With the trade deadline approaching the Pirates still appear to be in the market for a bat. The corner outfield spots have been underwhelming both defensively and at the plate. With the promotion of Starling Marte they fill a void in left field that had been recently occupied by Drew Sutton. Pirate left fielders had produced a .255 wOBA and 53 wRC+ which is so impossibly bad that Marte shouldn't have much of a problem increasing the production from the left corner spot. Pirate right fielders have been better, but still have only posted a .296 wOBA and a 84 wRC+.
The Pirates have been linked to nearly every free agent outfielder currently on the market. The list of players available is long, some make sense (Pence, Willingham, Span, Fowler, Soriano, etc...) and some don't (both Upton's). With the trade of Grossman, Owens and Cain the problem has become two fold for the Pirates: What type of player should be targeted (rental vs team control) and what type of player(s) should the Pirates be willing to give (veteran/low end prospect(s) vs high end prospects). Analysts and fans alike are split on this and it is admittedly a very fine line that must be walked. Realistically the Pirates are still a year or two away from having talent at the ML level comparable to other contenders in the National League, yet here we are on the cusp of August with a legitimate shot to field a playoff team. So there is a great deal of temptation to aquire a player that can make a splash.
Any of the available players that the Pirates have been linked to would certainly be capable of doing just that, not that it's difficult to improve upon the production we've had so far. Hunter Pence is seen as the player that would fit best with a team like the Pirates. Having played in Houston prior to his stint with the Phillies he is familiar with the teams in the NL central. He also has posted a .325/.386/.504 line in PNC Park with 5 HR in 133 ABs. Although it is a small sample size it is non-the-less encouraging since the park tends to deflate right handed power numbers. Over his career he is also equally effective vs. RHP(.351 wOBA) as he is LHP(.369 wOBA). UZR doesn't rate his defensive value very high, but the addition of a future gold glover in Marte may make up for that. Obviously we can see that Pence would be an incredible addition to the Pirates outfielders. He is also still eligible for arbitration in 2013 which allows for at least one more season of team control, so it's possible Pence can be viewed as more than a stretch run rental.
But this post isn't really about aquiring Hunter Pence. What we are going to look at is the other black hole in the Pirates lineup: Shortstop.
With the recent signing of Cole Hamels, the Phillies now have 5 players taking up a record amount of payroll in the coming years. Due to this, the club is making several veterans available. There is a player on their roster that may very well be had for a song. This player has managed to produce a .313 wOBA and 94 wRC+ on the season while also playing above average defense at SS. He's signed through 2014 for a reasonable $11 million/year with an option for 2015. He has currently produced a 2.6 WAR season after producing a 3.8 WAR season in 2011. While no longer the spry young superstar he once was, he has still managed to outproduce his contract and might be a good bet to, at the very least, continue to do so. If you haven't yet guessed, I'm of course talking about Jimmy Rollins.
At 33, Rollins best seasons are far behind him, yet as you can see he still has some value and is producing well enough to be considered a vast upgrade over the Pirates current crop of shortstops. With a .253 wOBA and 53 wRC+, the Pirates have been just short of horrible for the position. Because of the defensive value Barmes has brought to the club they have still managed to produce a modestly positive WAR(0.6) and not be a complete waste of a spot on the lineup card. However the WAR value between Rollins and the clubs current crop of shortstops is actually greater than what Pence would currently bring versus what the Pirates would trot out every day in RF (2.6 vs 0.6 and 1.2 vs 0.1 respectively). As you can see, though no longer flashy, Rollins would bring a greater upgrade as SS than Pence would bring in RF, with the only risk being regression due to age. However, I'm optimistic that Rollins can continue producing at his current level through the remaining years of his contract. He has played every game this season and although he missed time in 2010 he has been a model of health for the majority of his career. ZIPS also has Rollins producing a .323 wOBA for the remainder of the season, which is an improvement over his current .313 mark.
I'm not going to delve into the structure of what such a trade might look like, as there is no way to know what the Phillies value and what they do not. What we do know is that the Phillies are looking to shed payroll, which means they may rather have a team take Rollins contract off their hands instead of recieving higher end talent in return. With Roman Quinn in low A ball and Freddy Galvis with the big league club, it's unlikely they are looking for more shortstop prospects anyway, so Alen Hanson would likely remain a Pirate. Which might be the key part in all of this as Hanson may very well be ready by the time Rollins contract is up, and if not there is a 2015 option to keep him.
The addition of Rollins in the pursuit of Pence wouldn't change the dynamic of a trade very much, but very well could change the dynamic of this Pirates season and a few beyond it.
*All stats provided by FANGraphs and Yahoo! Sports.