The Pirates acquired outfielder Travis Snider tonight for reliever Brad Lincoln. My immediate reaction was that I loved the move. Snider is a young outfielder who profiles as a left-handed power hitter. He’s been hitting well this year in Triple-A, and has been solid since his call up to the majors a few weeks ago. Lincoln has been dominant as a reliever this year, but the potential long term value of Snider is much higher than the long-term value of a dominant reliever.
I had a ton of discussions on Twitter tonight about the various aspects of this deal. Twitter isn’t the best avenue for that type of analysis, so I thought I would expand on those discussions here. One by one, let’s look at all of the sides of this trade.
How Does it Help the Pirates?
This is the most important part. I feel this trade helps the Pirates both in the short-term, and in the long-term. A lot of the complaints I saw were people who wanted an established bat. Someone like Shin-Soo Choo or Shane Victorino. We heard that the Phillies were asking for Lincoln in return for Victorino. If I had the choice between dealing Lincoln for Victorino or Snider, I’d take Snider every day of the week. I liked the idea of trading for Victorino, but I view him mostly as a change of scenery type. He’s got a .724 OPS this year. He’s not exactly a guarantee.
Choo would be a big addition for the Pirates, but the return would probably be huge. We’re talking Starling Marte and at least one other prospect, if not more. And that’s for one year and two months of Choo. That would help the Pirates in the short term, but could really hurt them beyond 2013.
Snider is a great risk to take. He’s hitting better this year, both in Triple-A, and in his brief time in the majors. The Triple-A time has to be taken with a grain of salt, as it’s in the PCL. But the major league success is encouraging. After tonight he’s hitting for a .250/.300/.556 line with three homers in 40 plate appearances. Most of his damage has come against left-handed pitching, which is the opposite of his career trends so far.
Snider does struggle with plate patience, but the power is real. That’s often a trade off when you’re talking about a power hitter. As a left-handed power hitter, he fits in well to PNC Park. He’s also a potential middle of the order hitter, which will be good to pair with Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez.
Years of Control
Snider is under team control through the 2016 season. He isn’t eligible for arbitration until after the 2013 season. The Pirates are adding a hitter for four years and two months. He will be very cheap for the first year and two months of the deal, allowing the Pirates to go out and get other help for the team.
Lincoln was under control for five years beyond the 2012 season, and would have likely been a Super Two player following the 2013 season. The Pirates essentially dealt a relief pitcher with five years of control (four arbitration years) for a power hitter with four years of control (three arbitration years).
It seems like Snider has been around forever. So you might be surprised by these age comparisons:
**Snider is one year younger than Pedro Alvarez, who is finally breaking out this year.
**Snider is eight months older than Starling Marte, who just arrived in the majors.
The purpose of pointing out his age is to keep things in perspective. A lot of guys like Snider get penalized for being a top prospect since coming in to the game. If they struggle, they immediately lose their hype. But in most cases, they’re still young enough to figure it out. Snider is one year younger than Pedro Alvarez, who is only getting things figured out this year. He’s eight months older than Starling Marte, who is just arriving in the majors. He doesn’t have prospect eligibility, but Snider is more or less still a “prospect”.
There will be a need for two immediate roster moves. First, the Pirates will have to replace Lincoln in the bullpen. And to do that, they’ll need to make a decision on their bench.
The move I would make would be to bring up Bryan Morris to replace Lincoln. Morris is already on the 40-man roster, and can do a good job to replace Lincoln in the bullpen. When I’ve seen Morris this year he’s been throwing 95-96 MPH with his fastball, and has been pairing that with an upper 80s cutter for a strikeout pitch. The cutter is filthy, which is amazing since this is the first year Morris has used the pitch. He also throws a mid-80s curve.
You might point to Lincoln’s excellent numbers in the bullpen and say that’s hard to replace. But consider that even with the best reliever numbers in the game, and five starts to go with that, Lincoln was only a 0.7 WAR player this year. That pace over a full season is a little over a 1.0 WAR. That just shows you the value of relievers.
The Pirates will have to remove one of their bench players to create a spot for Lincoln’s replacement. I’ve seen a lot of people unfairly pointing to Drew Sutton, who would have to be designated for assignment. Sutton has value to the Pirates, but he’s been played out of position. He’s been starting in the corner outfield spots, when he should be no more than a bench option. He’s not the type of player that is irreplaceable, but I think a lot of the opinions on him have to do with how bad he was as a starter, rather than how he looks as a bench player.
The Pirates would be better off demoting Jordy Mercer and keeping him in Triple-A until rosters expand in September. They’d have Josh Harrison if they needed to give Clint Barmes a day off. The defense from Harrison isn’t ideal, but you might not need to give Barmes that much time off.
The big thing I like about this move is that it forces Garrett Jones and Casey McGehee back in to a platoon role. Both players have been getting regular playing time lately, although they profile better as platoon options. Jones has an .823 OPS against right handers, and a .680 OPS against left handers. McGehee has an .807 OPS against left handers, and a .619 OPS against right handers.
I got a lot of responses that Jones has been better, and McGehee has been awful. That tends to be the perception when platoon players play everyday. The left-handed hitter looks better, because he’s seeing right-handers a lot, which is his favorable matchup. The right-handed hitter looks poor, as he’s only going to see his favorable matchup a third of the time.
A few people asked me about the possibility of bringing up Jeff Clement for McGehee. I don’t see that happening, as it wouldn’t make any sense. Clement’s upside is the same as Jones, not McGehee. He wouldn’t be an option to platoon with Jones, since they both would fit the same role in the platoon.
This move will also move Alex Presley to the bench, which is a move I like. I’ve always seen Presley as a strong fourth outfielder, or a good starting outfielder for a weak offense.
The roster shuffling is minor. Whether they call up Morris, or demote Mercer or waive Sutton, the move will have a small impact. The big impact here will be strengthening the lineup with the Jones/McGehee platoon, and strengthening the bench by moving Alex Presley to the fourth outfield role.
What About Marte?
I don’t really see this deal having anything to do with Marte. A few theories were floating around that this move would allow the Pirates to move Marte. I just don’t see that happening. I think this deal makes it more likely that they keep Marte. They added another outfielder, and can go with a Marte/McCutchen/Snider outfield for at least four more years (assuming all parties work out as expected). The Pirates just don’t seem like they’d deal a top prospect like Marte. His future is too valuable to the team.
Overall I love the deal. Lincoln was a great bullpen arm, but if you’ve read anything I’ve written about relievers, you’d know that I feel relievers should be dealt. Relievers can be very inconsistent year to year. They also can’t provide the value that a power hitting outfielder can potentially provide.
Snider is still young enough that he shouldn’t be written off. He’s putting up good numbers this year in a small sample size. He’s got real power, and he’s a left-hander, which should be a great fit for PNC. He’s also cheap, which will make it easier for the Pirates to add more pieces.
Adding Snider to the outfield forces Jones and McGehee back in to a platoon at first base, which fits their games better and makes the lineup stronger. It also moves Alex Presley to the bench, which strengthens that area of the team. The Pirates could call up Bryan Morris and get a reliever who could potentially replace Lincoln’s production out of the bullpen.
There’s always the desire to add that “sure thing” name player. The appeal there is the numbers, but it’s also the comfort level. It’s easier to be comfortable putting Shane Victorino in a lineup, even when he’s having a down year. It’s harder putting Snider in a lineup, as you don’t know what you’ll get. But not knowing what you’ll get doesn’t equal poor production. And getting a name player who makes you comfortable doesn’t guarantee you any more success than you would have had.
The idea is often that adding someone like Victorino comes with pre-printed playoff tickets, and that the only way to contend is to make such a move. But that’s not true. The truth is that it’s just easier to talk about Victorino helping the team than it is Snider. The Pirates have the chance to contend with Snider. At the least, he will upgrade their corner outfield spot from guys like Josh Harrison or Drew Sutton, who shouldn’t have been starting. Best case scenario, Snider continues putting up the numbers we’ve seen this year in a small sample size. And in that case, the Pirates have Snider for four more years, rather than watching a “name” player leave via free agency following the 2012 season.
Links and Notes
**The Pirates lost 14-4 to the Cubs.
**Pirates Notebook: Bedard Is the Latest Starter to Struggle; Cruz Working His Way Back.
**Prospect Watch: Taillon and Heredia Pitch Well, Osuna and Garcia Homer.