The Orioles designated Travis Snider for assignment over the weekend, effectively giving up on him in favor of the newly acquired Junior Lake. Six months after the controversial trade that sent Snider to Baltimore for Stephen Tarpley and Steven Brault, it's clear the Pirates have come out ahead.
Tarpley now looks like a stronger prospect than he was when the Pirates acquired him, and Brault looks much stronger. Tarpley has been one of the best pitchers in the South Atlantic League this season, placing in the top ten pitchers in the league in strikeouts and throwing a six-inning no-hitter.
Before the season, Brault looked like he had back-of-the-rotation upside. He probably still profiles as a back-of-the-rotation type, but he now appears to have a much better chance of actually becoming a big-league starter -- he pitched reasonably well at Bradenton and has been downright terrific for Altoona, so he could potentially provide depth for the Pirates as soon as late 2016.
Snider, meanwhile, is now free to claim on waivers. He was productive in 2014 and, at 27, he looked like he might break out in 2015 -- he ranked ninth in the majors in fly ball distance in 2014, and he looked like former top prospect finally making good. This season, though, his average is down 27 points and his power has almost completely vanished. Snider's swing hasn't been very mechanically consistent, so maybe the Pirates saw something that suggested he couldn't sustain his 2014 success.
Neal Huntington cited "payroll flexibility" as one reason for the trade, and noted that subtracting an out-of-options player in Snider would give the Pirates flexibility with their roster. The Bucs also had a lefty corner outfielder in Gregory Polanco who needed regular playing time. They also might have thought they could get enough out of Andrew Lambo and/or Jose Tabata that they could afford to part with Snider.
Of course, the Pirates themselves could have controlled how much playing time Polanco got, and saving on Snider's modest $2.1 million salary shouldn't have been a huge priority. Lambo and Tabata haven't done much of anything, as it turns out. And when you're a contending team, the point of making trades isn't always to be clever, or even to get great value -- it's to win championships. Of course, being clever and getting good value usually help in that regard, but not always, and a contending team shipping out a productive big-leaguer for two A-ball pitchers could conceivably be one of those times. Some of the criticism of the Snider trade was over the top, but much of it was reasonable.
At this point, though, it looks like Pirates did get great value from the trade, and as weak as the Bucs' bench has been at times this season, Snider probably wouldn't have helped much. The Pirates have done just fine without Snider. Now here's hoping that Tarpley and Brault can continue progressing.