Hidden Vigorish

Detailed Analysis of The Pittsburgh Pirates

Pirates Sell High on Travis Snider

Maximizing value is the key to success for any resource starved low revenue major league baseball team. Pittsburgh Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington has a fairly strong track record when it comes to buying low on talent. His eye for finding undervalued assets is one of the biggest reasons the Pirates have turned into a contender after so many years of being a laughingstock. But maximizing value is more than just finding bargains. A shrewd GM also needs to look for opportunities to sell high on expendable talent. Selling high is something that Huntington has done very little of. So yesterday’s trade that sent Travis Snider to the Orioles in exchange for minor league pitcher Stephen Tarpley and a player to be named later is a bit unusual. Not only does it represent selling high on a player, it is also a case of a contender subtracting a player that served an important role in the team’s success last season. This is a bold move that has created a fair amount of understandable criticism. Although that criticism is warranted I really like the move.
I believe last year we saw the best of Travis Snider. Last season Snider posted a .776 OPS. That is fair production for a corner outfielder, but it is hardly irreplaceable. Frankly, I don’t believe Snider is going to repeat what he did last year. To me Snider is nothing more than a 4th OF. He is useful in that role. There are worse options to have than Travis Snider playing a significant number of games in RF and being the primary left-handed hitter off the bench. But Travis Snider was not going to make or break the 2015 Pirates, and the Pirates bench really has become crowded this winter. The Pirates must find some playing time for Korean infielder Jung-ho Kang to get him acclimated to American Baseball. That means less playing time will be available in the infield for Sean Rodriguez. Rodriguez may have to play more OF to accommodate Kang. With Andrew Lambo, Jose Tabata, and Corey Hart also capable of filling in at RF, a roster crunch was impending. Lambo and Tabata could still be stashed in the minors, but taking advantage of the situation by cashing in on a valued asset is a more efficient strategy. This trade does come with some risks. The biggest risk being that perhaps Snider would be needed as more than just a bench player. The Pirates have essentially handed the RF starting job to Gregory Polanco. If Polanco struggles Snider would be a good insurance policy. The Pirates obviously feel very good about Polanco otherwise they would not be so comfortable about trading Snider.
The return the Pirates snagged for Snider was pretty solid too. Stephen Tarpley was a top 15 prospect in a pretty good Orioles’ farm system. Tarpley was the Orioles 3rd round pick in 2013. Last year he posted a 3.68 ERA with 60 strikeouts and 24 walks in 66 innings for the Aberdeen Iron Birds of the NY-Penn League. I saw Tarpley pitch in August against the Pirates’ Jamestown Jammers affiliate. He was filthy in that game. He sat in the low 90′s with his fastball and his breaking ball made the left-handed bats in the Jammers’ lineup look silly all game long. The Pirates had several organization staff on hand observing the game including minor league pitching coordinator Scott Mitchell. I’m sure Tarpley made a solid impression on the Pirates’ staffers. The Pirates have a number of outstanding right handed prospects already in the minors, but the system is pretty barren of quality southpaws. Tarpley immediately becomes the Pirates best left-handed pitching prospect. The only other southpaw of note is Cody Dickson. I’ve also seen Dickson pitch and in my opinion Tarpley is the better talent.
I really hope the Pirates do not end up missing Snider. My hunch is they won’t. Keeping Snider would have been the safe move. But the Pirates need to take some risks, and taking a small risk with a 4th OF is a good step forward. Snider likely won’t be missed and the system has been injected with a needed talent.

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