Despite having some trade pieces that drew attention earlier this week, the Pittsburgh Pirates stayed put during this year’s odd, but active trade deadline.
This 2020 seasons has been unlike any we’ve seen in the history of the Pittsburgh Pirates, or all of MLB for that matter. A 60-game season can throw a wrench in many team’s plans. But one thing that did remain constant was that this year’s trade deadline was one of the most active we might have seen in a while. Though there were no superstar names available like usual, we still got to see many solid major league baseball players get moved.
One thing that might surprise some fans is that the Pittsburgh Pirates decided to stand pat. Going into mid-August, they looked like they could be one of the only true sellers in the National League. The Pirates did receive some calls on their MLB players. Most notably, the Toronto Blue Jays were interested in right handers Trevor Williams and Chad Kuhl.
Williams has so far had one poor start, which has inflated his surface numbers. Before last Wednesday’s game, Williams had a 3.70 ERA, 4.20 FIP and 1.36 WHIP across 24.1 innings of work. He also put up a fine 7.5% walk rate to go with a 21.7% strikeout rate. Williams currently sits in the top 83rd percentile of exit velocity and top 80th percentile of hard hit rate.
Kuhl on the other hand has had a nice bounce back season. Through 25 innings, he has a 2.52 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. He’s also flashing some heat despite coming off Tommy John surgery. He has given up five home runs, but Kuhl has seemed to be on the up-trend since his return.
The Blue Jays seemed to have found their guys by acquiring Taijuan Walker on the 27th from the Mariners, and then getting left handed starter Robbie Ray from the Arizona Diamondbacks and Ross Stripling from the Los Angeles Dodgers during the final hours of the deadline.
Another piece many might be surprised that wasn’t moved is utility man Adam Frazier. Frazier has started to see time in left field, which indicated maybe they were showcasing his ability to play the outfield after exclusively playing second base since the start of 2019. Entering play on Monday, Frazier was only batting .207/.258/.328 with a 59 OPS+/wRC+ and .257 wBOA. However, that’s through just 124 plate appearances, and doesn’t negate what he did in years prior. Entering the 2020 season, Frazier had a career .279/.342/.420 line, 103 OPS+/wRC+ and .327 wOBA.
Plus, it wasn’t his offense you were acquiring Frazier for. It was his defense at multiple positions. Frazier was a National League gold glove finalist in 2019 after having -1 DRS, 2.9 UZR, 1.6 range runs above average, and +11 outs above average at the keystone. This year, he has +3 DRS, +1/5 UZR, and 0.5 range runs above average. In the outfield, he has a career +7 DRS, +2.1 range runs above average, and only -0.5 UZR/150.
Another Pittsburgh Priates player that drew some interest was relief pitcher Richard Rodriguez who has been inconsistent this year, mainly because of his 2.00 HR/9, which has resulted in a 4.61 ERA and 4.45 FIP. But he currently has an absurd 32.7% strikeout rate and outstanding 5.5% walk rate. ERA estimators also pin him being a solid pitcher with a 3.90 xFIP, 2.78 SIERA and 3.74 DRA.
The Pittsburgh Pirates do have another player that might have drawn some attention for teams looking for help at shortstop. Erik Gonzalez has been a pretty solid batter. Through 94 plate appearances entering Monday night, Gonzalez has a .270/.301/.438 slash, and 99 OPS+/97 wRC+ with a .317 wOBA. Though not great numbers, they’re far better to what he was doing. From 2016 to 2019, Gonzalez was batting just .260/.295/.364 with a 74 OPS+/71 wRC+.
Pittsburgh acquired Gonzalez back in the 2018-2019 off-season for his defense, and he’s continued to be a great defender at shortstop and the hot corner. Up the middle, he currently has +2 DRS, 1.0 UZR and 0.2 range runs above average. At third, Gonzalez has +2 DRS, 0.3 UZR and 0 range runs above average. He’s a well above average defender, plus he’s currently in the top 80th percentile of exit velocity and top 88th percentile of hard hit rate. Gonzalez has consistently put up good hard hit rates throughout his career, so he might just be a late bloomer and finding the holes now.
General Manager Ben Cherington must not have received any offers that met his needs, as all five are still Pittsburgh Pirates. But he didn’t need to rush a trade with any of them. Kuhl, Frazier, and Williams are all under control through the next two seasons, so if Cherington didn’t get the return he wanted on them, then it’s understandable why he didn’t feel rushed to trade any of them.
However, one name that should have been moved was left hander Derek Holland. Now, yes, Holland hasn’t had the best of seasons. He currently has a 7.62 ERA, 7.23 FIP and 1.51 WHIP across 28.1 innings of work. He’s absolutely been decimated by the long ball surrendering 10. Currently, he has a solid 24.6% K rate, but 10.3% walk rate.
But let’s compare this to Robbie Ray’s 2020 season. Through 31 innings, Ray has a 7.84 ERA, 7.23 FIP and 2.00 WHIP. Very, very similar numbers to Holland. He’s also struggled with the long ball with a 2.6 HR/9. Though he has a much higher strikeout rate of 27.9%, he has a 20.1% walk rate, nearly double of Holland’s. ERA estimators also placed Holland above Ray with a 5.0 xFIP to 6.37 xFIP, a 4.82 SIERA to a 5.82 SIERA. Both were left handed starters who were struggling, but on the last year of their contract. The only difference being that Ray was traded for something. While none of us were expecting Holland to get back any sort of top prospect, it would have been nice to even get back a little international bonus pool money, or like in Ray’s case, a gamble on a pitcher.
Aside from Holland, the Pirates didn’t need to make a final sale on their controllable pieces. Keone Kela probably would have been dealt, but because of his injury, was not going to get as nearly much interest, if any at all. While it would have been nice to do so, I’d rather see Cherington wait and see if he can get back a better return this off season, rather than to trade a guy to trade a guy. He can always trade guys like Frazier, Gonzalez, Rich Rod, Williams, Kuhl during the off season. They all have two years of control left. Other guys this off season like Josh Bell, Joe Musgrove, Colin Moran, and possibly more should garner interest once again.