Jeff Passan of Yahoo!Sports describes the Pirates' deadline day: "Pittsburgh’s player-development system is a machine. At some point, it comes time to cash that in for a run, and considering the NL Central remains up for grabs, the Pirates were the anti-A’s and anti-Tigers, missing an opportunity that was theirs."
Did they really whiff on their chances to land some help?
Detroit sent Drew Smyly and prospect Willy Adames to Tampa Bay, along with Austin Jackson, who went to Seattle in exchange for Nick Franklin heading to the Rays for David Price. Smyly is a starter/reliever who's been better out of the pen, Nick Franklin is a young infielder with some upside who Robinson Cano knocked out of a position, and SS Willy Adames is toolsy and plays a premium position, but is just 18.
The Pirates seemed deep enough to top that offer; Hardball Talk reported that Peter Gammons thought the Buc offer was better than Detroits', but that Tampa was after young guys with some MLB credentials while the Pirates had a prospect package. We'll never know the particulars for sure; there's been no leakage of who Pittsburgh offered. But they can't be faulted in this case; it seems like their greatest error may have been mistaking just what the Rays were looking for rather than hoarding, and that was a misstep.
Jon Lester was traded for Yoenis Cepedes. Many folk see similarities between him and Starling Marte (OPS+ of 119 for Cepedes, 112 for Marte), outside of the obvious difference in power, but while their skill sets are similar, their long-term value isn't. Cepedes is signed for next season, and then becomes a free agent. In fact, a report by Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Gate says the A's were going to deal him in the off season because they couldn't afford to sign him. They traded two months of Cepedes, minus his off season value, for two months of Lester.
Marte is just a year younger, but his value is that he's under team control until at least 2019 after inking his contract, and the Pirates have two option years for 2020-21. The Pirates really don't have a match for Cepedes that is equivalent. Additionally, the Pirates are understandably reluctant to break up an outfield that has the potential to keep their window of contention open for the foreseeable future.That deal just happened to be one where the stars aligned between Billy Beane and Ben Cherington.
So our take is that they took a shot at the high fruit and came up short, perhaps miscalculating in one deal and not having a good match in the other case. It was the right strategy to aim high in the pitching market; the Pirate back-end is deep enough. They needed top-of-the-rotation arms.
But on the other end of the roster, the failure to fill in around the edges was mystifying. Emilio Bonafacio is the kind of player Clint Hurdle and the FO love off the bench, versatile, with some stick and eats up LHP. The Cubs dealt him and LHP James Russell for the Braves #8 prospect, C Victor Caratini, a 20 year-old A ball player. We think the Bucs really missed the boat there; the Cubs dangled a couple of useful pieces. Pittsburgh could have used both guys, make no mistake, and the Cubs, unlike the Bosox and Rays, are in full prospect acquisition mode. Our only defense is that intra-divisional dynamics may have been in play.
They likewise were reported to be seriously kicking Ben Zobrist's tires, but except in ESPN's little fairyland, that ended up another futile chase. Not many relievers moved, oddly enough, so maybe the market wasn't there or the FO felt Indy's Drew Oliver and Vin Mazzaro were equal to what was being offered. (Andrew Miller, of course, being the exception, but Baltimore gave up a Top 100 Prospect - he was ranked consistently in the sixties range - in LHP Eduardo Rodriguez for two months of a very good set-up man.)
The Bucs missed out on the splash deals, though it seems they did make honest efforts to land an ace. But whiffing on a chance to solidify the bench and mid-inning bullpen may come back to bite them. We'll see what the next month has up its sleeve. The Pirates passed on the non-waiver market last year too, waiting until the end of August to bring Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau to town and still ended up doing pretty well. Time will tell if the same model pans out this year.