I hate Major League Baseball’s middle ground.
It comes from years of listing to people loudly decry the Pirates’ trades of aging veterans from 70-something-win teams, painting an 81-win season or third place in the NL Central as a mythical fantasyland. Reaching that, the shouting voices argued, was worth punting on any goals beyond that.
The second wild-card spot, added in 2012, has changed the calculation, as mediocre teams can luck into the postseason. This year, unfortunately, that’s a lot more applicable in the American League than the National.
Now, the Pirates are in the middle, and it stinks.
One byproduct of this is there was no particular right way to go about this year’s trade deadline. Neal Huntington made a couple small moves, not drastically changing a 51-54 team in one way or the other. And that’s fine. It’s nothing to get worked up over, in the positive or the negative. That’s not a stance that’s going to generate a lot of readers, listeners or viewers, but, it’s just ... fine.
The Pirates sent Tony Watson to the Dodgers for Low-A prospects Angel German, a right-handed reliever, and Oneil Cruz, a third baseman. This move tries to squeeze the last bit of value for Watson, 32, before he presumably hits the free-agent market in the offseason.
He’s been a workhorse for the Pirates, averaging 72 appearances and 69 innings from 2012-16, each full season he spent with the Bucs, with 65 innings and 68 appearances added in 2017.
Watson was the Pirates’ most reliable reliever for a time. Though his home run rate spiked, and perhaps his stuff seemed to fall off a little, in 2016, he became the closer once Mark Melancon was shipped to the Nationals. Watson’s strikeout rate, slowly falling for a few years, dipped to 16.8 percent this season.
Filling the void in the bullpen, the Pirates got Joaquin Benoit, plus cash, from the Phillies for for High-A right-handed reliever Seth McGarry.
Again, that’s ... fine. People will make tired jokes about the Pirates big deadline haul. Benoit’s a useful reliever, though, still striking out 9.21 batters per nine innings at age 40, with manageable walk numbers. He’s a very 2017 Pittsburgh Pirates-y kind of pickup. There’s need to give up on this season entirely, but also not a ton of motivation to go get a bigger fish than this, either.
Some other deadline observations:
- I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Pirates make a couple moves in August if their performance pushed them one way or another. Josh Harrison or David Freese could probably still be moved in waiver trades. Outfielders like Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson could be had in that manner, too.
- Watson appears to have been the Dodgers’ fall-back plan for Zach Britton.
- I’m a little disappointed the Pirates didn’t get an outfielder, given the low sum J.D. Martinez returned the Tigers. Starling Marte isn’t eligible for (*stifling laughter*) the playoffs, Gregory Polanco can’t stay on the field for more than a week or two at a time and Adam Frazier has tailed off a little and is in his first full MLB season. Even if, for some strange reason, the Pirates didn’t want to spare a couple low-level prospects, they could’ve done some sort of workaround with Watson, sending his return off to get an outfielder back or just replenishing what little they would have given up with the Watson deal.
Huntington has waited past the non-waiver deadline with much more crucial stakes, though (see 2013), so it’s certainly not strange that he’d walk the tightrope to save a little this year.
- There were some Twitter rumblings about Juan Nicasio, but it looks like there was nothing more than that.