Pittsburgh Pirates: Why The Austin Hedges Trade Could Be Important in the Long Run

The Austin Hedges trade could be important to the Pirates in the long run.
Jun 27, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Rich Hill (left)
Jun 27, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Rich Hill (left) / Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

While the return the Pittsburgh Pirates received for Austin Hedges may not have been significant on paper, it could pay dividends in the long run

The Pittsburgh Pirates signed veteran backstop Austin Hedges to be their primary catcher until some of their prospects were ready. Hedges provided some bipolar numbers during his stint in Pittsburgh. On the offensive side of the ball, Hedges batted .180/.237/.230 with a .213 wOBA and 24 wRC+. Those numbers look more like a pitcher trying to hit than a semi-regular Major League position player.

However, when Hedges squatted down behind the dish, he was one of the best gloves in the game. In just 521 innings caught, Hedges has already hit double-digits in defensive runs saved (+11) and framing runs (+14.4). Only two catchers have reached double digits in both defensive stats, and that’s Hedges and Milwaukee Brewers 2022 All-Star William Contreras.

Despite his relatively polarizing season, the Pirates were able to trade Hedges. The Texas Rangers took Hedges off the Pirates’ hands in exchange for international slot money. Although the return might not seem like much on paper, it could help the Pirates significantly in the long run.

International slot money doesn’t involve any actual money trading hands. Rather it means the Pirates get the right to spend more on international free agents this upcoming winter. Last year, they had an international bonus pool of $5,825,5000. It’s very likely the Pirates spent all of the money they had allotted to them, as the publicly known amounts come to about 70% of their total pool, and that accounts for just seven of the 24 players.

At the start of the 2023 season, and before any deals involving international pool money were moved, the Pirates, along with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Cleveland Guardians, Baltimore Orioles, Colorado Rockies, and Kansas City Royals, had the highest pools. Each team had $7,114,800 to spend on international free agents who turned 16 between September 1, 2022, and August 31, 2023.

With the amount of money they already had at the start, plus the money they now got from the Hedges trade, they could pursue one of the higher-priced international free agents. This is what the Pirates did a few years ago too. At the 2020 trade deadline, they sent Jarrod Dyson to the Chicago White Sox for international slot money. That money eventually went towards Po-Yu Chen, who is now one of the Pirates’ better pitching prospects.

We’ll see who the Pirates decide to pursue in international free agency this upcoming winter. They weren’t hesitant to spend on the high-priced ones the last two years, signing Tony Blanco Jr. and Yordany De Los Santos in 2021-2022 and then inking Korean right-hander Jun-Seok Shim the following offseason. Ben Cherington has used the money he’s been given in the past to its fullest, and getting more from this Hedges deal could net them a high-tier international free agent.

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