Monday, July 25, 2011

The Trade Frenzy

Hey, this is pretty much uncharted water for Pittsburgh, being in a pennant race in July. It's even odder being in the position of a buyer instead of seller as the trade deadline approaches. The convergence, unseen in the City for decades, has stirred some performance anxiety among Bucco fans; let's hope it doesn't do the same to the FO.

The Bucs are hangin' in despite a depleted roster of position players. The starting pitching has kept the offensively challenged club in games and the bullpen has generally finished the deal. The fans - and some of the media - are in a froth to bring a bat or two to Pittsburgh.

Easier said than done. The Bucco base is getting its first taste of buy-a-player-itis, and they want Carlos Baltran or Hunter Pence and they want him now. But the trade deadline itself is a week away, and like August 15th for first round draft picks, it's the day things happen.

The Pirates made three deadline deals last season, sending Octavio Dotel to the Dodgers, Javier Lopez to the Giants, and DJ Carrasco, Ryan Church and Bobby Crosby to Arizona. Each trade was made on July 31st. Why? To maximize the value of the return. The Bucs got a starting pitcher, James McDonald, a starting catcher, Chris Snyder, and minor leaguers Pedro Ciriaco, John Bowker, Andrew Lambo and the now gone Joe Martinez.You think other GM's don't know the drill?

In 2010, there were 11 trades in the first four weeks of July. In the last three days, there were 21, with a dozen on July 31st. This has been a slow year in comparison; there have only been four deals consummated to date this month. So forget rushing things; trades have their own rhythm, much like signing top draft picks, and usually get done under the deadline pressure of the final bidding round.

Also, it would help to temper expectations. It's been hinted that Beltran would block a trade to Pittsburgh, and even if he would see fit to grace the town with a two month visit, the Mets are said to be asking for a top prospect in return - think Jameson Taillon for the Pirates. Worth it? We think not.

Pence's asking price by Houston is said to be a top prospect and two MLB-ready players; think Taillon, Jose Tabata and a player X. Again, a high price for a player that's guaranteed to wear your uni for a year and eight weeks before he hits the market.

So if they pick up a bat, it will almost surely be from one of two categories: contract dumps like Carlos Pena or underachievers like Ryan Ludwick and Josh Willingham. And that's fine; those are guys that can be of some use this season and not block anyone going forward. We think the likeliest available lumber is already in the system, with Pedro Alvarez and John Bowker, but a thunder stick, especially swung from the right side, would be nice..

As far as adding some pitching, the scouts, by all reports, are scouring the baseball countryside for a back end reliever. The Buc bullpen has been called on more times than St. Christopher, and with Evan Meek out until August at the earliest and Jose Veras being inconsistent recently, a little help would be appreciated. We're pretty sure they'll shore up the team here because of the market . Heck, Dotel could even return to town.

Starting pitching doesn't look like it will come into play this deadline. A couple of guys are learning and a couple are regressing, as expected. The greater concern is the workload. Paul Maholm is the only rotation member who knows what the north side of 150 innings looks like. If they decide to go with a sixth or spot starter to give the staff a blow, the team will be fine with Brad Lincoln ready, Rudy Owens beginning to settle in, and Ross Ohlendorf within a week or two of returning.

Our sense is that the FO would like to make a splash this year, and if they can make a strong move without getting into their core prospects, they'll happily pull the trigger. But they know the team is still in transition, and are probably shooting for a 2013-14 window when the pitching catches up to really start flexing. To use their minor league chips before the process runs its cycle would be self defeating.

So hey, calm down. We're fairly certain that the GM is working on giving the guys a chance this year, especially after the way the team has captured the City and generated so much good ink for the Pirate organization. But remember that Pittsburgh is on the other side of the buy/sell equation, and the dealing is controlled by the seller in both timing and cost.


Anonymous said...

Pence is arbitration eligible, so he would be able to be kept for the next two seasons plus the 2 months this year. Still don't want him here. Hopefully guys like Willingham and Ludwick would see an increase in production by leaving the parks they play in now.

Ron Ieraci said...

Anon - Pearce does have time on the clock; he has to be concerned with holding off Matt Hague and a couple of young guns at the lower levels.

Ludwick might have more upside, but Willingham (I think; haven't checked) has a better track record. Thye're underachieving this year, but both could fit in both during the stretch and 2012 placeholders as there's no righty bat in the system to challenge them.

I'm not really opposed to them; they're probably an upgrade over Diaz. I just opposed to overpaying, I guess.