Monday is the kickoff of the annual Winter Meetings, this year held in Washington, D.C. Although there have been some trades and free agent signings prior to today, this is the unofficial jumping off point for transactions in baseball’s offseason. Every team sends multiple members of their front office, plus coaches in some cases, to these meetings to discuss deals and recruit players with agents. Even some players attend, as well.
The Pirates will be looking to create the identity of the 2017 team at these meetings. Hopefully, they’ll be looking to add some starting pitching and make a run at the playoffs in 2017. There’s a chance they trade away Andrew McCutchen, too, and decide to look down the road. I pick Option #1.
What they should be looking to do is re-allocate some salary by exploring trades involving Josh Harrison. I’ve been pretty consistent in my hesitancy to get excited about Harrison. I believed he would regress from his 2014 season. I immediately didn’t like the extension they gave him off the back of that 2014 season. And I explained how they made a mistake with it just this past August. We’re now moving into the expensive years of the Josh Harrison deal, as he’s on track to earn $7.75M in 2017 and $10.75M in 2018, with team options in 2019 and 2020 (buyouts of $1.5M). For his level of production (87 wRC+, which is 13% less offense than a league average player), he’s producing like a super-utility guy…which is what he ultimately is. The problem is that he’s being paid this year and next as if he’s a quality starter, especially on a cost-conscious team like the Pirates.
Ken Rosenthal has reported that the Pirates are open to moving Harrison in the right deal.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) November 29, 2016
Harrison has his supporters. He plays the game with joy and hustles like no one else on the team. On a team with players that will occasionally cause you to scratch your head or curse at their decision-making, Harrison has a relatively high baseball IQ. But at the end of the day, to quote novelist William Faulkner, he’s really just “the sound and the fury, signifying nothing.” After two straight sub-par seasons, Harrison and his contract are not prized commodities. It’s not an albatross deal, it’s just not good.
There are an infinite number of possible trades where the Pirates could dump him to a team for salary relief or low-level prospects. I’m choosing to look at some alternatives where they could exchange his 2 yr/$18.5M remaining deal for ones of roughly equivalent value, in areas that the Pirates may be seeking players — starting pitching and the bullpen.
RYAN MADSON — OAKLAND A’S
Yes, the A’s are perhaps even more penny-pinching than the Pirates, but feast your retinas on what the Oakland A’s 2B did last year (via Fangraphs):
That is, collectively, atrocious. Josh Harrison’s 1.5 WAR that he put up last season looks Troutian in this rogue’s gallery.
In exchange, the Pirates would be receiving the 36-year old Ryan Madson that is scheduled to receive $7.67M the next two years. Madson was a high-quality reliever for the Phillies until his career was beset by injuries from 2012 to 2014. He’s come back the past two seasons, first with the Royals and then with the A’s last year, as a solid and dependable reliever.
Whether the Pirates end up trading Tony Watson or not, Madson would provide another entity in the bullpen that has closing experience. At the worst, he could be an excellent 7th inning guy to get the ball to Rivero and Watson to finish the game.
CARLOS CARRASCO — CLEVELAND INDIANS
This one’s a little trickier. The Indians currently have two very good players at Harrison’s base positions of 2B (Jason Kipnis) and 3B (Jose Ramirez). The Indians did get all the way to Game 7 of the World Series with an outfield that on paper looks terrible, so perhaps they would consider flipping Carrasco for Harrison to occupy either LF or RF for them.
The Indians have a surplus of good young pitching, when healthy. With Corey Kluber-Trevor Bauer-Danny Salazar-Josh Tomlin-Zach McAllister-Mike Clevinger all in the fold, Carlos Carrasco could be expendable in the right deal. He’s set to make $6.5M in 2017 and $8M in 2018 (with club options in 2019 and 2020) and, when healthy, is a legitimate #2-level pitcher in talent. But there’s the rub. Carrasco is not healthy. His career high in innings is 183 in 2015; last year he managed just 146 (and put up 2.5 WAR in those innings). That 2015 season is the only year he’s crested the 150 inning mark in the Majors.
Theoretically, the deal should be Harrison plus a prospect for Carrasco, as Carrasco’s ceiling is far higher than Harrison’s. But Carrasco’s lengthy injury history detracts from his value and may be able to make this a one-for-one swap. Amazingly, the total years of potential control match up if both teams exercise all the club options.
On pure talent, this is an epic mismatch that would require the Pirates to kick in a prospect as a sweetener. Hyun-jin Ryu, when healthy (there it is again), is a fantastic pitcher that put up 3.6 and 3.8 WAR his first two years in the league. But last year was a lost cause for him, as he missed the first half of the year recovering from shoulder surgery and the second half with an elbow impingement.
Ryu is owed $7.83M each of the next two seasons, which is a steal for his level of #2-#3 pitcher production. The Dodgers are a more upmarket example of the Indians, though, with an overflow of pitchers available at their disposal. Clayton Kershaw sure isn’t going anywhere. He’s joined by Scott Kazmir, Kenta Maeda, Brandon McCarthy, Alex Wood, all of whom have checkered injury histories themselves. Add in young phenom prospects Julio Urias and Jose de Leon and there’s a logjam.
For what it’s worth, Ryu is a left-handed pitcher, something the Pirates have an opening for in their rotation, if they’re so inclined. Also of note is that the Dodgers have five LHP candidates, including Ryu, so they may want to divest themselves of one in the right deal. The Dodgers are set to lose 3B Justin Turner in free agency and they don’t have a viable 2B on the roster at this time, either. They’ve been sniffing around Brian Dozier of the Twins, Ian Kinsler of the Tigers, and Logan Forsythe of the Rays, but the prospect capital to obtain those players may be too steep. By moving a surplus asset for a 2B/3B that is “cost-effective” for the Dodgers in this time of fiscal prudence may be a more appealing option to them.
Moving Josh Harrison would mean the Pirates would have to start Adam Frazier at 2B, an idea that I’m not sure the Pirates are entirely comfortable with on the defensive side of things. Unless they pursue another option via trade or free agency, of course. But moving Harrison to gain pitching would help re-allocate payroll to an area they need even more than 2B at this point.
Kevin Creagh is the author of the sci-fi novel Creating Christ, available now on Amazon