Yesterday, I looked at players the Pirates could trade for in the event that they turned their season around. Today, I want to look at their ample trade chips in the event that they cannot. Trading players for the Pirates could be tricky business as they would want to maximize their returns, reduce salary, but also not handcuff themselves moving forward. The Pirates have too much talent to not expect them to rebound and compete again next year, even if their transition year got the best of them in 2016. I don’t expect a trade of a major piece of the puzzle or really anyone with more than two years of control. However, the Bucs have plenty of players heading into free agency that they could easily move.
So how bad does it have to get to sell? For me, the Pirates would need to be 10 or more games out of the wildcard before I trade most of the players I mention today. Between 7.5-10 games back and I probably don’t do anything. If they’re within 7 games, they’re contenders even if they’re also longshots.
That said, there are a couple of players I would consider unloading regardless of their record. John Jaso’s been an excellent addition for the Pirates. They’ve had trouble finding a first baseman who could provide more than a band aid. Jaso’s done everything the Pirates have asked of him to do, converting to the perennial black hole of a position while also getting on base at a decent rate. His overall offense package is a little less than you’d want from first, so I wouldn’t say he’s exactly entrenched himself. The Pirates may not need anymore band aids as Josh Bell appears to be getting closer to major league ready. Bell’s added some power in 2016 and slowly cut back on an early spike in strikeouts. His defense is a little suspect still, but if a player can hit at first, fielding the position really shouldn’t matter much. I’d move Jaso, because Bell could actually provide a better overall option after he adjusts to the majors.
Jaso’s salary comes relatively cheap, giving some surplus value for the Pirates to recoup in a trade. Before I get too deep in this conversation, I’m going to assume a conservative $6.5 million per WAR at the trade deadline and I’ll be using our updated prospect valuation for top prospects. On deadline day, Jaso will still be owed roughly $6.5M (inc. 2017) and I would project that he accumulates 1.5 – 2 WAR between now and the end of his deal, giving him surplus value in the $3.25 – 6.5 million range. That won’t nab an elite prospect, but it could get the Pirates some bullpen help this year opening up a hole new world of possibilities for trade partners than those discussed yesterday. The Astros could use some depth at the corners and possibly an upgrade at first against righties. Pat Neshek is under control for next year and seems a bit expendable. Their pen is deep even if the back end is questionable. Could an old fashioned baseball trade make sense for both teams? If they’re out of contention, Jaso could net a potential return in line with, or slightly better than, what the Pirates received for Travis Snider from the Orioles.
If he doesn’t rebound, I’d also consider trading Francisco Liriano. The Pirates would be selling low, but with the starting pitching trade market looking as thin as it is, Liriano could net more than one might expect especially from a team that believes they can fix him. I’m not even going to venture a guess on how much he might return, but making a move free up $13 million in salary. That’s not a bad price for Frankie when he’s on, but it’s crushing when he’s down. A weak market and potential payroll flexibility, combined with the fact that he’s not particularly outperforming anyone on the Pirates staff, makes me think moving him would be the smart thing to do, even if the team is competing.
If the Pirates are in good shape, I’d hang on to everyone else. If not, I’d open up the flood gates on anyone not locked down for next year and I’d listen on players controllable for both seasons.
I’ve said for some time that a trade involving Mark Melancon probably won’t net as much as people think it would. However, he might be the Pirates best trade chip and if the Yankees come around, thus pulling Aroldis Chapman off the block, he could be the biggest name on the block. At a minimum, I would expect a B- type prospect similar to what the Pirates gave up for Joakim Soria last season. Nick Cafardo thinks the Astros, Mets, Giants and Red Sox could make sense. I’d add the Blue Jays and Rangers to that list as well. There should be lots of action on Melancon if he’s available and that’s a good thing for the Pirates.
Freese has been more than one could ask for from his late spring training $3 million signing. He’s showing why he was in the conversation to get a qualifying offer last offseason and he’s proven to be a versatile player. He will likely not get a QO from the Pirates, so if they’re out of contention there would be no point of keeping him. If he continues to produce the way he has, I’d put his expected production expected around 1 WAR in the final two months giving him about $5.5 million surplus value. That won’t net an elite prospect but it will grab someone very good, probably in the solid B- range. I could see the Astros and Mets being quite interested with the Tigers as a potential suitor for depth.
Joyce’s write up is pretty similar to Freese’s so I’ll spare you about 75 words. I think their value is similar, but I think their market is somewhat different. The Dodgers, Orioles, and the D-Backs all make sense as soft landing spots while the Tigers and Astros could be in mix as well.
Quietly amongst the pitching nightmare that is the 2016 Pittsburgh Pirates season, Feliz has had a nice bounce back making him one of the better bullpen arms available for trade if the Pirates fall out of contention. I think he could command a prospect in the 13-20 range in a decent farm system or 11-15 in a bad one. He could make great sense for a team looking for help in the 7th inning or for a team looking for an elite situational pitcher. I think his trade return would pleasantly surprise the same folks who will be disappointed by the yield from Melancon.
I’m talking here about guys who are heading into their final year of team control who likely won’t be brought back. Now that Nicasio’s out of the rotation, I find it difficult to believe the Pirates will give him a raise on the $4 million he’s making now. If he does well in the pen for the next month, he could potentially nab the Pirates something useful like a failed AA starter who could move to the bullpen. Jeff Locke’s another player who could be playing his way into non-tender oblivion, but if good Jeff shows up a lot more than bad Jeff does, it wouldn’t be out of the question that the Pirates hang onto him. Jared Hughes has generally been an effective major leaguer, and a team contending or not could see an opportunity to fix him. Strangely enough though, I think he could be more likely to be traded if the Pirates are still hanging around the wild card race.
Before I close out this trade series, I want to propose an alternative path that the Pirates could travel down — the wait and see path. In contention or out of it, I could see the Pirates playing it conservative at the deadline as they did in 2013 only to make moves in September. I suspect some players they would need to move at the deadline, like Mark Melancon, to maximize return as there is a little hope to get him all the way through waivers in both leagues. You could probably say the same for Freese and Joyce, though they could easily slip to a team that desperately needs them. The path between trade and sell is wait and I could see the Pirates doing that. As I noted yesterday, they don’t have a ton of holes and the biggest one they do have, #2 pitcher, is probably most plausibly filled by Liriano. Maybe you give him 30 more days to turn it around and deal him in September. He’s a safe bet to get through waivers anyway.
The Pirates can make moves, but they don’t need to make moves. They’re not cash strapped. Their system is still solid. Their major league roster looks good enough to rebound next year with some offseason moves. They have a very good, deep core in place for three more seasons and a couple of other ones locked up well beyond that. The window isn’t closing, even if their transition year went a little tougher than expected. It might make sense to trade a couple of players regardless of where they find themselves in the standings and the Pirates will have lots of assets to move if things really go sour. However, I would probably play this year’s deadline pretty conservatively if I’m the front office.