On June 30th, Jose Bautista took an awkward check swing and left the Blue Jays/Angels game in the fifth inning. It was unclear how serious the injury was, but it had the potential to be bad. While everyone waited on the news that night a report came across Twitter that Anthony Gose had been pulled out of his game in Las Vegas. The implication was that if Bautista was hurt, it would be Gose that would take his place. A ripple went across the Blue Jays fans that I follow on Twitter: Gose and not Travis Snider? Snider had been killing the ball in Vegas and seemed like the logical choice to take Bautista's place. The implication was clear, even to a non-Blue Jay fan that night: Alex Anthopolous was done waiting for Travis Snider. "That's the kind of player I'd like to see the Pirates take a chance on," I thought when I came to this realization.
A month later, and that's exactly what the Pirates did. They traded Brad Lincoln for Snider a few minutes after midnight on the day of the deadline, they traded Gorkys Hernandez for Gaby Sanchez as the deadline approached, and they traded Casey McGehee for Chad Qualls right at the deadline. They did all of this a week after trading Rudy Owens, Colton Cain, and Robbie Grossman for Wandy Rodriguez. That's some pretty serious turnover in the course of one week, so let's take some time and talk about what the Pirates did.
The three main acquisitions that the Pirates made were Rodriguez, Snider, and Sanchez. It's impossible not to notice that all three players will be Pirates beyond 2012. Rodriguez's contract takes him through 2013 with a player option he's almost certain to use in 2014, Snider won't even be eligible for arbitration until 2014, and Sanchez won't be aribitration eligible until 2013 or 2014. These players are all here to both help the Pirates down the stretch in 2012 and to pave the way to what we all hope is more success in the future. Rodriguez is 33; the Pirates can probably expect him to be anywhere between solid and very good over the next 2+ seasons. He doesn't have dominant stuff, but he can generate swings and misses and he's learning to get groundballs as he gets older. He makes the Pirates' rotation a lot better right now, in the same way that Erik Bedard and AJ Burnett did over the winter. Snider is 24. He was one of baseball's best prospects a few years ago, but he's lost some of that luster. Still, his power is real he's young enough that there are reasons to think he'll turn himself around. Sanchez is 28. As of yesterday morning, he was in Triple-A because he started 2012 off in a horrible slump. That said, he's one year removed from two seasons of decent play at first base and just a year ago, he drew 74 walks and had a .352 OBP. He looked like he found that patience again in the minors after his demotion, and he mashes left-handed pitching. The combination of Snider and Sanchez at the very least add depth that only existed in theory before these trades. Snider gives the Pirates four real outfielders, which means no more Garrett Jones or Drew Sutton trying to catch flyballs. It means Alex Presley is the fourth outfielder; he's a reasonable and better option than Drew Sutton to give Starling Marte nights off if he struggles or gets a bad matchup. It means Jones and Sanchez split time at first base and that a majority of the at-bats there won't go to Casey McGehee. All of this helps the Pirates, even if Snider isn't appreciably better than his career line of .247/.308/.429.
There's this thought that exists that because the Pirates traded for two players that have spent most of 2012 in the minors leagues and whose better days may be ahead of them instead of right in this very moment that they didn't do enough at this deadline or that the front office isn't fully committed to seizing the opportunity that's been afforded to them in 2012. I've read all of those arguments and I've talked to some of those fans and I understand the concern, but honestly, I don't see it. Look at the trade market this year; the best rental hitter available was Carlos Quentin and he wasn't traded. Seeing the price the Dodgers paid for Shane Victorino, I think it's a safe bet that it would've required Brad Lincoln to have him sent to Pittsburgh instead of LA. The Pirates chose Snider. As mentioned above, Snider's hitting .247/.308/.429 for his career. Victorino's hitting .261/.324/.401 this year. His power is mostly gone, so his value now is as a leadoff hitter. His OBP since 2010 is .336. Maybe he fits the Pirates' needs slightly better right now, but I don't think that's a sure thing. The only other real option for the Pirates at this deadline to upgrade the offense was Hunter Pence. It's hard to say what Pence would've cost the Pirates; Lincoln for sure, probably Tony Sanchez, maybe another depth prospect. Maybe a little more than that, since that haul is basically just a reliever and two depth prospects. Pence is a good hitter, but I'm not sure he's the hitter that Pirate fans seem to think he is. He's having a down year and I think that that down year is more in line with his true talent than his breakout year of last year.
Here's my issue with the thought that the Pirates prioritized the future over the present in trading for Snider instead of Pence or Victorino: Derrek Lee was one of the all-time great trade deadline acquisitions by anyone last year -- he was cheap and he was good beyond what the Pirates' or anyone could've possibly imagined on July 31 and he played strong defense at first base and he was worth exactly 0.8 wins above replacement. If he hadn't hurt his wrist and missed 23 games and he would've performed in those 23 games the way he did in his 28 in black and gold, let's say he would've been worth 1.5 wins. That's a significant contribution for a deadline pickup over ~60 games. Victorino's been worth 1.3 wins over 101 games this year. Pence, because of his moose-on-rollerskates defense, has been worth 0.6 in 101. It's incredibly unlikely that the difference between Snider and Pence or Victorino will be even one win over the course of 60 games, even if Snider struggles and fails to exceed his career numbers to this point.
What the Pirates did at this trade deadline upset a lot of people because it's unconventional. Young teams that are contending for playoff spots aren't supposed to survey the lay of the land and decide to get younger. It's not something people do. Neal Huntington took a calculated roll of the dice here; he's betting that over the course of 60 games that Travis Snider won't be much different than the more established players that he could've traded for (and remember, pretty much all of my scenarios here deal with him not hitting -- it's also possible that he just flat-out starts mashing his way to Game 162) and that Snider is more valuable in the long-run, which makes him a better return for a trade chip that obviously held some value like Brad Lincoln. That's certainly a risk for him to take on a number of levels and it's unconventional as hell. That's part of the reason that I love the strategy. The Pittsburgh Pirates don't ever get to be conventional. The Pittsburgh Pirates don't ever get to take their eyes off of the future, even when the present is important. That's baseball reality in 2012 and the Pirates certainly know what happens to teams that forget it.
The Pirates took a different approach to the deadline than people expected. Of course they did. I don't think I would've wanted anything else. The important thing is that the Pirates are also better today than they were 10 days ago. Given the players traded to other teams yesterday, I don't think they're significantly worse today than they would've been if they'd taken a more "traditional" approach to the deadline. It's true that this could backfire, but it's also true that there's a real chance that this approach will make them better in 2012 than if they'd followed a more conventional path. On top of all of that, they're also better for 2013 and beyond than they were ten days ago. That doesn't matter to Pirate fans now and it shouldn't, but it's still important. That's a good trade deadline.
I have only two real complaints about what the Pirates have done at the deadline. First, if the McGehee-Qualls trade is strictly a baseball trade, it's exchanging a good bench piece/platoon starter for a mid-game reliever, and a bad one at that. That's a lousy deal, if mostly an inconsequential one. The Sanchez deal leaves me cold--yes, he has good numbers against lefties, but he has a huge home/away career differential, and he's moving to a park that isn't particularly friendly to right-handed hitters with medium-level power. I also think the value of the pick that the Bucs traded is significant, especially given the dollar amount it takes out of the Pirates' draft pool for next year. Still, the Pirates considerably strengthened the rotation and added a player with a bunch of upside in Snider, and the irreplacable asset they gave up was the draft pick. That's an OK deadline.
@wkkortas I think it's more about Huntington doing right by a well-liked veteran player that the team no longer had a role for. Instead of dumping him off on waivers, and letting him dangle and maybe get claimed by somewhere that wasn't good for him, he found him a contender to play for. Huntington is generally pretty good about this (see: the weird Sutton situation earlier this year, Eric Hinske, etc.) when it doesn't affect the team, so that's how I'd read it.
But the Yanks really currently need a guy like McGehee with 3b ARod and 1bTex out with injuries. We could only get Chad Qualls in return for McGehee at that moment of decision? Bleh!
When I saw that Gorkys was traded, I didn't like it because I like him as a defensive replacement for Jones in the outfield. Then I remembered the Snider trade meant that we should never have to witness Jones in RF again, and I was happy.
Very good summation, Pat.
I wanted the Pirates to do three things over this year's trading deadline....and they did all three. First, I was of the segment of Pirate fans that thought the biggest improvement we could make was to the top-half of our starting rotation, as McDonald's regression was expected, Bedard's health was rightfully questioned, and Correia was skating by by pixie dust. Getting Rodriguez - who is familiar w/ division, is left-handed, fits well in our home park, and has (realistically) two more years of control at affordable rates - was pretty clever by NH. Most of the talk was focused on rentals and back-of-the-rotation marginal help; there wasn't much discussion re: Wandy. NH, in a pretty fair deal in my eyes, took advantage. Rotation - Check. Secondly, we needed more offense from a corner OF position, as our OF - particularly LF - has been league-worst (by a mile). Bringing up Marte was well-timed and, if nothing else, gives us an elite defender in LF for the final two months. I think he'll hit something like .260/.300/.420 w/ 10-15 stolen bases. Not great, but, when combined w/ top notch defense, is pretty valuable and a pretty big upgrade over what we were getting. However, the big move was the Snider acquisition. Snider, on his own, is pretty significant, but, when you see what the effect Snider had on the rest of the team, you realize the full impact of the move. Not only does Snider give us a LHB w/ power, good baserunning skills, above-avg defense, and 4 years of control, but he also makes three positions better, not just one. He allows Jones to move to 1B (his much better position) and face primarily RHPs; he makes our bench better by having Presley in the 4th OF role (which he is better suited for); and, he gives us better defense in RF. Corner OF - Check. And, finally, we needed to make our bench more reliable and talented. By having Presley (and Gaby Sanchez), as well as Harrison back to the UTIL role, our bench has become a little more productive. Bringing up a Clemente in September gives us a powerful LHB off the bench (a la Stairs, I guess) and maybe a Tabata (after sustained improvement) gives you another speed'ish type guy. Bench - Check.
And, the best part: all of the aforementioned was accomplished w/ only giving up one guy that may *really* hurt us in the future, Robbie Grossman. And, despite his potential, the addition of Snider negates his value to us.
Really well devised plan and really well executed. Now, it's just results.
For the most part, the guys I wanted the Pirates to get (Span, Willingham, Cuddyer) weren't moved. So there's no complaint there.
My one complaint: I am still not sold on picking Snider over Victorino. If Marte struggles, the Pirates really have NO other option at leadoff. If they could have dealt Lincoln for Victorino, yes they wouldn't have an outfielder for 2013, but at least they'd have another option. I'd rather count on Cutch, Pedro, Walker, and the new GFJ/Sanchez platoon to provide the power than have to count on Marte to post a .330+ OBP. Power is always nice to have, but surprisingly, it wasn't the biggest need.
Because, yes, Victorino's OBP is "only" .336. If the Pirates can get that out of anyone in the leadoff spot, I'll be ecstatic.