Monday, July 28, 2014

Deadline Dealing: 2011-13

The deadline is right around the corner, dropping at 4PM on Thursday, and this down-to-the-wire dealing stuff is getting to be old hat now; this will be the fourth year in a row that the Bucs have been active acquiring players instead of shedding them.

The Pirates joined the buyers mart in 2011, the first year the Pirates were contenders into the dog days. For the first time since 1997, when the "Freak Show" added Shawon Dunston to the roster, the Bucs were adding to the roster.

The Bucs had Lyle Overbay at first base (.227) and shored up that spot by bringing in Derrek Lee, 35, from Baltimore for minor league 1B Aaron Baker, 24. Lee hit .398 with seven homers and 18 RBI in 28 games, but was on the DL with a bum wrist while the Pirates slowly swirled around the NL drain. Lee was a strong pick-up for virtually free who retired after the season while Baker never got above AA for Baltimore and was released from the Bird's system this year.

The other addition was OF'er Ryan Ludwick, who was bought from the Padres to add a little muscle to the bench and get some platoon work with Garrett Jones, who was primarily a RF that season. He didn't do much here, hitting .232 with two HR and 11 RBI in 38 games. He left as a free agent to sign with the Reds. Ludwick had a strong 2012 season for Cincy and has been spotty since.

The Bucs did pretty well for themselves in 2011; they weren't really serious contenders yet, brought in a couple of vets and plugged a big hole with Lee without giving up any major league assets.

In 2012, it was a little more of the same; a strong early push with a huge fade at the end. The front office realized that it was still a mirage and went a slightly different route, bringing in future pieces. The big deal, off course, was for 33 year old Wandy Rodriguez. The Bucs sent the Astros Colton Cain, Rudy Owens and Robbie Grossman, with Grossman being the key piece.

Wandy pitched as advertised, going 5-6 with a 3.72 ERA. But injuries derailed him in Pittsburgh. A guy that was hoped to be an inning-eater in Pittsburgh ended up making just 31 starts with 11 wins for the Pirates until his release with a bum knee earlier this year.

Owens has the look of a Quad A guy, Cain is still young at 23 and toiling in AA, and Grossman has spent part of two season with the 'Stros, hitting .240.

They also swapped out Brad Lincoln for Travis Snider. Both were first rounders that never quite lived up to the hype. Neither guy has put up any worthwhile numbers, but at this point in time, Snider is trending up as a fourth outfielder (.256, 6 HR) while Bad Brad is taking his lumps in the Philly system, being demoted from the big club and sent to AAA, not a good sign for a 29 year old reliever.

Pittsburgh also brought in Gaby Sanchez from the Marlins for Gorkys Hernandez, a gifted fielder but weak hitter, and a compensation pick. Gaby has turned into a useful platoon player, hitting .289 against LHP while a Pirate and playing a steady first base. Gorkys is chasing baseballs in Venezuela now, so the comp pick will prove to be the key element of the deal.

In more minor deals, the Pirates deepened the pen by bringing in Chad Qualls for Casey McGehee, who had in effect lost his job when Gaby joined the club, and Hisonari Takahashi was claimed off waivers. Qualls and McGehee are having rebound years while Takahashi is pitching in Japan; none offered more than depth.

Again, the Bucs did OK. They didn't get over the hump, and though the verdict has yet to be rendered because of the youth of the guys they traded, they got a couple of solid bench pieces in Travis and Gaby, though they struck out on Wandy, without losing anything but a little potential bench depth.

Last year was different. It wasn't all smoke and mirrors; the Bucs had a solid club in 2013 with excellent pitching, but needed an offensive bump. They struck two big deals, both in August, to strengthen the lineup.

The biggest difference maker was OF Marlon Byrd, and they paid pretty dearly his rental, sending the Mets RHP Vic Black and 2B Dilson Herrera. The Bucs also landed John Buck, an offensive-minded catcher, to serve as Russ Martin's caddy rather than untested Tony Sanchez. Byrd did all that for the Pirates in right field (.318, 3 HR, 17 RBI in 30 games), and was strong through the playoffs (.364, 1 HR, 5 RBI in 6 games). He left for the Phils after the season; seems like the Bucs already had another right fielder just about ready in Gregory Polanco. Buck was adequate (.333 in 24 at-bats), and he was allowed to go the free agent route too, not having the glove that the Bucs like behind the dish.  

Black has been up-and-down and has the arm to fill a spot in a MLB bullpen but Herrera, 20, was the prize for NY. The youngster represented the Bucs, along with Gregory Polanco, in the 2013 Futures Game. He's already the Mets #8 minor league prospect. Herrera is batting .345 at AA Binghamton, and while he's still working on improving his defense, he could be a starter in the show maybe as soon as 2016.

That's the first deadline deal where the Pirates had to send away a prospect with potential everyday MLB talent in Herrera; it shows the urgency that the FO felt to end the streak, break through to the playoffs and capitalize on all the feel good vibes the club was generating.

The other trade was to bring in Justin Morneau from the Twins to provide a glove and more consistent stick at first while foreshadowing the non-tendering of Garrett Jones. The cost wasn't very high as the Pirates sent Alex Presley and Duke Welker to the Twinkies. Morneau did OK, hitting .260 with a .370 OBP. But three RBI in 25 games from a middle-of-the-order position didn't cut it, and he was released at the end of the year, with Ike Davis eventually filling the first base spot.

Morneau has revived his career at Colorado, hitting .312 with 13 HR and 60 RBI, and the numbers aren't Coors Field phenomena; his home/road splits are not that wide. Could be that the Pirates missed the call on keeping him around for the short-term (The Rox gave him two guaranteed years at $11.75 total, with an option for $9M/$750 K buyout), but at age 33 and with his power numbers non-existent, it was a gamble they were understandably reluctant to make.

Presley is a bench outfielder, and Welker returned to the Bucs in exchange for Kris Johnson. Duke was released after TJ surgery, so again it was another deal of spare parts. They also added Kyle Farnsworth, who they signed to a minor league deal in August and brought up in September.

2014 showed that the higher your target, the more you're willing to give up. The Pirates got exactly the push they needed from Byrd, and to them, that was worth the price they paid.

Now it's time to get that push going for the stretch run. While the rumor mill has been dead, especially as team's approach the deadline wire, we'd expect the Bucs (as does everyone else) to look for a top end or mid-rotation starter; they have the back end covered. Likeliest is some bullpen reinforcement, especially seventh inning or later guys. And it's possible that they'd like to add another infield bench guy, one with a stick if the price is right. But they've been patient, as last year showed, and may wait out the market again.

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