We all know that the Pittsburgh Pirates are going to be buyers at this year’s non-waiver trade deadline on July 31st. This isn’t a surprise. The team currently sits 17 games above .500 and has proven that it can battle the St. Louis Cardinals for the division title. They are also 6.5 games ahead of the Mets and the Giants for a playoff position. This is a team that is going to compete in the playoffs this year, barring a collapse of epic proportions. General manager Neal Huntington will upgrade the team in some way, shape, or form, but we don’t know whether it will be small upgrades or a big splash.
This has been the situation of the team every year since 2010. In 2010, the team lost 105 games, and sold off multiple pieces at the trade deadline, including relief pitchers Octavio Dotel and Javier Lopez, the latter of whom helped the Giants win the World Series that year. Huntington has traded away players before and been on a selling team; it’s just been a while since that’s been the case.
So, we took the time to put together a hypothetical: if the Pirates were sellers this year, which players would they consider trading away? Let’s say that each player on the team has their current stats. The only difference is that the Pirates are sellers, for whatever reason, and the team still plans on competing for at least a playoff spot in 2016. Of course, there are so many different factors that would go into this, but let’s keep it simple. Could any Pirates’ player be worth something to another team? Lets’s break this down.
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The Rental Players
The Pirates only have a handful of players this season that are on expiring contracts, and none of them would be too appealing to other teams. However, that wouldn’t stop Huntington from trying to get something in return for them, as he should. According to Spotrac, the Pirates have five players that will be unrestricted free agents after the 2015 season: A.J. Burnett, Antonio Bastardo, Corey Hart, Sean Rodriguez, and Angel Sanchez. On the surface, Burnett is the only name that looks appealing to other teams. But would any of these players be traded away by Huntington?
Burnett is 7-3 with a 2.11 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP so far this season. He made the All-Star team for the National League for the first time in his career, and if traded, he would fetch a decent return for Huntington via a good prospect (maybe not a great, top-tier prospect, but definitely at least one good one). However, Burnett would most likely not be traded. He’s stated that he wants to finish his career in Pittsburgh, and would not want to pitch elsewhere. He doesn’t have a no-trade clause, but I don’t see Huntington pulling the trigger on a Burnett trade considering the relationship between Burnett and the team and the impact he’s had on baseball in Pittsburgh.
Antonio Bastardo could also be appealing to other teams. While he’s been frustrating at times for the Pirates this year, he has still performed well as of late and could be a decent bullpen arm for a contending team. He has a 3.76 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP this season, which is right along his career numbers. I could see Huntington trading Bastardo for a decent prospect.
In terms of the rest of these players, I don’t see any if them being traded. Sean Rodriguez has underperformed greatly this year after a hot start to the season, and his only value comes in his ability to play multiple positions on the field. His strikeout-to-walk ratio and his low batting average are unappealing to other teams. Corey Hart, well, has been awful to say the least, and his disabled list stint and his age don’t help matters. Angel Sanchez hasn’t played in the majors yet and is nothing more than minor league depth at this point in his career.
Verdict: Bastardo gets traded, none of the other four rental players do. Huntington tries to trade Rodriguez and Hart, but no one bites.
[Burnett] doesn’t have a no-trade clause, but I don’t see Huntington pulling the trigger on a Burnett trade considering the relationship between Burnett and the team and the impact he’s had on baseball in Pittsburgh.
The players with one more year left
When we take a look at the Pittsburgh Pirates that have one year left on their contracts after this season, things become a little more interesting. These include players under contract for next season and players that are arbitration eligible for one more year before free agency. These players are as follows: Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Mark Melancon, Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli, and Travis Ishikawa. Yes, this group is a huge upgrade over the previous group. So, would Huntington pull the trigger on any of these players?
Yes, I think Huntington would. Walker, Melancon, Cervelli, and even Stewart are all attractive options to other teams. Ishikawa would most likely be placed on waivers, and while Huntington would try to trade Alvarez as he has been trying to do for the past couple seasons, I don’t know if he could get anyone to bite for him.
Walker has been worth 1.8 wins above replacement this season and has been one of the better offensive second baseman in all of baseball over the past few years. He’s coming off of a career year power-wise, and is batting .278 with eight home runs and 34 RBIs so far this season. His $8 million dollar salary this year isn’t absurd for any big market team, and the only justification for him staying in Pittsburgh would be if the Pirates saw him as their second baseman of the future, which I don’t think they do. Melancon would fetch a great return, considering the need of many contenders year in and year out for bullpen help. Plus, Huntington has often sold high on closers in the past, as he did with Joel Hanrahan and Jason Grilli. Tony Watson, a potential replacement for Melancon at the back end of the bullpen, is signed for an additional season beyond what Melancon is signed for, and he’s only making $1.75 million this year, thus making Melancon expendable on a losing team.
I don’t think Huntington would move Cervelli, considering the lack of options at catcher in 2016 if he’s moved. Chris Stewart isn’t an ideal starting option, and Tony Sanchez seems to have lost the faith of the organization in his potential as a starting catcher in Pittsburgh. Elias Diaz would most likely be the primary option for next season. However, I could see Stewart being moved, as he would be a valuable backup option for many organizations. His .295 average and his plus-pitch framing ability are attractive, and Sanchez could be a backup to Cervelli next year.
If Pedro got moved, it would almost certainly be to a team looking for a bench option or a designated hitter. His value decreases every time he makes an error, and he would be a liability in the field for just about every team in baseball.
Verdict: Walker, Melancon, and Stewart get traded, none of the others do. Huntington tries to trade Alvarez, but no one bites.
Tony Watson, a potential replacement for Melancon at the back end of the bullpen, is signed for an additional season beyond what Melancon is signed for, and he’s only making $1.75 million this year, thus making Melancon expendable on a losing team.
The best of the rest
The Pirates have numerous other options that would be attractive to teams around baseball. Some of these players are seemingly untouchable. Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gerrit Cole headline this group. Guys like Jung Ho Kang, Tony Watson, Josh Harrison, and Gregory Polanco also almost certainly wouldn’t be moved as well. Polanco and his struggles, for example, wouldn’t be a big issue on a losing team. He’d be given time to iron out his issues at the big league level during this time.
Charlie Morton could be moved, but he still has three years remaining on his deal, and I’m not sure many teams would be interested in the $17.5 million left on his deal for 2016 and 2017. Francisco Liriano would provide an intriguing case for Huntington. He has two years remaining beyond 2015, he’s a lefty, and he would provide a nice return from a contending team. And Vance Worley, Arquimedes Caminero, Jared Hughes, and Jordy Mercer are controlled long beyond this season, and all have upside that isn’t worth selling on. Jeff Locke wouldn’t have much value to many teams outside of the years of team control he has left.
Verdict: Morton gets traded as Huntington eats some salary. Liriano ends up not getting traded as the team has him in its plans for next season.
Hopefully this type of discussion remains hypothetical for at least the next few seasons. But it’s still a fun exercise nonetheless, and Neal Huntington would be able to fetch a solid return on a number of players, shedding salary and players that may not have a long-term future on a losing team. In reality, however, Huntington will be focused on adding to the current team in a number of different areas, and it’ll be intriguing to see what kind of moves he pulls off for the current, winning team come July 31st.