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Evaluating Pirate Trade Values: Rental Pitchers

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MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at San Diego Padres Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, I took a look at what the Pirates could get in trades for their position players on expiring contracts. Today, we’ll look at the pitchers.

Once again, I want to reiterate I do not have any scoops from insiders that say these are actual offers, if this really is what the Pirates could get for each player or even if the teams I bring up are interested in these players. I want to show you the thought process behind these fake deals though so you can get an understanding of what these players could fetch on the market. Making fake trade proposals are fun, and hopefully this can be a tool to help you make more educated shots in the dark.

In case you missed it last time, here’s how I calculate trade value:

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.

With that out of the way, let’s look at the Pirates’ two rental pitchers.

Francisco Liriano

2019 Stats: 3.12 ERA, 22.2 K%, 12.1 BB%, .301 xwOBA, 0.2 WAR in 49 IP

Remaining Salary: Appx. $600K guaranteed remaining of $1.8 million free agent contract (plus incentives that could total $1.5 million)

Projected WAR Down The Stretch: 0.2 WAR ($1.8 million)

Surplus Value: $1-2 million

The Pitch: Are you buying ERA and xwOBA or FIP and WPA? If you’re buying the former, Liriano is your guy. If it’s the latter, look elsewhere. In the end, though, it’s pretty clear that a 40-grade prospect is the ceiling here, as no rental reliever went for more than that last year.

Good Fits: Washington- The Nats desperately need bullpen help. Their 5.87 reliever ERA is the worst in the NL, and out of relievers with at least 12 innings pitched for them, only Sean Doolittle has an ERA under 4. They’re going to have to pick up multiple bullpen arms, and after all, it’s not like the Nationals have a bad track record when trading for Pirate relievers.

Houston- The Astros may boast the second best reliever ERA in the game, but they don’t have a reliable lefty. Their 6.44 ERA from left-handed pitchers is the second worst in baseball, and their .357 xwOBA from southpaw bullpen arms is the third highest. It stands to reason Houston would rather target Felipe Vazquez, but if the Pirates’ closer is off limits, making another deadline deal for Liriano makes sense, too.

Boston- The Astros may have the second worst ERA from lefty relievers, but the defending champs are dead last. A .377 team wOBA from southpaw bullpen arms will not get the job done, especially in a potential wild card game.

Projected Deal: Francisco Liriano to the Astros for 3B Abraham Toro

In case you couldn’t tell by the first post, I love trading rental players for boom or bust prospects since the risk is very low and the reward could be great. (Example: Tony Watson for O’Neil Cruz.) They don’t get more boomier or bustier than Toro, a 23 year old dead pull switch-hitter who can get the ball in the air. He’s blocked by one of the game’s premier third basemen, so the Astros may as well trade him to address a need.

Jordan Lyles

2019 Stats: 5.36 ERA, 24.9 K%, 9.1 BB%, .327 xwOBA, 0.8 WAR in 82.1 IP

Remaining Salary: Appx. $700K of $2.05 free agent contract (plus incentives)

Projected WAR Down The Stretch: 0.4 WAR ($3.6 million)

Surplus Value: $2-3 million

The Pitch: Lyles can make one more start before the deadline. The Pirates should probably let him make it to try to rebuild some value after two bombs in his last three starts. Lyles can be marketed as a fifth starter, a swing man or a reliever, and his microscopic contract will boost his surplus value and make him a fit for almost every team.

Good Fits: Milwaukee- The Brewers’ starting rotation is beat up at the moment, so they need someone to stop the bleeding before they fall too far behind the Cardinals and Cubs. Once they get a couple arms back, they can put Lyles back in the bullpen role he thrived in last year.

Tampa Bay- The Rays could go big game hunting with Noah Syndergaard. If they miss out on him or decide they don’t want to deal a highly rated prospect, Lyles is a fall-back option. Maybe what he needs is an opener.

Oakland- The A’s have already acquired Homer Bailey to help fill the rotation, but their starting five is still very thin. Lyles could chill in the bullpen and be a good insurance option in case someone struggles or gets hurt in the final two months of the season.

Projected Deal: Jordan Lyles to the Tampa Bay Rays for RHP Jose De Leon

De Leon was a highly touted prospect in the Dodgers’ farm system in 2016 before being dealt to Tampa for Logan Forsythe. After an injury shortened 2017, he needed Tommy John Surgery in 2018. He’s finally pitching in AAA again, but the stuff has not returned yet. With Jameson Taillon’s 2020 season in jeopardy, the Pirates need to add a starting pitcher to their mix with a higher upside than Dario Agrazal or J.T. Brubaker. The Rays get a pitcher comfortable pitching in a variety of roles, which fits their mold perfectly.