Four straight series losses have all but officially killed the Pirates’ playoff chances, and for the first time in years, they will go into the deadline as clear sellers.
GM Neal Huntington doesn’t need to blow up the team, but he does have a handful of veterans on expiring contracts who can be flipped for younger players.
I want to preface this by saying I do not have any scoops from insiders that say any of these proposed trades are actually offers or if any of these teams I list are actually interested in these players. I want to show my thought process for these faux deals to try to frame what a realistic return would be.
I’ll be using surplus value and future value to make these trades. For example, let’s say a major league player is worth 1 WAR at a salary of $5 million. One WAR is valued at $9 million today, so his surplus value would be $4 million. We can take an educated guess at how much WAR a player will be worth down the stretch and compare it to how much he’s owed.
Kevin Creagh and Steve DiMiceli at The Point of Pittsburgh have the best model to calculate surplus value for top 100 prospects, but none of the Pirates’ rentals will command a top 100 guy. For players outside the top 100, we’ll use FanGraphs’ future value formula and their scouting report. Their prospect board can be found here.
Here’s how they value prospects based on FV and position:
$8 Million- 45+ POS
$6 M- 45+ P, 45 POS
$4 M- 45 P, 40+ POS
$3 M- 40+ P
$2 M- 40 POS
$1 M- 40 P
So if you were selling a major league hitter and could get a surplus value of $6 million, you could either get a 45+ grade pitcher, a 45 grade hitter, or a couple lesser prospects that total $6 million. If you want six 40-grade pitchers, well, you can theoretically get it.
So without further to do, let’s look at the potential returns for Pirate hitters on expiring contracts (sans Francisco Cervelli).
Jung Ho Kang
2019 Stats: .181/.233/.425, 10 HRs, 24 RBI, 66 wRC+, -0.4 WAR in 172 PAs
Remaining Salary: Appx. $1 million guaranteed of $3 million free agent deal (also gets $625K when he hits 200, 300, 400 and 500 PAs)
Projected WAR Down The Stretch: 0.2 ($1.8 million)
Surplus Value: $0-$1 million
The Pitch: Hey, if you can look past his awful first two months of the season and everything that he’s been involved in off the field, then you can have a decent hitter cheap! Kang has hit well since coming off the IL, recording a 113 wRC+ and .350 xwOBA in 74 PAs. But he has no future with the team with Ke’Bryan Hayes ready to go in 2020, and the Pirates will be better off giving his playing time to Cole Tucker, Jose Osuna, Erik Gonzalez and Kevin Kramer down the stretch instead.
Good Fits: Cleveland- The Indians have been surviving with DH by committee this year, but it’s clear their primary designated hitter Jake Bauers is not major league ready. Kang is a definite improvement over him.
Anaheim- The Angels are hanging around in the wild card discussion and are playing their best ball as of late. They shouldn’t break the bank this deadline, but they can shore up the bench. David Fletcher has the hot corner down, but with Tommy La Stella out, the Angels are now thin on infield depth. Fletcher can also play second, so the addition of Kang could spell rookie Luis Rengifo, at least until La Stella returns.
Oakland- The Athletics already have one of the game’s premier third basemen in Matt Chapman and shortstops in Marcus Semien, but Billy Beane is all about that ISO. Kang is cheap power, and the Athletics love cheap power. Maybe he could get some reps at DH.
Projected Deal: Jung Ho Kang to the Athletics for RHP Eric Marinez
Oakland gets a guy who fits their home run hitting mold to bolster the bench. In return, the Pirates get Marinez, a converted third baseman who is in his first full year as a pitcher. While the 23 year old has control problems and needs to develop a second pitch, his fastball is hitting 95 MPH and he’s struck out over one-third of the batters he’s faced in A-ball this year.
2019 Stats: .305/.341/.438, 6 HR, 34 RBI, 104 wRC+, 0.1 WAR in 271 PAs
Remaining Contract: Appx. $0.4 million of $1.15 million free agent deal
Projected WAR Down The Stretch: 0.1 ($0.9)
Surplus Value: $0-1 million
The Pitch: Do you feel good about your current outfield but want to add a little insurance? Melky’s your guy. He has a solid batting average and is hitting right-handers well this year (117 wRC+). He’s a good clubhouse guy who can provide depth at both corner outfield positions. Basically, he’ll provide you a little better than replacement level production for a price that’s a little above what you would pay said replacement level player.
Good Fits: Philadelphia- The Phils have lost two-thirds of their opening day outfield this season. Scott Kingery can play a passable center field, so adding a corner outfielder is a possibility. Jay Bruce should be returning from the IL soon, so he and Cabrera could platoon the rest of the way. The Phillies are also one of the worst pinch-hitting teams in the majors, and Cabrera is slashing .350/.480/.500 in 25 PAs as a pinch-hitter this year.
Boston- The Red Sox have four outfielders on the roster, all of whom are getting regular playing time thanks to the DH. While Brock Holt could moonlight in the outfield if necessary, they would benefit from adding a veteran to the mix instead. Cabrera also has been one of the best hitters in baseball going to the opposite field, recording a .368 batting average on balls to left field as a left-handed hitter. It sounds like he could pepper the green monster with hits.
Mystery team- A lot can happen in a week. Perhaps Kevin Kiermaier of the Rays or Byron Buxton of the Twins are out a little longer than expected and their teams need a stopgap for a couple weeks. Someone else can get hurt, and if there’s last second demand, Cabrera is a good fill-in.
Projected Deal: Melky Cabrera to the Red Sox for LHP Bobby Poyner
The Red Sox get a quality bench player and keep J.D. Martinez in the DH role down the stretch. The Pirates get Poyner, a major league ready lefty reliever who has struck out nearly 30% of his batters faced in AAA this year in spite of his low-90s fastball.
2019 Stats: .310/.374/.517, 2 HRs, 20 RBI, 125 wRC+, 0.8 fWAR in 131 Plate Appearances
Remaining Contract: Appx. $2.8 million is remaining on his $8.5 million arbitration deal
Projected WAR Down The Stretch: 0.9 ($8.1 million)
Surplus Value: $5-6 million
The Pitch: Dickerson has missed a good chunk of the season with injury, but he’s healthy now and he’s hitting as well as he ever has. The ball may not be leaving the yard, but 18 doubles in 131 plate appearances proves he still has extra-base power. He may be a rental, but the reigning Gold Glove winner should get something nice back in return.
Good Fits: San Francisco- The Giants should probably sell at the deadline, but their recent run has put them over .500 and three games out of a wild card. The early part of the 2020s are going to be miserable for them, so they may as well try to close out the decade on a high note. Alex Dickerson is carrying the outfield at the moment, but if they are serious about 2019, they will need an established vet to man at least one of the positions.
Philadelphia- What if the Phillies don’t believe in Bruce? Dickerson could potentially be worth an extra win down the stretch for a team that’s currently a half game out of a playoff spot.
Cleveland- The Tribe are one of the hottest teams in baseball. After sleep-walking the first two months, they now find themselves in a semi-comfortable wild card spot and within striking distance of first place. They’ve gone on this run with little help from their outfield, which has been worth just over 2 WAR this year, by far the worst out of the AL contenders. Dickerson would easily be their best outfielder.
Projected Deal: Corey Dickerson to the Phillies for RHP Francisco Morales and LHP Damon Jones
Dickerson plugs a hole for a Phillies team that’s trying to stop sinking. Morales is a 19 year old with a really good fastball and slider. If he can develop a changeup and correct some control issues, he could be a middle of the rotation guy. If not, he could look good out of the bullpen. Jones, 24, has four plus pitches, though the slider looks to be the only one that could get out of above-average territory. He could be a late bloomer.
*All stats entering play Thursday.