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Ask BD: Did the Royals put one over on the Pirates?

MLB: San Francisco Giants at San Diego Padres Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

First installment.

Did the Pirates miss a chance to improve their bullpen/rotation?

Seems like the Pirates could have easily matched what KC gave up to get the Padres #2 starter, their closer and #3 reliever. It couldn’t be the money, Cahill would be a rental, but was making less than $2M this season, Maurer will be an Arb2 after this season and is making less than $2M, and Buchter isn’t even to Arbitration yet.

Posted by Thunder

Sure seems like it, at least with respect to the bullpen. To summarize, the Royals got:

  • Trevor Cahill, RHP — Currently in the Padres’ rotation after missing half of May and all of June, signed just for this year at $1.75M
  • Brandon Maurer, RHP — Appeared in 42 games in relief for San Diego, has two years of control after this year
  • Ryan Buchter, LHP — Also appeared in 42 games in relief for San Diego, has four years of control after this year.

Padres got:

  • Travis Wood, LHP — Pitched mostly in relief for KC this year, owed a little over $1M this year and $6M next year, with $8M mutual option for 2019; KC will pay Wood’s salary for 2017-18
  • Matt Strahm, LHP — Royals’ #2 prospect coming into this year, out for year with torn knee tendon, had thrown 34.2 IP in majors this year
  • Esteury Perez, IF — Rookie-level infielder who was a low-profile signing, mainly a second baseman, in his second pro year and hitting very well

Cahill would be an upgrade from Chad Kuhl and maybe Trevor Williams, or could move to the bullpen, where he was effective (but not as much as his ERA suggested) for the Cubs last year. Maurer would be right out of the Pirates’ playbook: a pitcher with a bad ERA but good peripherals and a mid- to upper-90s fastball. He’s been victimized by an extremely low strand rate. He’s the sort of gamble the Pirates like to take, rather than overpaying for a Big Name reliever. Buchter is kinda the opposite, with an ERA better than his peripherals, but a very high K rate both years. He’s a journeyman who’s 30 years old and is extremely tough on left-handed hitters.

There’d be a good deal of risk with the pitchers the Royals got, and I’m not sure there’s a spot for Cahill unless you want to jettison Wade LeBlanc (which I’d be fine with). I think Steve Brault or Tyler Glasnow presents more upside than Cahill, so he makes more sense as a reliever but would add starting depth. (Let’s not forget that the Pirates have used only six starters so far this year, which is an exceptionally low number.) But this group of ex-Padres has enough upside that it have would given the Pirates a good shot at upgrading their bullpen on a broad front. Maurer profiles as a late-inning arm, something the team badly needs, but then they’d have to be willing to dump Daniel Hudson. Buchter is best used as a LOOGY. And it’s just the type of move that’s been highly successful for the Pirates in the past, as it was with J.A. Happ, Joe Blanton and Joakim Soria in 2015. (Of course, those were three separate moves.)

Matching the Royals’ package should have been easy for the Pirates. Strahm is sort-of similar to Taylor Hearn, or at least should be value-wise. He doesn’t throw as hard and probably doesn’t have Hearn’s ceiling, but he’s a lefty with some upside who’s had an uneven past. Hearn is at a lower level and, coincidentally, is also out for the year, but his higher ceiling should balance that out. (I don’t know the Royals’ system, but if Strahm was their #2 prospect, it must not be very good.) Perez is a low-level guy with a good-looking bat, but the Pirates currently have several rookie-level players performing well, including Lolo Sanchez in the GCL and Samuel Inoa in the DSL. Both play premium positions (center and catcher). There’s also Adrian Valerio, who’s taken a big step forward at a higher level.

Wood is probably in there, more than anything else, to give the Padres an arm as they play out the season. The Pirates could have sent Drew Hutchison. Well, maybe that’s a fantasy, but they could have offered Brault, who should be much more attractive than Wood. Adding Hudson would have given the Padres a veteran arm to soak up some innings in the bullpen and the Pirates could have picked up his 2017-18 salary, as KC did with Wood. The Pirates also could have offered guys like Nick Kingham, Clay Holmes and Tyler Eppler, since teams are never averse to quantity when it comes to arms. None of those three has an obvious role on the Pirates in the near future.