Pirates Trade Possibilities: Another Van Slyke in Pittsburgh?


Jun 9, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers left fielder Scott Van Slyke watches his three-run home run hit off Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Tony Cingrani during the fifth inning at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

It’s always fun to play GM. No fans breathing down your neck every day; no opposing GM’s to try and swindle; no penny-pinching owner telling you what’s possible. It’s especially fun playing GM as the MLB trade deadline approaches and teams’ needs become more clear.

The Pittsburgh Pirates, who have dropped to 4 games out of a wildcard spot, need dependable starting pitching. Bad. Even before Francisco Liriano was hurt last night (he’ll probably be out for over a month), he was a problem for the Pirates this year. Liriano has always been erratic – Cy Young material one year, bouncing every other pitch in the dirt the next – and 2014 has been an off year; with a 1.452 WHIP, Liriano is on pace to go 3-15 with a 4.60 ERA. He’s still got the best swing-and-miss stuff on the Pirates, but Frankie’s biggest problem – the inability to locate his fastball deep in counts – has perhaps become Pittsburgh’s biggest problem this year.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, who are tied for the second wildcard spot, might need more power from the third-base position. Starter Justin Turner has just 3 HR and a .717 OPS this year. Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez are doing what they do – they’ll probably finish with just under 60 HR and 200 RBI combined – but to catch the Giants the Dodgers probably need to upgrade at the trade deadline, and of course they’re willing to spend whatever it takes to get more bats. With two shutdown starting pitchers in Grienke and Kershaw, the Dodgers just need to get into the playoffs and anything can happen.

A possible and maybe sensible – though unlikely – trade between the Dodgers and Pirates might be L.A. left-fielder Scott Van Slyke (son of former Pirate great Andy Van Slyke) and dependable veteran starter Dan Haren for Pittsburgh’s Pedro Alvarez and Starling Marte. Both Alvarez and Marte are loaded with raw talent, set to make a lot of money ($30 million guaranteed for Marte after a questionable long-term contract from the Pirates before this season; big arbitration money coming for Alvarez), and diversely disappointing for the Pirates.

If all Alvarez does is continue his career trend – finish with 30 HR and 100 RBI but strike out an astronomical number of times per season, causing his OPS to settle around .750 – he’ll make seven figures a year soon but arguably hurt the Pirates as much as he helps them. Alvarez goes on tears for a few games but often drowns his team for weeks, and so far he can’t hit lefties.

Perhaps a big-market team with far more protection in its lineup, like the Dodgers, can afford to pay Alvarez, bat him 6th or 7th, and let him hit monster homers a couple times a month. Again, Alvarez can carry a team with a week-long hot streak, but can a team as unwilling to spend big money on proven free-agents wait much longer to see if Alvarez can ever hit, say, .260 in a season? If he does, he’ll be in the MVP running for sure, but there’s no guarantee – except for Alvarez and his agent, Scott Boras, to make big money in arbitration because of those sexy power numbers.

Alvarez is coming on in June, with 12 hits in 31 AB, 5 walks and a home run. But Scott Van Slyke, who won’t be a free agent until 2020 and won’t qualify for arbitration until 2016, is an interesting option in left field for the Pirates. His OPS is 1.060 in 72 AB this year, and he’s got a power bat. L.A. has Puig, Ethier and Kemp – though they might want Van Slyke as an option if Kemp’s career remains on the downswing.

Haren is making $10 million this year and has a $10-million vesting option for 2015. But you know what you’re getting with him: a lot of innings and a ton of quality starts. With Marte, especially, the Pirates have a lot invested in someone with a ton of talent, but fundamentals – thus far in his career – that would earn a Little Leaguer a ton of laps. His career highs are 12 HR and 35 RBI; his career-high OPS is .784. Like Alvarez, he’ll strikeout 150-190 times per year but, once in a while, wow fans with plays that make believers shout “Look! He’s a great player.”

Great players are consistent. Great players don’t sit out against lefties. Great players don’t get benched for repeatedly getting picked off or striking out on pitches that bounce off the plate.

Still, cutting ties with Marte and Alvarez this early would be dangerous for the Pirates, who might watch them blossom in opposing uniforms (ahem, Jose Bautista and Brandon Moss, who went from nobodies with Pittsburgh to MVP candidates elsewhere). Josh Harrison is not proven as a starter. And Scott Van Slyke, whose 2014 homers are all off righties, who he’s crushing, could be as mystifying as Alvarez, though the savings could free up money to lure a big free-agent bat to Pittsburgh. But playing GM is always fun.