Pittsburgh Pirates: Revisiting the Disastrous Clay Holmes Trade

Brenden Zielinski
Division Series - Cleveland Guardians v New York Yankees - Game Two
Division Series - Cleveland Guardians v New York Yankees - Game Two / Jim McIsaac/GettyImages
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After designating Diego Castillo for assignment and trading him away, the Pittsburgh Pirates have put the final nail in the coffin of the Clay Holmes trade. Let's take a trip down memory lane and revisit how this trade unfortunately backfired for the Pirates...

Rewinding back to July 26th, 2021, the Pittsburgh Pirates were well below .500 owning a 38-61 record. Considering that the team was well out of playoff contention, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded 28-year-old right-handed pitcher Clay Holmes to the New York Yankees, in exchange for two Major League ready infielders: Hoy Park and Diego Castillo.

In his four-year career with the Pittsburgh Pirates from 2018-2021, Holmes struggled immensely, posting a 5.57 ERA, 4.72 FIP, 122 strikeouts, 84 walks, and a 1.64 WHIP across 119.2 innings pitched. The biggest downside with Holmes at the time was his woeful 13.2% walk rate, which was fueled by control issues on his pitches.

According to Yankee manager Aaron Boone, the Yankees believed that Holmes would succeed on their roster due to his 72.8% groundball rate and Holmes having one of the best sinkers in the game, topping at 98 MPH with lots of vertical break. With some retooling and a change of scenery, the Yankees felt that Holmes was bound to excel in New York. Almost two years later, it looks like their hypothesis was right.

After the trade, some Pirate fans, myself included, were excited that we got two decent infielders for a struggling reliever in Clay Holmes. Castillo, who was the headliner at the time, was hitting .277/.345/.504, with 11 home runs, 32 RBIs, and had a 129 wRC+ in Double-A Somerset, and Park already made his MLB debut with the Yankees following a dominant Triple-A season, hitting .327/.475/.567, with 10 home runs, 29 RBI, and a 180 wRC+. Park's walk percentage and strikeout percentage were identical at 20.6%.

After leaving the Pirates, Holmes dominated immediately with the Yankees to finish out the 2021 season, posting a 1.61 ERA, 2.10 FIP, 34 strikeouts, 4 walks, and a 0.79 WHIP across 28 innings pitched. It was almost like Holmes turned into a completely different pitcher overnight.

Holmes only allowed 2 home runs and his walk rate decreased significantly from 13.2% with the Pirates to just 3.9% with the Yankees. His strikeout rate increased to a whopping 33% as well! Holmes stopped using his curveball and solely relied on his lights-out sinker/slider combination to strike out batters, and still had a solid groundball percentage at 61.5%. Holmes became an immediate fan favorite in New York and was arguably one of the best relievers in all of baseball.

Holmes followed up his dominant 2021 season with another solid season in 2022. In 63.2 innings pitched, Holmes had a 2.54 ERA, 2.85 FIP, 65 strikeouts, 20 walks, and a 1.02 WHIP. After Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman went on the injured list in May, Holmes immediately became the Yankee closer and had a 20-save season.

Holmes continued to have a solid groundball rate at 75.8%, struck out 25% of the batters he faced, and held opponents to just a .195 batting average. On June 18th, Clay Holmes notched his 29th consecutive scoreless appearance, breaking Mariano Rivera’s record with the Yankees set in 1999. For over a year and a half, Holmes has developed into an elite All-Star closer and has one of the nastiest reliever repertoires in baseball. It's a shame that the Pittsburgh Pirates were not able to harness his potential.

Now that we know how good Holmes was with the Yankees, how well did Castillo and Park do with the Pirates? Breaking down Hoy Park's tenure with the Pirates, it wasn't an impressive outing. In 210 plate appearances, Park hit .201/.291/.346, with 5 home runs, 20 RBI, and had a poor 74wRC+. He played across multiple positions in the infield and outfield but wasn't a great overall fielder. Park was designated for assignment earlier this offseason and was traded to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for an 18-year-old left-handed pitcher, Inmer Lobo.

Castillo showed a lot of promise in Spring Training prior to the 2022 season and made the Pirate Opening Day roster. In his rookie season, Castillo had a disappointing season overall. In 283 plate appearances, Castillo hit .206/.251/.382, with 11 home runs, 29 RBI, and a 73wRC+. He had an abysmal walk percentage of 4.9% and struck out 26.5% of the time at the plate. Castillo improved in the second half of the season, but unfortunately, Castillo's tenure with the Pirates came to an abrupt halt. Earlier this week, Castillo was designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster for recently signed catcher, Austin Hedges. Then on Friday, Castillo was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for right-handed pitcher Scott Randall.

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Unfortunately, after almost two years since the deal was finalized with the Yankees, the Pirates lost this trade in an embarrassing fashion and can add this to the many botched trades in recent history. With Lobo and Randall being the newest acquisitions from the last remaining pieces in the Holmes trade, only time will tell how well they pan out.

I understand that not many trades work out, but this one stings a lot and I'm sure Pirate fans are wishing that Holmes could've developed with this ballclub. With Castillo and Park gone, all we can do is hope that Ji-Hwan Bae, Rodolfo Castro, and Nick Gonzales solidify the second base position for years to come.

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