Recent Posts

Pirates Finally, FINALLY Make Their Big Splash

The Pirates finally decide it’s time to make their move and pick up Chris Archer. Photo by AP.

The Pirates don’t trade their top prospects. They don’t make splashes. They never try to “win now” or buy big at the deadline. The Pirates on July 31 are as boring as back of the pantry, partially opened Ramen Noodles.

Not anymore.

The Pirates shocked the baseball world yesterday. Not only did they grab one of the best relievers on the market in Keone Kela, they landed the big fish of the last three deadlines, too: right-handed starter Chris Archer. They become the talk of baseball, and the clubhouse is buzzing, too.

The Bucs’ recent hot streak convinced them to not only be buyers, but to spend the trust fund. In return for the two righties, they had to give up their best left-handed pitching prospect, Taylor Hearn, and their two golden geese from 2016: Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow. Also heading out of town are two players to be named later– one of whom is “significant,” according to The Athletic’s Rob Biertempfel –– but after opening the floodgates, as long as that name isn’t “Mitch Keller,” that extra piece will not be as shocking as the players already heading out of town.

This is what Pittsburgh Pirate fans have been waiting for. Neal Huntington has been connected to these type of trades before (David Price, Jon Lester…Chris Archer…twice). Fans and the media have talked about these hypothetical deals ad nauseum for years, but the consensus was they would never happen. They happened. Whether fueled by declining attendance and a general lack of excitement around the team, regret for not being more aggressive at previous deadlines or a genuine belief that he should not only build for 2019 and beyond, but also give this club a better chance at reaching the postseason, Huntington finally made the two biggest deadline deals of his career. Just about every mid-to-small market team needs to gamble at some point (the Astros with Verlander, Royals with Cueto, Brewers with Greinke and Sabathia), and after a decade of reluctance, he jumped in head first with his water wings poolside.

The timing of these deals turned out to be perfect. Not only are the Pirates the hottest team in baseball after winning 16 of their last 20, but August is going to be a rough month that will make or break this season. At the conclusion of this series with the Cubs, the Cardinals come to Pittsburgh before the Bucs go west for seven games between the Rockies and Giants. After a two game reprieve against Minnesota, the next five series are against the Cubs, Braves, Brewers, Cardinals and Braves. It’s do or die time and they are playing with another shot of confidence pumping through their veins.

To be fair, neither trade is perfect. Eno Sarris wrote for The Athletic this week that acquiring a reliever at the deadline is usually twice as expensive as they are in the offseason, using Kevin and Steve’s prospect surplus value as the basis of his argument. I can’t say I’m thrilled with losing Hearn, but with Archer, Jameson Taillon, Joe Musgrove, Chad Kuhl and Trevor Williams all under control for at least three more years and Mitch Keller preparing in AAA, he was likely going to end up being a reliever at best in Pittsburgh. May as well get the bullpen help now then, especially since the Pirates have lost 10 games this year when leading or tied after six innings but are 47-1 when leading after seven. If the Pirates are going to keep subscribing to traditional bullpen roles, another high quality set-up man is essential.

Archer is a sexy name and has some elite stuff, but it hasn’t resulted in great numbers since 2015. This year has been arguably the toughest of the three, posting a 4.31 ERA despite a 3.62 FIP. It seems most of his problems could be fixed with a simple change of scenery. Let’s look at a very basic split. Archer has been hit very hard by two AL East teams: the Yankees and Orioles. He doesn’t have to face them again now, and his statline is thankful.

They can’t hurt you anymore, Chris. He just might be the easiest “reclamation project”-ish guy in  baseball. He, Meadows and Glasnow are all three potential All-Stars that are not currently reaching their potential. Public perception around the league is Glasnow is still a future ace. While his makeup and stuff looks better this year, the results aren’t there. Same goes for Meadows, who has been hurt and underachieving for years. The Pirates and Tampa seem to be selling their guys at the perceived lowest value of their careers. That’s probably why this deal happened this year rather than years past, even though the same players were connected. Both teams seemed ready to cash out and start fresh with new pieces.

The Rays are receiving roughly three times the total team control (sans the PTBNL), but Archer seems the most likely to reach his peak and arguably has the highest ceiling. Does that make this a good trade? It’s debatable, but it certainly is a big trade. This franchise needed a big trade. When was the last time they went out and got the biggest prize at the deadline? Could it really be Bill Madlock all the way back in 1979? Yeah, four decades is long enough.

It’s also worth mentioning that the moves made at this deadline would not be possible without the Mark Melancon deal in 2016 — in which they acquired Hearn — and the Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole trades this past offseason — where they received two upper level outfield prospects, making Meadows expendable. Selling was incredibly unpopular, but it turned out to be the logical thing to do.

For 10 years, Huntington did the logical thing almost all the time. It lead to some great moments and teams, but never a championship or even a playoff series win. After listening to just his head for so long, he finally listened to his gut, but hedged his bets. If the 2018 Pirates falter and miss the playoffs, they go into next year with a rotation lead by Archer and Jameson Taillon, a very solid back of the bullpen and one of the best hitting outfields in baseball. It’s not a bad situation to be in. That doesn’t guarantee it will work, but at least they went for it.

Alex is a Pirates and Duquesne basketball contributor to The Point of Pittsburgh. He graduated from Point Park University with a degree in Journalism and Mass Comm. and a minor in English in 2014. Everything can be explained with numbers. If you want to keep up to date on both teams or have a story idea, you can follow or reach him @AlexJStumpf.

12 Comments on Pirates Finally, FINALLY Make Their Big Splash

  1. James Krug // August 1, 2018 at 7:22 AM //

    Really nice article. It’s realistic, and shows both sides to the gamble the Pirates made yesterday, but is laced with some optimism over the fact that they finally tried it.

    My only true regret is that NH didn’t do this during the team’s 98-win season. Just 2 extra wins would’ve won the Division, and dropped the Cardinals into the 1-game death match against Arrieta. I liked that team’s chances to win a LONG series against anyone in the league.

    • Alex Stumpf // August 1, 2018 at 1:15 PM //

      Thank you!

      I will disagree about 2015. Bucs got Happ, who had the best stretch run among starters traded that year, Ramirez for the bench and Soria and Blanton to shore up the bullpen. None of those trades were BIG like Tuesday’s, and maybe he could have done a little more, but I think that deadline helped the Pirates more than just any other team. If they could have beat the Cubs in the WC, I think they would have gone to the WS.

      2014 is the year where I think he screwed up. He went hard after Price but couldn’t close the deal, and with no backup plan, they walked away empty handed, eventually losing the division on the last day of the season.

  2. Bob Stover // August 1, 2018 at 11:34 AM //

    I’m not convinced that the moves are enough to get the Pirates over the hump this year, as the season is almost 2/3 over. With respect to 2019 and 2020, it’s a bold move. The Cubs rotation is both aging and falling apart. Q and Darvish have not delivered well for the Cubs and the Pirates may well have the best overall rotation on opening day in 2019 in the entire NL Central. Barring injuries of course.

    It will be interesting to see if Cole Hamels can still pitch in the NL anywhere near like he did in Philly. Jon Lester looked positively normal last night.

    People often say that they’d rather be lucky than good. I think Vasquez might have joined that club last night. The triple that wasn’t a triple with no one out in the 9th sure saved his bacon. When the Pirates can win a game in that fashion against the division leading Cubbies it’s very hard not be optimistic.

  3. Bob Stover // August 1, 2018 at 11:37 AM //

    False analysis James. N.H. could not know at the deadline that just two more wins would get him a division title, or for that matter that they’d be within two games. That was the year that the Cardinals won 100 games, the Pirates 98 and the Cubs 97. How the heck could any GM foresee that kind of ending to a season on July 31?

  4. Peter Duda // August 1, 2018 at 1:17 PM //

    At least that Bull**** argument that Neal never trades top talent appears to be dead for Yinzer nation, along with the argument that he never makes good trades. Keep in mind that Joel Hanrahan/Brock Holt was part of the Melancon trade along with Jerry Sands and Stolmy Pimentel. Melancon then got you Felipe Vasquez and Taylor Hearn. Hearn and a PTNL returned Keone Kela. That appears to be a good trade history in my opinion. I will take Vasquez and Kela for Hanrahan and Holt in the long run.

  5. Peter Duda // August 1, 2018 at 1:25 PM //

    Oh, I forgot to mention that he traded Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett to get Hanrahan and Lastings Milledge..

    • Alex Stumpf // August 1, 2018 at 1:29 PM //

      I was just going to bring up that point. Burnett and Morgan have turned into 257 saves between Vazquez/Melancon/Hanrahan. It’s a darn good trade thread.

  6. I really like to look at trades through a surplus value lens. I was excited that they traded for Archer, but had his surplus value at $19M. So I considered this a huge overpay… so I was bummed to see Meadows and the elusive PTBNL go.. So today I looked at my spreadsheet (to put Archer in my Pirates tab) and realized I didn’t account for his 2 club options and I had used Baseball Reference’s WAR values instead of FG. So.. accounting for those + the premium of a deadline deal, I have Archer’s surplus in the $127M range. Even if you exclude the July premium, he’s at $72.4M.. so the trade they made, there is almost no way the Pirates don’t come out on top in terms of SV.

    This trade excites me on several levels. I’m not entirely sure that this team is a playoff team this year, but bringing in a leader and a front line starter for several years is certainly exciting. He’s also incredibly cheap.. so they can add to the payroll. Ha, just kidding.

    • Kevin Creagh // August 2, 2018 at 5:57 AM //

      I’m glad you finished that first paragraph, because I almost spit-taked your $19M surplus value figure.

      • LOL it was such a bad oversight, but.. I had no reason to go back and check the numbers. This was a pipe dream, this wasn’t going to happen!

  7. TheAntiProspectsChannel // August 2, 2018 at 11:47 AM //

    Yankees makes sense Orioles but not Red sox little surprising.

  8. I feel like the Bucs gave up too much considering the “significant” player to be named later.

    At the same time, Archer can be a #1 starter depending on the week.

Comments are closed.