Having party-hopped to various neighborhood cookouts on Sunday, America’s 240th birthday was spent running errands in preparation for the upcoming “Men of Atlas Annual Bucco Baseball Weekend” (note: this is actually us). Pittsburgh’s 93.7 The Fan was on the radio as I drove through another overcast July 4th in Pittsburgh, and I could not help but notice the number of callers that have already stuck a fork in the 2016 Pirates.
“We should have traded Melancon before the season started. We don’t need an elite closer this year.”
“It’s time to trade Cutch. We can get a haul of prospects that will help us win in the future.”
I too felt dejected after the horrid June we just watched unfold, but as Matt pointed out earlier, every season will have ups and downs. Having won eight of the last 10 games—some against other NL wild card hopefuls—and back above .500, the team is still firmly in the playoff picture for 2016.
It’s time to buy. Why aren’t we discussing it as an option?
Jameson Taillon’s “injury” (see here) is further evidence that the Pirates continue to need outside starting pitching help to compete in the National League this season. There are several arms on the market that can immediately provide just that.
Keeping in mind that Neal Huntington and his crew value years of control like chests brimming with gold doubloons, here are a few trade candidates that could be helpful down the stretch in 2016 and beyond. With regard to the probability, we’ll assume that the Pirates are fully committed to winning it all this season and will pursue rotation pieces to do so.
The Unsexy But Useful: Julio Teheran (SP, Atlanta Braves)
With seemingly all eyes on Atlanta right now, Julio Teheran might be the most hyped deadline target this year. Currently holding a 2.72 ERA with a 4.38 K/BB rate, he’s putting together something of a career-year and drawing a great deal of interest. His increased strikeout rate (23.7% as opposed to a career hovering around 20%) is likely the cause. The Braves are aware of this and are asking for a large haul to move the young right-hander.
Frankly, I have never been a fan of Teheran. His average fastball velocity sits just below 91 MPH and his delivery leaves him susceptible to chronic injury. The Braves apparently have tinkered with it, but it’s unknown how much damage has already been done as a result. His FIP is more than a full run higher than his ERA (see and believe). That’s a lot of red flags. All that said, I have never liked Jeff Locke or Jordy Mercer and they make me eat crow on regular occasion. The results have been good this year for Julio.
Additionally, Teheran is the closest to a “rental” of the options highlighted. He is under contract for $12 million next season before he becomes an unrestricted free agent. This is a very fair price in the context of 2016 MLB starting pitcher salaries.
Teheran would essentially replace Jon Niese (who certainly will not have his option picked up by the team) on the payroll for 2017. He would be a very effective and useful mid-rotation starter that would add stability to Cole, Taillon, Glasnow (or whoever we must suffer through until June 2017), and Liriano.
Probability: Moderate; The Braves have realized the high-demand for impact arms this season and are asking a king’s ransom for Teheran. Another team (Boston, for instance) will sell the farm to get it done.
The Hot Hand: Drew Pomeranz (SP, San Diego Padres)
There are very few things that are ever-present in life as we know it now. They are: death, taxes, and the Padres selling at the deadline. Drew Pomeranz has been San Diego’s best pitcher this year, so it is conceivable that he will be moved to continue the team’s rebuild.
Pomeranz profiles as the type of hard-throwing lefty that the Pirates have favored in recent years. He walks a few too many (a BB/9 of 3.69), but his 10.33 K/9 should dispel any fear of him struggling out of the stretch. Just please don’t make him pitch to contact.
Currently making $1.35 million this year and on the books for two more arbitration seasons, Pomeranz would provide an exceptionally-affordable option, even if he only provides fifth-starter level production. He could replace Niese on the books and free up some money for Bob Nutting to pocket...errr, Neal Huntington to spend elsewhere in 2017 and 2018.
With a very thin track record in a new pitcher-friendly park, teams will be unlikely to send a large haul of top-talent to southern California. The Padres need just about everything but a first baseman though, so a package of near major-league ready and low minor league prospects could get a deal done. Look for a scaled down version of the 2015 Cole Hamels swap.
Probability: High; Pomeranz would essentially become the “new Liriano,” a lefty strikeout artist that has some nagging walk issues. AJ Preller needs to get some pieces for the Padres’ depleted minor league system to keep his job and Pomeranz’s value is at an all-time high right now.
The Buy-Low (But Still for a Premium): Sonny Gray (SP, Oakland Athletics)
Sonny Gray has been bad this season. Wow! Much like the Pirates, the Athletics haven’t gotten much production from their rotation—Rich Hill is the only starter with an ERA below 4.00 so far—and their chances of contention look bleak as a result. Billy Beane has always been a savvy deadline dealer, both as a buyer and seller, so it’s likely that he will look to move one or more pieces again this year.
Trade rumors thus far have centered around Rich Hill, but being a pure rental, the Pirates are likely to be uninterested for the price. Sonny Gray, however, will enter his first arbitration season next year and be under team control through 2019. Making only $527,500 this year, his rate will be desirable to the Pirates.
It is also very likely that Gray could return to form with help from Ray Searage. Unlike Nicasio, Niese, and Vogelsong, Gray actually has top-line stuff that has worked in The Show. Without the “pitcher whisperer” in their dugouts, rival teams may not be as eager to take a risk on Gray providing meaningful contributions this year. The price could, but unlikely, lower a bit because of this.
Beane has made it clear both in the past and recently that Gray is going to be tough to pry away, but the Pirates have the system to do it. A package of some top outfield and pitching prospects could net the struggling ace, but it is more likely that the Pirates refuse to give up that much and/or Beane looks for major-league talent in exchange. No combination of Freese, S-Rod, Jaso, or Joyce will be enough, unless an unlikely three-way trade with another contender in need of hitting were to occur. Glasnow and additional players would likely be on the move to make a deal.
Probability: Low; This season is likely a minor blip on the radar for the rising Gray and Beane is too smart to accept less than a huge haul of top talent from Pittsburgh.
The Outsider: Matt Moore (SP, Tampa Bay Rays)
Everyone loves a dark horse!
Moore is no longer a sexy option (but there is this!), but he’s been effective since returning from Tommy John surgery this season. He’s another hard-throwing lefty (his fastball is touching 96 MPH this year) who is posting career best strikeout and walk rates. Once thought to be the future ace of the Rays, it seems that he is finally realizing some of his potential in 2016.
Moore has three club options for the 2017, 2018, and 2019 seasons for $7 million, $9 million, and $10 million, respectively. These are larger numbers than the Pirates enjoy paying, but all three are cheaper than the commitments they were prepared to make to Niese over the same stretch. As a bonus, Moore comes with both a better pedigree and current results. It also bears repeating that this is still very affordable in the 2016 pitching market.
MLB Trade Rumors has mentioned that the Rays might shop Moore, but more interest has been centered around Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi so far. Likely, the injury history and lack of consistency is concerning to buyers. Sounds like a Pittsburgh-style reclamation to me.
The price is anyone’s bet, but the Rays will likely be interested in minor league prospects. It may not take Glasnow to get it done, but it will be more than a cast of organizational depth and/or TBNL players to make a deal.
Probability: High; This is the sort of high-upside and future-conscious move that the Pirates favor. The fact that Moore has not been linked to many teams recently provides further support, as Huntington’s deadline moves are usually surprising and without hype. Tampa’s dedication to advanced analytics may let them part with Moore for less-than-blue-chip minor league talent with positional flexibility too.
And with that, happy trading!
Tim Vitullo is a singer/guitarist/songwriter and ASCAP artist based in Pittsburgh, PA. His debut LP, Josephine & Assorted Train Songs, is available via Spotify, iTunes, Bandcamp, and http://timvitullo.com. Follow him on Twitter @officialtvband and Instagram @officialtvb.