Pirates fans all over have been calling for some sort of trade throughout this disappointing first half of the season. I’m not completely in favor of a trade yet, I think it makes more sense to wait until closer to the deadline when we are really in the stretch of things and are able to do a better job of analyzing future value, but we don’t all operate on the same beliefs—so allow me to explore some of the possibilities that I’ve seen floated around in the past couple months.
At this current part of the season the Pirates sit at 34-36, which puts them at 3.5 games back of the second wild card spot—which is far from out of contention at this point in the season, but I’ll agree that it’s never a bad idea to improve.
Most people who have suggested trades so far have looked to address the issue of starting pitching. I think that’s a fair assessment if you look at the overall scope of the season, but if you really look at the team during the hot streak they have been on recently, then starting pitching should not be much of a concern. Plus, we will eventually get proven starters Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano back into the rotation, so starting pitching should just improve from here. And surprisingly enough, the offense has not been an issue this season. The Pirates are second in the national league in obp for the season.
The real issue has been relief pitching. The unfortunate thing is that no one seemed to notice this was a problem until the recent two-week stretch where the usually strong back end of the bullpen (short relief, set-up men and closer) have really just fallen completely apart, and taken the Pirates out of games they should have won. If you look at an article posted by rumbunter this morning pirates bullpen, you’ll see that the Pirates currently have the worst bullpen in the NL Central—which is just downright disgusting. So, it becomes more obvious that we need some help with high-leverage relief situations.
Now I don’t want to say that everyone in the bullpen has been awful. Tony Watson has been spectacular as usual—yes he let the Marlins tie up the game the other night, but keep in mind those were his only hits and runs allowed in more than 20 innings pitched. Justin Wilson started off strong and has cooled off recently, but he’s still young and he’s still a lefty with gas, so let him be. Melancon has been good, and nothing mechanically looks different from last year, but for some reason he seems to lose his untouchable manner when he isn’t in the eighth-inning role. Grilli has been, well, unimpressive. He hasn’t looked good since his injury last season.
Grilli is faltering due to two things. First off, he’s dealing with age and compounding injuries. When you’re 37 and continue to injure your throwing arm, it’s hard to be dominant. In addition to that, he’s lost velocity. This is probably due to the original problem of age and inuries, but it really creates a whole new problem. When you make your career off of a strong fastball and a hard slider, then lose velocity, batters have no trouble telling what the difference is between pitches and they just tee-off on you—which is what seems to be happening to Grilli. WTM compared Grilli falling off the map to what happened to Mike Williams back in the early 2000s and I think it’s a pretty spot-on comparison.
My suggestion would be to switch the roles of Watson and Grilli, but who knows how well Watson would perform in a new role—and it seems pretty obvious that Grilli would not take the demotion lightly. So, it seems we are back to the point where we need to find some high-leverage relief help.
I’ve seen some pretty ridiculous trade ideas on here, but most have concerned one of three options: Russell Martin, Francisco Liriano or Pedro Alvarez. The most commonly suggested trade bait is Alvarez. I understand that many people are frustrated with the way he has started this season, even more people are concerned with his inability to produce offensively or defensively this season, but most of all people are concerned with how much money he is going to demand at the end of this season. I’m not a huge fan of trading Alvarez, but let’s explore the possibilities.
For these trade possibilities, I’m going to work with WAR. It seems to be a pretty popular evaluator of player value, and I think it’s pretty easy to understand. WAR stands for Wins Above Replacement, and it basically tells you how many wins a particular player has provided for their team depending on their performance.
Alvarez’s current WAR this year is 1.2, according to baseball reference. If he continues to produce at his current rate and plays the same number of games as last season (150) he will produce a WAR around 2.43—which really is pretty good, but that would mean dollar signs, so we’ll keep going.
Relief pitchers don’t produce nearly as much WAR as a position player or a starting pitcher, so that is why I’m looking for a low-level (but still major league or triple-A) replacement player in addition for the Alvarez return in trade situations. We’ll have Josh Harrison to step in as many have pointed out, but there is always the chance of regression there and depth never hurt anyone.
Alvarez to the Padres
So to get started I’m going to address a trade situation that I saw on this blog where Alvarez would be traded to the Padres in exchange for 3B Chase Headley and right-handed reliever Joaquin Benoit. This trade really could work in the short-term but that’s the key problem. Benoit and Headley are both older (36 and 30, respectively), and Headley is strongly on the decline. Huston Street is the Padres best reliever and he’s young, so that’s a no-go. Let’s explore the WAR perspective.
As stated above, Alvarez’s current war for this year is 1.2. Benoit’s a proven reliever who has played the role of high-leverage sixth or seventh inning guy, closer, and his current role of set-up man. Benoit’s current WAR is 1.1 and he has an ERA of 1.54—which are pretty respectable numbers for a reliever, but the Padres aren’t playing so great and could probably be in sell mode. That leaves us with not much value to trade for Alvarez, but remember his projection is 2.43 WAR for the season, and we could always add a prospect, so we’ve still got space.
Headley is having a down year and he’s in a contract year, so I don’t really see the value with him, but let’s crunch the numbers. He’s currently posting a WAR of .4 for 2014, according to baseball reference—which is really nothing to brag about. However, this is on paper a pretty valuable trade. There’s a possibility that could be worth looking into. We could possibly add some prospects on either or both sides here.
Alvarez to the Indians
I’m no expert, but I think this is a trade candidate that has some merit. Cleveland took some major strides with position changes before the season began, and injuries since then have forced them into situations they’ve never imagined. The only thing is the opportunities they have explored have netted pretty positive results, so when they have their regular players come back from injuries they are going to have yet another problem to address.
Carlos Santana was moved from catcher to third base at the beginning of the season. He got hurt and since then Lonnie Chisenhall and Yan Gomes have stepped up, and they have probably earned starter positions. Nick Swisher also got hurt, which allowed Chisenhall to show his versatility on the other side of the diamond. Now that Santana and Swisher are back, Chisenhall is starting as the designated hitter. Santana is someone that the Indians have really struggled with throughout his career, but he has shown flashes of brilliance, so let’s explore that option.
Once again, we are working with a WAR of 1.2 for Alvarez (and if need be, a projection of 2.43). Santana’s current WAR is .9. If Alvarez went to the Indians, he could play third or he could move to designated hitter—where he is probably most valuable—and Chisenhall could flourish as a young third baseman. Now with Santana’s current WAR we’ve still got space, and him signing a relatively low-value contract a few years back with Cleveland, he’s a lot better value than what Alvarez will be once he becomes a bargain.
So with the space left let’s look at the bullpen. The Indians’ bullpen seems pretty valuable. So I’m looking at two options—Bryan Shaw and Mark Rzepczynski. Shaw is younger and has produced better this year. The Indians are an American League team with a decent amount of money, so they can continue to feed their deep older bullpen. Let’s look at Shaw’s numbers.
Shaw currently boasts a WAR of .7 and an ERA of 2.38. Some will say that ERA isn’t a great indicator of reliever performance so we’ll concentrate on the WAR.
The combination leaves a pretty fair trade, and the Indians are in about as much need of a change as the Pirates. This is my personal favorite choice, but I have one more to look at.
Alvarez to Detroit
The Tigers have taken quite a fall in the last month, and the American League Central race is quite a mess. The Tigers could really be looking for help. I’m not sure Alvarez is the best answer for Detroit in a trade since they have—like the Pirates—struggled with pitching lately, but let’s give it a look. In any situation, prospects can be added, and I’m no general manager so this is all calculated speculation.
The reliever I’m going to concentrate on here is Al Albuquerque. Let’s just call him AA for the time being because I’m not going to type out that monstrosity. AA is only 28 years old, boasts a high-90s fastball, and has appeared in a few different high-leverage bullpen situations throughout his career. So far this year, AA has boasted a WAR of .7 and an ERA of 3.09. The ERA is a little high, but ERA isn’t supposed to be a wonderful indicator of relief pitching performance so we’ll concentrate on his higher-end peripherals.
With the WAR we’ve got a bit of room left. I’d look into either Nick Casetellanos—who is currently playing third base for the Tigers—or Eugenio Saurez—who is currently playing shortstop for the Tigers while Jose Iglesias sits on the DL. Castellanos currently has a WAR of -.3, but he is 22. Saurez currently has a WAR of .8.
This isn’t the best option, but it’s meant as an example of the value that Alvarez truly has in a trade situation.
I don’t know how likely or plausible these trade possibilities are, I have simply put them out here because I have seen a lot of discussion, I thought I could do some exploration, and I truly hope the comments will be used to sound off on what the real trade possibilities are going forward.