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Making sense of the Travis Snider trade

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

My last post about the Travis Snider trade went something like this: The Pirates got reasonable value for Snider, but contending teams aren't supposed to trade helpful big-leaguers for prospects, so I don't understand it.

I'm still not sure I understand it, but this offseason has made clear that organizations no longer approach transactions in a black-and-white way. Teams are no longer merely adding talent, or merely rebuilding. Quick, describe the Athletics' offseason in one sentence. Or the Nationals'. Or the Braves'. Or the Dodgers'. Or the Yankees'. You might be able to, but those would be some long sentences. As Alden Gonzalez points out, teams aren't simply going for it, or simply rebuilding, anymore. Instead, they're trying to do both in an attempt to give themselves chances to win in as many seasons as possible. The Pirates have made significant moves to add talent this offseason, like re-signing Francisco Liriano and signing Jung-Ho Kang. But now, with the Snider deal, they've gone in a different direction, acquiring minor-league depth for a useful veteran. That's odd, but it's very much in line with what some other organizations are doing.

Okay, so the Pirates zigged when we thought they were going to zag. Was this a smart move in that context? I don't know, and it will depend, in part, on who the player to be named later is. Stephen Tarpley is a nice addition to the organization, but getting a prospect who played in short-season ball last season and wasn't even a marquee player there is nothing to write home about.

There is, however, this:

Name 2015 Steamer projection
Travis Snider .253/.322/.411
Andrew Lambo .249/.304/.429
Jose Tabata .275/.331/.383

Snider projects to be better than Lambo and Tabata, but it's much closer than you might think, particularly given Lambo's lack of experience and how erratic Tabata's play is perceived to be. Snider hit .288/.356/.524 in the second half last season, hitting the ball harder than he ever had before. Then again, that second half came out of nowhere, and he looked like a non-tender candidate last winter. Snider also will be eligible for free agency following the 2016 season, so even if his second half represents a new normal for him (which seems highly unlikely), the Pirates wouldn't have been able to reap the benefits for very long. And so, taking the Steamer projections at face value, perhaps the Pirates figured that they could add valuable minor-league depth while taking a very marginal hit at one big-league bench position, while preserving a couple of reasonable backup plans in right field in case Gregory Polanco struggles again.

Then again, it would be strange if they thought that. I assume Lambo will get the first crack at Snider's big-league job, since he's left-handed and everyone else who projects to make the Pirates' bench is right-handed. If so, I'm cool with that -- it has been disappointing to see Lambo wasting away while wrecking Triple-A pitching the past year and a half or so. But one reason he's been in Indianapolis that long is that he famously blew a chance to play first base for the Pirates with a horrible spring last year, and another reason is that the Bucs have just never seemed particularly interested in him before. Have they changed their minds? If so, I'm glad, but if not, what are they doing trading Snider?

The Pirates' broad strategy right now seems to be to build for as many 85- to 90-win seasons as possible, get to the playoffs, and see what happens from there. That's a convenient strategy for them, given their financial constraints (although I don't think this trade has much to do with financial constraints). It's also a strategy that aligns broadly with what lots of other smart organizations, like the Dodgers and A's, seem to be doing. Given that the playoffs are basically a lottery, giving yourself lots of chances to win it all makes sense, even if it can be frustrating to watch that strategy unfold. It means we need to see transactions not as steps on a straight line to a World Series, but as series of little moves that give the Pirates their best chance to win over the long haul.

Does the Snider trade do that? I still don't know. It depends on who the real Travis Snider is, or what the Pirates can get out of Lambo, or what other moves the Pirates might make to improve their bench. It depends on whether the Pirates think Tarpley has upside that outside observers haven't picked up on yet, and it depends on who the player to be named is. There are a lot of moving parts here, so this trade isn't clearly a good move or clearly a bad one.