Thursday, August 2, 2012

Bucs Balance Long & Short Of It At Deadline

OK, the smoke is clearing from what was one of the most highly anticipated deadline periods of the past couple of decades. Hey, it's fun to be a buyer for a change, si? So what reaction did the FO get for landing Wandy Rodriguez, Travis Snider and Gaby Sanchez? A little dancing in the streets? Nah - it was pretty much gnashing of teeth because Hunter Pence isn't a Pirate.

Well, don't get all teary over that. Pence would have been nice, but by the numbers, he's not quite Garrett Jones. (Pence: 440 PA, .271/17/59; Jones: 291 PA, .272/16/52) Ask yourself what value you'd put on GI as trade bait. According to Buster Olney of ESPN, the Phils thought Brad Lincoln, Starling Marte and more was a fair deal. NH didn't and moved on.

Some others? Dejan Kovacevic of the Tribune Review wrote "The Phillies asked for Brad Lincoln, Bryan Morris and a third piece for (Shane) Victorino," and the price for Chase Headley was a top-5 prospect, plus Lincoln or the lottery pick, plus an unknown third player. The Padres are holding him until the off season now, while the Phillies (surprise) settled for considerably less to dump their outfielders.

The FO walked the talk this season, resisting all temptation to veer off their chosen road. They put a concrete value on players and stick to it, both Pittsburgh's and the league's. They prize player and cost control. They prefer to deal from areas of organizational strength. They always look to add depth to the system. It's the Tampa Bay model and they're sticking to it.

And looking at it from a step away, the Pirates didn't do too poorly. Their division rivals didn't do much - The Reds added closer Jonathan Broxton to go with Aroldis Chapman, and the Cards brought in middle reliever Edward Mujica. Atlanta, the Bucs wild card rival, propped up their roster with Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson.

That shows the realities of the marketplace - too many buyers and not enough sellers and the devaluation of rentals because of the new CBA. The off-season is going to become prime hunting season now that draft compensation doesn't follow two-month fly-by players, along with more August waiver deals.

And teams are finding that signing players is often a better move than unloading them - Edwin Encarnacion, Carlos Quentin, Cole Hamels and Huston Street were removed from the market by inking extensions. Other players under control, like Josh Willingham and Justin Upton, were priced in the stratosphere. Some teams, like Boston and Cleveland, couldn't decide what side of the buy/sell fence they were on. So pickings were slim.

Considering the unknowns of the new playing field, the Pirates were pretty active, making four deals, generally following their usual high upside potential, team control route. It's certainly not without risk.

First they bulked up the rotation by adding Rodriguez, 33, probably their safest move as far as production is concerned. The veteran lefty fit the bill - he profiles as a mid-rotation arm, he's lefty to balance the staff, and he'll be around at least for another season. He's signed through 2013, with a player option for 2014.

The price was on the pricy side, but the Pirates weren't going to get involved with the uptown rentals like Zach Grienke and Ryan Dempster, and preferred Wandy to other available lefties like Maholm and Francisco Liriano. So they identified him early in the process and paid the bill.

And in the new world of wildcards, depth is crucial. It's tough enough to play a winner-takes-all game to qualify without facing a playoff set having already burned an arm.

Snider and Sanchez are low-cost, high-upside rolls of the dice. Snider, 24, is a first round draft pick that had one shining season in 2010, hitting .255 with 14 HR in 298 AB, a big lefty OF'er that could plug a power hole in the pasture and doesn't hit arbitration until next season. There have been various excuses for his past performance - Cito Gaston being a knucklehead, lack of regular at-bats, yada yada. "Lunchbox" will get his shot and more in Pittsburgh, so it'll be "put up" time for him.

Sanchez, 28, is a guy the Bucs have been after for a while. After a strong rookie season in 2010 and an All-Star berth in 2011, he got pull happy and ended up in AAA this year. So the Bucs had an opp to grab him on the cheap, and did. He could settle in very nicely at first as Garrett Jones' alter ego, with the big if - can he get back to his all-fields approach and become a gap doubles machine at PNC Park, a place where righty pull hitters go to die. He likewise won't enter arbitration until next season.

The cost to corral the trio wasn't very steep. Brad Lincoln will be missed in the bullpen, but the rest of the gang were from the minors and not among the core. Gorkys Hernandez showed a tremendous glove and good wheels, but his bat took him out of the Pirate mix.

LHP Rudy Owens was probably the most MLB ready starter in the organization, but a projected rotation bottom-ender whose upside was passed by Jeff Locke and Justin Wilson, the other AAA lefties. OF Robby Grossman is an intriguing guy with a great OBP, but the scouts were all over the board on him. Colton Cain, 21, has shown good control, but his K rate left something to be desired.

Casey McGehee's trade to the Yankees was a housecleaning swap of guys whose welcome had worn out - Chad Qualls, the Pirate return, was ready to be DFA'ed, while McGehee just lost his spot to Sanchez. Both are FAs at the end of the year.

The trades didn't come close to stitching the holes in the Bucco lineup. The rotation has been shored up, but the bullpen right now isn't nearly as strong both because of addition and subtraction. Lincoln was a multi-role guy, and Kevin Correia and Qualls don't appear to inning-eating long guys; we'll see how that works out. The FO has shown a good eye and feel for the pen over the years, and have a couple of minor league arms stashed if needed, plus the waiver wire deals. The back end is still strong, so if the starters get into the seventh, the pen will be OK.

The top of the order still doesn't have an OBP speedster to lead off, and with Alex Presley relegated to fourth outfielder, it's even shakier. The Bucs have opted to become a thunderstick team, transitioning from looking for high OBP guys to living with hitters that can go yard but whiff shamelessly. That's also a fascinating sidebar to follow. The fielding also took a small hit, particularly at first. The bench is stronger, with Presley and Sanchez/Jones to go with Mike McKenry/Rod Barajas, Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer at the cost of Drew Sutton. It allows Clint Hurdle a little more flexibility.

The August waiver trade period could be busy this year to offset a quiet deadline. The Pirates could well address any of these holes in the coming four weeks.

Give the FO credit. They didn't sell the farm for a one-and-done player, improved in the most critical position on the diamond, starting pitching, and added a couple of guys who have the potential to lose a baseball every at bat, with all under team control for a reasonable period.

The Pirate deadline deals are different from most; the results won't be in at the end of the year. Neal Huntington and company have put together a group that fit in both the short and longer term plans of the club, balancing risk and reward. Part A can be judged in two months, but the overall success will be measured as seasons down the road unwind.

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