First Pitch: Making a Big Splash With Hamels or Greinke?

Ken Rosenthal had an article today talking about how the Pittsburgh Pirates should make a bold move this summer and trade for either Zack Greinke or Cole Hamels. Rosenthal noted that the Brewers made a big splash in 2008 when they dealt for C.C. Sabathia, helping them to reach the post season for the first time since 1982. He also suggests that adding an ace could tip the NL Central in the Pirates’ favor.

I’ve been asked what the trade values would be for Hamels and Greinke several times today. I don’t like doing trade values unless we hear the Pirates are actually interested in the player. In the past, when I’ve done an informative trade value article, it has led to “Pirates Prospects says the Pirates are interested in Player A”, even when I add the disclaimer in that says otherwise. So I’ll add that disclaimer here. The following trade values don’t suggest the Pirates are interested in these players. It is simply to provide a look at what the players would cost on the open market.

I was somewhat surprised by the results. Greinke makes $13.5 M this year, and is on pace for a 7.2 WAR (doubling his current WAR). That gives him a value of $14.6 M if he’s traded on July 31st.

Hamels is paid more ($15 M), and is on pace for around a 5 WAR. That puts his July 31st trade value at $6.6.


Then there’s the issue of compensation picks. The new system has almost eliminated compensation picks. However, teams can still get them if they make a qualifying offer. These two pitchers would warrant such an offer, which means we can add $5 M to the above values, for the value of the compensation picks.


Overall you’ve got Greinke at $19.6 M, and Hamels at $11.6 M.

UPDATE: As others have pointed out in the comments below, you only get compensation picks if a player has been on your team for an entire season. That makes the trade values $14.6 M for Greinke and $6.6 M for Hamels.

Milwaukee went with a top prospect for Sabathia in 2008. They dealt Matt LaPorta, who hasn’t exactly panned out. If the Pirates wanted to deal a top prospect for one of these pitchers, they’d have to deal Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, or Starling Marte. Even then, the price might be too high.

According to Kevin Creagh’s prospect trade values, Cole and Taillon would each have a value of $26.7 M as top ten pitching prospects. That would put their value beyond Greinke and Hamels. If you consider Marte a 26-50 hitting prospect, that puts his value even with Greinke.

The Pirates could try and go smaller, dealing a package of prospects, rather than one big gun. The problem with this approach is that the trade values aren’t an exact science. They’re meant to show the value of the player, not the market. Top options like Hamels or Greinke could be worth more on the trade market because of their name value. And if a lot of teams are in the mix, it would probably take a top prospect to get it done.

My opinion is that the move would be flashy, and would really draw interest. It would be a big boost to the Pirates this year. A rotation led by Greinke or Hamels, plus James McDonald and A.J. Burnett at the top three spots would continue to carry the team. But does the move make sense for the Pirates in the long term?

A lot of people would say “forget the long term and compete for the division”. You could point to how Milwaukee wasn’t hurt by dealing for Sabathia. But as Rosenthal points out, the Cleveland Indians dealt for Ubaldo Jimenez last year, which is a move that hasn’t led to strong attendance this year.

I’ve said in the past that I wouldn’t deal anyone in the top seven prospects. That list includes Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Starling Marte, Alen Hanson, Josh Bell, and Luis Heredia. Mark Appel is in that group, but can’t be dealt. The only way I’d deal one of these guys is for someone with multiple years of control remaining.

Winning this year is important, but the Pirates don’t want to sacrifice their future. I’d much rather see someone like Justin Wilson, Rudy Owens, or Jeff Locke get the call, as opposed to two months of Greinke or Hamels and the loss of one of the system’s top prospects. You don’t have the comfort of knowing what you’re going to get with the Indianapolis left handers, unlike that comfort you get from Greinke or Hamels.

If the Pirates could get a guy like Greinke or Hamels, without giving up one of their top prospects, I’d say go for it. But I wouldn’t want to see a deal made in the Carlos Beltran for Zack Wheeler fashion. I think you have to look at the opportunity cost in these types of situations. You aren’t just adding the production of an ace from nothing. You’re upgrading your worst starter to an ace.

Let’s say a trade is made tomorrow, and whatever starter comes in to make 15 starts for the remainder of the year, throwing 105 innings (7 per start). Let’s also say that starter puts up a 3.00 ERA in those starts. Now let’s say he’s replacing a starter with a 4.50 ERA (and I think one of the Indy left handers could be counted on for at least that, and likely better). The newly added starter would be an improvement of 17.5 runs over the remainder of the season.

Using the standard “10 runs equals one win” rule, we could say that an ace equals two extra wins over someone like Wilson, Locke, or Owens for the remainder of the season. Those wins could be important, or they could be meaningless. The win could come in the Wild Card playoff game, or it could come in a meaningless game after a team has wrapped up their spot in the playoffs.

Yeah, I just mentioned playoffs.

The 2008 approach I’d take wouldn’t be the one the Brewers took. I’d rather go with the approach the Rays took. They held their prospects, added guys from within, and trusted their team. They had all of the prospects to deal for Jason Bay, yet they passed. And it didn’t exactly hurt them, as they won the AL East, despite Boston adding Bay.

Perhaps the best approach would be some sort of middle ground. Avoid dealing a big prospect for a two month rental, but also avoid crossing off most of the prospects in your farm system. Make your top guys untouchable, but offer up any combination of the remaining guys to get a deal done.

I’d love to see an ace like Greinke or Hamels taking the mound every five days for the remainder of the year. But not as much as I’d love to see Gerrit Cole or Jameson Taillon take the mound as an ace every five days for six and a half years.

Links and Notes

**The Pirates beat the Astros 11-2.

**Pirates Notebook: The New Lumber Company?

**Kristy Robinson hears from a source that Gorkys Hernandez is en route to Pittsburgh. Could it be time to send Jose Tabata down?

**Prospect Watch: Justin Wilson Out-Pitches Cole and Taillon With Latest Gem.

**Clay Holmes Labors In Third Start Of Pro Career.

**Andrew McCutchen Named NL Player of the Month.

**Pirates Sign 24th Round Pick Tyler Gaffney.

**Pirates Have Six in John Sickels’ Top 120.

**Pirates To Sign Julio de la Cruz.

**Prospect Trends: Week Ending 7/1.

**International Signing Period Preview: New Rules Shouldn’t Hurt the Pirates.

About Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He is a credentialed media member with every team in the Pirates’ system, including the Pirates themselves. He’s a regular guest on Extra Innings on 104.7, and makes regular appearances on ESPN 970, 93.7 The Fan, and TribLIVE Radio in Pittsburgh, as well as ESPN 1430 in Altoona and ESPN 1450 in State College.
  • burgh_fan

    “Then there’s the issue of compensation picks. The new system has almost eliminated compensation picks. However, teams can still get them if they make a qualifying offer. These two pitchers would warrant such an offer, which means we can add $5 M to the above values, for the value of the compensation picks.”
    How does that work? No team would be able to offer them a qualifying offer? Isn’t there a rule saying the player has to be on the team the whole season?

  • leadoff

    Correia and Bedard either have to pitch better or be replaced for sure.
    IMO the Pirates have 3 starters at AAA that could at least give them the
    same production as these two.

    The question is do we want the the same or slightly better.

    IMO, Lincoln is the answer, he would be a good starting pitcher if they
    would quit fooling around with him, stretch him out, quit telling him
    when he starts to throw as hard as he can every inning, if he burns out
    they will get him out. NO, instead let him start and pitch like a
    starting pitcher, roll with his ups and downs as a young pitcher, IMO,
    there will be more ups than downs.

    Lincoln isn’t a starter because of the way the Pirates handled him, not
    because he can’t do it, they have Welker and Black and and several
    starters in the system that could be good relief pitchers that don’t
    have Lincoln’s talent.

    IMO, the Pirates are still building, Lincoln is part of the building process, I am not giving up any of my top tier talent.

    • Dave Parker’s Unfiltered Camel

      Tim, great article and great site. This is hands down the best site for fans of the Bucs. Thanks for all you folks do. I like the idea of using internal resources, and I’d like to see Lincoln take over for Correia. Lincoln’s last start is what I believe, he will produce for the Pirates over the long haul. I’d like to see one of the Indy three get a spot start or two for Bedard. Maybe some rest will help Bedard get back to early season form.

  • John Lease

    It’s all in the price. If teams are dumping for mid level prospects, go for it.

  • PiratesFan

    I think there is no way we should give up top prospects for Grienke or Hamels. Chances are we’d have to give up a pretty substantial package, and in return we’d receive about 2 months of an ace, as it is unlikely that either of these players would sign long-term extensions in Pittsburgh. If we could re-sign them then I’d be on board, but why trade away a bright future so you can make one playoff berth?

  • gorillagogo

    “They had all of the prospects to deal for Jason Bay, yet they passed.
    And it didn’t exactly hurt them, as they won the AL East, despite Boston
    adding Bay.”

    I have one quibble with this. If the Rays had traded for Bay, they very well could have won the World Series. Do you think the team would rather have a championship banner hanging or, say, Jeff Niemann and Reid Brignac?

  • Mike

    I see the Pirates taking a similar approach as last year. Marte and Mercer being promoted at mid/end of July, and the addition of one or two mid level players a la Bell and/or Ludwick. I said this for years-the only reason why you add a major piece at the deadline and mortgage your future is when you have a NO DOUBT about it feel that your team will make the playoffs come the deadline.

  • Andrew Scott

    I would hope Pittsburgh wouldn’t pull the trigger on a trade like this without thinking of the long-term effects. Our organization has implemented a philosophy of rebuilding from within and you don’t blow that entire philosophy up because you’re one game back of the division as of July 3. Like the author pointed out, a Triple-A guy versus a half year rental isn’t that much of a difference. That being said, I think a trade like that would make sense if they wanted to lock up a trade target to a long-term deal. I think that’s where the real value in a trade like that would come into play.

  • Lee Young

    Tim….great writeup as usual. I gave very little credence to that article. Like you said, unless they’d take Grossman and his ilk, don’t want it.

  • Stu_Davis

    I don’t think we could get comp picks for either. With the new CBA, you can’t make qualifying offers to players traded in the final season of their contract (Sources: and

    This is actually one of the aspects of the new CBA that I’m most interested to see play out. Without a lottery ticket in the form of a comp round pick coming back after acquiring (and losing) a rental, how willing will teams be to give up prospects? This really distorts the trade values of players that would receive qualifying offers. Their current teams have a shot at receiving a comp pick if they don’t trade them, but once they are traded, that possibility is gone.

  • Ian Rothermund

    I’m just of the opinion that the Pirates could add to the roster for a marginal cost, like they did last year. There’s pitching depth in AAA that’s available to fill the gaps, a la Bedard if he doesn’t pick it up (or Corriea, but arguably he has done better the last few starts). However, if both continue to struggle, I’d love to see Owens and Wilson up. Then, going into any potential playoff run, we have the prototypical lefty starter along with more of a power arm, or you could possibly use Wilson out of the bullpen. Either way, at this point the league hasn’t seen either one of them, so I think there’s an advantage there.