Hidden Vigorish

Detailed Analysis of The Pittsburgh Pirates

Category – Trade Speculation

Best Way to Solve the Pedro Problem: Trade Him to the Phillies

Last night Pedro Alvarez made yet another throwing error. It was his 22nd throwing error this season. Pedro’s case of the yips have put the Pittsburgh Pirates in a real bind. It is clear that he is broken as a third basemen. There isn’t enough time left in the season to really fix him. Perhaps he could transition to 1B, but even that would require a little time. Not to mention that makes Ike Davis irrelevant. Sitting Pedro on the bench doesn’t help this club either. At best benching Pedro just hurts the Pirates a little less than playing him. Inevitably Pedro is going to get dealt. Likely it would be in the offseason to an American League club for a poor return. Pedro’s value is destroyed. His future is as a 1B/DH platoon player. He will likely make close to $7 million next season in arbitration. American League teams can find hitters like that in free agency and not have to give up any assets. I’m not sure the Pirates should wait to make a deal. I see one possible scenario in which the Pirates can trade Pedro now and improve this team. I suggest the Pirates trade Pedro to the Phillies for Jimmy Rollins.
Here is why such a deal could work. The Phillies are ready to move on from Ryan Howard. They will have an opening at 1B soon. So they could transition Alvarez to 1B, or they could try to resolve his throwing issues. The Phillies aren’t in the middle of a pennant race so it wouldn’t kill them to take the chance on fixing his yips. The Phillies have been shopping many of their veterans including Rollins, but other teams do not want to take on Rollins’ high salary. The Pirates would have plenty of room to fit Rollins in their budgeted payroll if they parted with Alvarez. The Phillies are also adverse to rebuilding, so adding a player that was the NL home run leader just last season probably looks like a better return for Rollins than acquiring a few marginal prospects. From the Pirates perspective they could play Rollins at SS and slide Jordy Mercer to 3B.
There would be a couple of sticking points to such a deal. Jimmy Rollins would have to ok the trade. Rollins has 5-and-10 rights giving him full no trade protection. The other issue would be that both players would have to clear waivers. That shouldn’t be a problem. Rollins likely makes it the Pirates waiver claim as no team wants to take on his salary of $11 million next season. The Phillies have the 4th highest waiver claim so Pedro should fall to them. I can’t see the Rockies, the Cubs, or Padres blocking such a deal. This is a bit of a long shot, but an entirely plausible scenario. And I really don’t see a better option for what to do with Pedro than this trade idea. His value is destroyed, and in his current mindset he is a detriment to the team. This is the one way the Pirates could use him to improve. Perhaps it is the only way.

Framing a Return to the Pirates for A.J. Burnett

The Pittsburgh Pirates have been heavily scouting starting pitchers that are said to be available at the trade deadline. They may end up turning to a familiar face. A.J. Burnett is said be open to returning the Pirates. His old teammates would be happy to welcome him back.


Of course this raises a few questions, the first being is he really an upgrade? Burnett is not quite the same pitcher he was last season when he posted a 3.30 ERA and a 9.85 K/9 rate. This year the strikeouts are down and the walks are up. He currently has a 3.87 ERA and a 3.96 FIP. On the surface that doesn’t appear to be much of an upgrade over Edinson Volquez (3.86 ERA, 4.36 FIP). However, there is one big variable unaccounted for if you try to compare these pitchers on stats alone. That missing variable is A.J.’s old battery mate Russell Martin.

It is my believe that reuniting Burnett with Russell Martin would greatly improve A.J.’s performance. Pitch framing data alone greatly suggests it would. The following table which is derived from baseballprospectus.com pitch framing data represents the number of extra framed strikes per 9 innings for each of the Pirates and Phillies catchers this season.

Russell Martin +1.63
Chris Stewart +1.09
Tony Sanchez +1.34
Carlos Ruiz -0.20
Cameron Rupp -0.77
Wil Nieves +0.46
Koyie Hill -1.69

I looked at A.J. Burnett’s splits this season to find the number of innings he has been caught by each catcher and determined the weighted average of strikes he has lost due to the framing abilities of Phillies’ catchers to be -0.17. The difference between Russell Martin and the Phillies’ catchers would be 1.8 extra strikes per 9 innings pitched. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but Baseball Prospectus has determined the value of each extra framed strike as 0.14. A difference of 1.8 extra strikes per game would lower Burnett’s ERA and FIP by 0.25. So adjusting for the discrepancy in catchers Burnett would actually have a 3.62 ERA and a 3.71 FIP on the Pirates with Martin catching him. Of course there are additional benefits Burnett would enjoy if he was reunited with the Pirates, but the framing abilities of Russell Martin is the most obvious. I think there is enough evidence to support Burnett being at the very least a marginal upgrade to the rotation, and perhaps even a significant one.

The second question as to whether or not A.J. Burnett would be a reasonable acquisition is does the cost to acquire him make sense? As his contract is currently constructed…probably not. He is still owed somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million. But there are ways to make such an acquisition palatable. For starters any trade for Burnett would have to include the Phillies taking Jose Tabata in return. Tabata is owed roughly $10 million dollars on his contract. That is a lot of cash for the Pirates to be paying for a guy they have stashed in AAA. Dumping Tabata on the Phillies would offset a nice chunk of the money still owed to Burnett. The Phillies might also be willing to kick in a portion of Burnett’s salary depending on the quality of the prospect they demand. I certainly wouldn’t be willing to give up a high end prospect for A.J. But the Pirates have a deep enough farm system that they should have something expendable that would be enticing to the Phillies. It isn’t like the Phillies have that many options. There just are not that many destinations for Burnett. His no-trade clause is very limiting.
As strange as it seems the Pirates and Burnett may have come full circle. The Pirates and A.J. Burnett needed each other last offseason, and a few months apart has not changed that. I for one would welcome him back.

Rumors, Lies, and Utter Nonsense at the Halfway Point of The Winter Meetings

We are about to put a bow on Day 2 of the 2013 MLB Winter Meetings and to this point everything has gone just about as expected for the Pittsburgh Pirates. GM Neal Huntington came to these meetings searching for answers to 1B and the starting rotation so far rumors surrounding those positions have been flying fast and furious. Here is a recap:

      Supposedly the Bucs were meeting with the agent for SP Bronson Arroyo. The Arroyo rumors broke early on Day 1 but have since cooled.

      One early rumor indicated the Pirates had interest in Toronto 1B Adam Lind. Reports are the Jays were asking for Neil Walker in return. That is a trade that makes little sense for the Pirates. Given the asking price it understandable that this rumor didn’t have legs.

      One rumor that does have some legs is the interest the Pirates have in Logan Morrison. The Marlins are shopping Morrison and by most accounts the Bucs are one of the 3 or 4 teams in hottest pursuit.
      The Pirates have circled back to their discussions with free agent 1B James Loney. Perhaps Loney’s camp is sensing the saturated trade market is eroding his demand and the asking price is coming down.
      The Bucs have also checked in on free agent 3B Eric Chavez. Chavez can play some 1B. Actually, he plays it pretty well.
      A late breaking rumor here on Day 2 is the Pirates showing interest in SP Jason Hammel.
      One of the more interesting revelations thus far has been the numerous inquiries the Pirates have fielded for RP Justin Wilson.


As you can see the Bucs are still searching for an answer at 1B, that is unless you believe this line of BS from Neal Huntington:


Sure, Neal. You are so comfortable with Gaby Sanchez that you keep kicking the tires on flawed first basemen like Morrison and Lind and a high mileage guy like Eric Chavez. Speaking of Chavez, I’m kind of interested in that one. I said weeks ago when the Lance Berkman rumor was circulating that the Bucs should look at Eric Chavez.


Eric Chavez can’t play everyday on the long side of a platoon. His body just can’t do it. However, he’d be a great insurance policy if the Pirates are forced into using Andrew Lambo at 1B next season. I could see Chavez starting two games a week at 1B, backing up Pedro at 3B, and being a real nice option off the bench when he doesn’t start.

Trade Market Is Saturated With Flawed First Basemen

If the Pirates want to fill their hole at first base they have plenty of options to choose from on the trading block. Here is a list of the first basemen rumored to be available: Mark Trumbo, Ike Davis, Lucas Duda, Logan Morrison, and Adam Lind. We can probably add Mitch Moreland to that list too. The Tigers and Rangers pulled off a mega deal yesterday that sent Prince Fielder to Texas in exchange for Ian Kinsler. The acquisition of Fiedler makes Moreland expendable. These six available first basemen all come with flaws. None of them are really superb defenders. Trumbo rates the the best with a 8.8 UZR/150 in almost 2500 career innings. Moreland also rates as slightly above average defensively with a 4.2 UZR/150 in more than 3000 career innings. The others are average at best. Davis, Morrison, Lind were particularly brutal defensively in 2013. However, defensive prowess is not high on the list of attributes teams look for in a first baseman.

The biggest concern with this group of players is the uneven level of offensive productivity they provide. They all have some Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to their games. They have tended to have alternating good and bad seasons. One year they play like an all-star candidate. The next season they wind up getting platooned or benched. Even in a good season these hitters have prolonged cold stretches. It is the nature of the type of hitters they are. They have long power swings with high whiff rates. The exception being Logan Morrison. Morrison’s issues are mostly health related. He is the Jose Tabata of first basemen, a young player who had early success and now can’t stay on the field. Davis, Duda, Lind, and Moreland are left handed hitters with really bad platoon splits. Trumbo is the only right handed hitter among the group. His major flaw is that he is not a selective enough at the plate. Trumbo chased 38.4% of the pitches he saw outside the strike zone in 2013. No first baseman chased a higher percentage of balls.

Just because the first basemen available for trade are flawed doesn’t mean the Pirates should not try to acquire one of them. They have a need at the position. Rolling the dice on one of them would not be a terrible idea. The Bucs are actually a nice fit for a left handed hitter. Last year the Pirates faced a lefty starter just 31 times. That was a league low, and it doesn’t appear that number will increase significantly in 2014. Their opposition in the NL Central possess only three notable left handed starting pitchers. And there is some real upside with some of these hitters. Trumbo, Davis, Lind, and maybe even Moreland have 30 home run potential. The Pirates don’t have the resources to land the perfect first basemen. But sometimes if you gamble right the perfect hitter can emerge. Chris Davis looked an awful lot like one of these six flawed first basemen before the Orioles acquired him in 2011. He evolved into a player that finished 3rd in AL MVP vote following a season with 53 home runs and 138 RBIs. If the Pirates could get 2/3rds of that production from one of these flawed players the trade would be well worth it.

Trade Speculation: Mark Trumbo

Buster Olney is reporting that The Angels are listening to offers for first baseman Mark Trumbo in return for young pitching. The Pirates have a need at first base. Justin Morneau is a free agent while the platoon of Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez are arbitration eligible non-tender candidates. Morneau and Jones are both players on the decline. The Pirates could stick with the status quo and tender arbitration offers to Sanchez and Jones, or they could tender just the right handed Gaby Sanchez and sign a free agent for the left handed side of the first base platoon, but that would come at a significant increase to the payroll spent on the position. The free agent market offers limited options and Gaby Sanchez will make in excess of $3 million. That is a pretty steep price for a player with such limited playing time. The Pirates only faced a left handed starter 31 times in 2013. There just aren’t that many southpaw starting pitchers in the NL Central. Between Sanchez and whatever veteran left handed hitter he platoons with the cost will approach $10 million dollars. The Bucs could go the cheap route and pair rookie Andrew Lambo in a platoon with Gaby Sanchez, but it would be a risk to count on an unproven hitter with little first base experience. The trade market makes the most sense for the Pirates to upgrade the position while controlling costs.


Mark Trumbo is an intriguing option. He is young and has lots of power. He has 95 home runs over the last 3 seasons. But Trumbo has plenty of warts too. He strikes out a ton, doesn’t walk a whole lot, and sports just a .299 career OBP. He is coming off a down year that saw his OPS decline more than 60 points from 2012. In fact Trumbo’s .747 OPS this season was only slightly better than the .726 OPS that Pirate first basemen combined to post in 2013, and that number was drug down by manager Clint Hurdle exposing Gaby Sanchez to too much right handed pitching. So unless Trumbo rebounds closer to his 2012 form he may not represent all that much of an upgrade over the status quo. However he would be cheaper. As a first year arbitration eligible player Trumbo is estimated to make a little less than $5 million in 2014. That is roughly half of what the Pirates could be expected to pay two veterans to platoon at first base. Trumbo also would be a longer term answer at the position. He won’t be a free agent until after the 2016 season.


Of course there is an additional cost for Trumbo. The Angels aren’t going to just give him away. They want young, controllable, major league ready pitchers in return. The Pirates do have plenty of those types of assets. I don’t believe the Bucs should give up any of their top 3 pitching prospects in a deal for Trumbo. Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow, and Nick Kingham in my mind should be off limits. I would however part with Jeff Locke or Brandon Cumpton. The Pirates also have bullpen pieces that would be of interest to the Halos. I think a fair starting point for trade discussions could be Jeff Locke and Mark Melancon. That is a deal I could endorse.


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