There are a lot of extremely short-sighted opinions on the trade deadline out there today. People wanted the Pirates to make a big splash. Deal prospects away, if that’s what it takes, but go for it all this year. Worry about future years when they come. This is all that matters. Small moves don’t help. Only big moves can truly lead to a contender.
That’s a dumb way to run a baseball team.
Now I expect the different opinions. You’re going to have every opinion possible covered, just considering how many Pirates fans there are out there. But the facts are the same.
The first fact: the Pirates are 59-44. They have the fifth best record in all of baseball, sit four games up in the Wild Card standings, and sit three games back in the NL Central race. It’s not like they should be desperate to add talent at this point.
The second fact: the Pirates didn’t get here by making big, flashy moves. They got A.J. Burnett for two marginal prospects, and by taking on salary. They got James McDonald for relief pitcher Octavio Dotel. They got Garrett Jones as a minor league free agent. Michael McKenry was basically bought from the Boston Red Sox. Most of the bullpen came either via cheap free agency deals, waiver claims, or in Joel Hanrahan’s case, as a minor part in the Nyjer Morgan for Lastings Milledge swap. Then there’s the internal prospects that they basically decided to build around.
So why would the Pirates change the approach that got them here? They built a legitimate contender by making small moves that paid off. They did the same thing this week. They added a post-hype prospect in Travis Snider. The results could end up like Lastings Milledge. Or they could end up like James McDonald. They bought low on Gaby Sanchez. Best case scenario, he reverts immediately to his pre-2012 form, basically doing the same thing Joel Hanrahan did after he arrived via trade.
It takes me to that simple question I ask for every baseball move: What Would the Rays Do?
The Rays don’t trade top prospects away. They build from within. They deal established players away, go with youth, avoid making big splashes via free agency, try to lock up their players to team friendly deals, and aim to make low-key additions with a lot of upside. They don’t deal for guys like Hunter Pence or Shane Victorino.
The Rays have managed to be competitive year after year in the toughest division in baseball, with a small payroll, and going up against the biggest spenders in the game. That’s the goal. It’s not to go for it all the first time you become a contender. It’s to become a contender that can go for it all year after year.
There’s two things I believe about the trade deadline. First, I think the need is overblown. The Pirates have the fifth best record in baseball. Why do they need to make a move? You either believe they’re legit — in which case they aren’t desperate for help — or you believe they’re a fluke — in which case one player probably won’t help them. Not to mention that dealing the future to improve a “fluke” is a bad plan.
I believe the Pirates are legit contenders. Look at the record, but more importantly, look at the team. They’ve got an MVP favorite in Andrew McCutchen. Pedro Alvarez is on pace for over 30 homers this year. Neil Walker is starting to come around with the bat. They just added top prospect Starling Marte for a spark at the top of the lineup. Garrett Jones currently has an OPS better than Hunter Pence. On the pitching side they have A.J. Burnett and James McDonald looking like top of the rotation starters (with the exception of a few recent starts from McDonald). Their pitching staff has been one of the best groups in the majors.
This isn’t a fluke team. A fluke team doesn’t include MVP favorites and Cy Young candidates. And because I think this team is legit, I don’t think it’s necessary to make a big splash. Sure, it helps the team, but that help might be unnecessary, in exchange for weakening your team in the future.
The second thing I believe is that trade ideas are all about comfort. Fans want to see comfort in a “name” player. You add Hunter Pence, and people know the name and associate him with production, even if that production isn’t around this year. You add Travis Snider, and some people don’t know his name, while others point to his poor numbers at a young age. It’s more comfortable dealing for Pence. But that comfort has costs. You’re going to pay a lot more for Pence than you are for Snider.
The thing about the comfort is that it doesn’t guarantee anything. The players who cost more and come with the recognizable name could easily struggle, while the lesser known, higher risk player could put up strong numbers. I wouldn’t be surprised if Snider puts up better numbers than Pence and Shane Victorino for the remainder of the year. The latter two are having down years, while Snider has looked like he’s turning things around, granted in a small sample size.
The Pirates didn’t need to make a splash at the deadline. They’re legit contenders who continued making the low-key, high upside moves that got them to this point to begin with. It would be foolish to abandon that strategy and start making flashy moves to add a level of comfort to the team’s chances, all while sacrificing the future in the process.
And let’s clear one thing up. You don’t have to enter the trade discussions with a one track mind. It’s possible to make moves that can help in 2012, 2013, and beyond. The Pirates did exactly that. They upgraded their team — which was already contending — and in the process they added players who can help future teams.
The Pirates had the right approach at the deadline. They didn’t sacrifice their future, and that shouldn’t be taken for granted. They added guys with upside. An outfield with Starling Marte and Travis Snider might not bring comfort to fans, but this is the way small market teams need to build if they want to obtain long term success. Snider and Marte aren’t guarantees to work out. But that doesn’t mean they’re guarantees to fail. Both players have legitimate chances to help the Pirates this year, and in future years. Most importantly, the Pirates improved their team, and the team they improved was already one of the top teams in the majors.
The desire for a big splash is more of a luxury than a need. If a big splash is the difference between the Pirates contending and not contending, then the Pirates probably weren’t contenders to begin with. If you’re saying that the team can’t contend without a big move, then you’re basically saying that the team wasn’t a contender before the deadline, despite the record. That’s not something I believe. I believe the Pirates were contenders heading in to the deadline. And because I believe they were legit contenders, I don’t think the need for a big splash was necessary.
The Pirates didn’t get to where they currently are by fluke. They got there by practicing strategies that small market teams should use if they want to be successful. They basically took the Rays’ approach. And hopefully that will lead to the team continuing to contend this year, as well as contending in future years when their top prospects — who are still in the system — come up to help the guys currently contending on the major league roster.
Links and Notes
**The Pirates beat the Cubs 5-0.
**Pirates Notebook: Profiling the Trade Deadline Additions.
**Prospect Watch: Cole Has Best AA Start, Clement Homers, Four Hits For Rojas.