been a staple under the Huntington era.  Over recent seasons, Huntington hasn’t been afraid to trade relief pitchers for quality (and not so quality) players.

Huntington used the equation this winter when the Pirates traded a bullpen arm for a first baseman although nobody seemed to notice.  First baseman Chris McGuinness was acquired in a low profile move for Miles ‘The Lizard King’ Mikolas.

McGuinness figures to be in the mix at first base at least initially, and provides the Pirates with limited ML experience at the position.

In notable trades involving bullpen arms under the Huntington era, the team has moved Joel Hanrahan, Brad Lincoln, Vic Black, and Octavio Dotel.  In order to land the most important offensive player of their 2013 stretch run, Marlon Byrd was acquired from the New York Mets for hard throwing right hander Black.

Hanrahan brought back two pitchers who have made strong impacts on the organization. Mark Melancon has become an effective eighth inning specialist and occasional closer.  Also in the deal was Stolmy Pimentel who will be a part of the Pirates plans moving forward and has an outside chance of being a long man and potential starter.  The move was not popular at the time, but now looks like a heist.

Justin Morneau was sent to the Bucs for two players, one (at the time) was Duke Welker.  This offseason the Twins sent Welker back to the Pirates for lefty starter Kris Johnson.  Looking even further back in Huntington’s trade catalog, Andrew Lambo came to the Pirates in 2010 in the Octavio Dotel trade and Josh Harrison was landed in part for left hander John Grabow.

With the bullpen bulging at the seams again this year, we can see the Pirates making another trade that includes a reliever or two in order to improve the roster.  It’s the only way the team could avoid losing some talented arms from their bullpen stable.

Aug 30, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Seattle Mariners relief pitcher Oliver Perez (59) and catcher Henry Blanco (33) celebrate after defeating the Houston Astros 7-1 at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Pirates received serious interest in left hander Justin Wilson this off season.  Most fans can’t see the Bucs moving Wilson and he is one of the more exciting arms in the Pirates pen.  But with Oliver Perez still looking for a Spring Training home, one option to consider is that the Pirates could spend a few dollars and replace Wilson by inking a deal with Scott Boras for his lefty.  Pirates fans know that skipper Clint Hurdle loves his southpaws.

As Fangraphs’ Mike Petriello wrote recently, the 32-year-old is a potential bargain.  Perez has become a monster out of the bullpen.   Petriello points out that Perez’s contact rate over the last two seasons is within one percent of Max Scherzer and Glen Perkins. Perez’s swinging-strike rate is better than that of Clayton Kershaw or Michael Wacha and on par with Joe Nathan, and he pounds the strike zone at nearly the same rate as Hisashi Iwakuma.

But if the Bucs were interested in making such a trade-a-lefty-sign-a-lefty move, we think they would have grabbed Joe Savery on the cheap.  The former first round pick Savery threw 20 innings for Philly last season and served up ground balls with regularity.  The 28-year old walk machine also has some strikeout ability, but nothing matching Perez.  The former Bucco southpaw has become a monster out of the bullpen punching out 73 in 53 innings for the Mariners last season.

SharkTank copy

Most would not be satisfied with the potential return on a Wilson trade, so perhaps the move needs to be a bigger one.  The Pirates could also be even more daring and trade Melancon or Jason Grilli for a bigger return.  Grilli hasn’t been throwing regularly since arriving in camp.  The Pirates closer claims he is fine, just saving his arm for the marathon of the MLB season.

Potential trade partners are teams still looking for relief help like the Mets and Astros.  Perhaps once New York realizes their demands for Ike Davis are a bit too OVER THE TOP, the Pirates could make a move with them.  The Astros have plenty of young talent that sure would look interesting in the Bucs system.

We really hate the idea of trading Wilson or even Tony Watson as they are controllable for years and not that we care, but it’s always a factor–Wilson and Watson won’t cost Bob Nutting many bones in the next couple years.  The signing of Perez isn’t something we especially love, but we think it’s something that Hurdle would demand.  We can’t see him going into the season with just one lefty in his bullpen.  He would want a proven vet.

We’ve written about these ideas at length in the past.  It almost seems futile to re-write them again.  But with so little movement this offseason, using the cost controlled Shark Tank as trade bait seems like the only move left for Neal Huntington to make an improvement to the roster before the Cubs arrive at PNC Park.




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