Pirates Trade Deadline Review

By Jared Lankes

The Pirates entered trade deadline day at 51-54, which is good for 5.5 out of the division lead but in 4th place. This means that, while they have a chance at the division, it’s an uphill battle. But, at the same time, it may be a little tough to stomach giving up when the Pirates would have dreamed to be this close to the Cubs in the standings at any point in the next few years. Pirates find themselves in the middle ground, which is never a good place to be. Pirates could easily justify being buyers, sellers, both, or neither. So, what did they do?

Pirates trade LHP Tony Watson to Dodgers for two prospects: IF Oneil Cruz and RHP Angel German

It is hard to see the Tony Watson era in Pittsburgh come to a come to a close, but it was the right move. Tony Watson was going to go as a free agent anyhow. Pirates, on the other hand, acquired two intriguing prospects in this deal, most notably Oneil Cruz. Cruz is a 3B/SS that is far off, but has a lot of room to grow as he can develop into a good hitter. Angel German has an intriguing arm, but has comtrol issues like many at his development level. He will need a lot of polishing, but both these guys will. However, both these guys are intriguing and worth keeping an eye on. This is probably about maximum value Pirates could get for Tony Watson.

Pirates acquire RHP Joaquin Benoit and cash from Phillies for RHP Seth McGarry

Pirates, in a more shocking deal that proceeded Watson deal, acquired a reliever to replace Watson. Benoit, who just turned 40, has been a steady reliever at best. His face value numbers are okay, but some of his other stats paint a better picture. He has a 3.79 FIP, holds opponents to a low batting average, and still strikes out a ton of guys. He is a serviceable reliever that can still be effective. However, it is understandable to think why Pirates should have just let the young relievers like Edgar Santana and Dovydas Neverauskas get a chance instead.

Synopsis: On the surface, these deals seem to not make much sense, and it is easy to see why. They basically just replaced Watson with Benoit, held onto other pending free agents, but didn’t add to the team in an effort to get by the Cubs. It looks as if they just re-arranged the furniture in the room, and I understand why people feel that way. They kind of held, kind of sold, and kind of bought but may not have done enough of either to make a difference. The MLB team is basically not gaining or losing much by replacing Benoit with Watson. However, the Pirates farm system did improve, if nothing else.

 

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The Case for Trading Juan Nicasio

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Charles LeClaire – USA Today Sports

After coming off a respectable 2015 season, pitching in the Los Angeles Dodgers bullpen, Juan Nicasio signed a one-year deal with the Pirates in December of that year. Heading into Spring Training last year, Ryan Vogelsong was slated to be the fifth starter in the Pirates rotation. Plans changed however, as with Vogelsong struggling, and Nicasio performing lights out, the Bucs inserted Nicasio into the rotation instead. 

Nicasio’s brilliant Spring showing did not translate as a starter during the regular season, as he posted a 5.83 ERA. In late June, the Pirates moved Nicasio to the bullpen, and he was a lot more effective, putting up an ERA of 2.93 in 39 appearances. 

This past offseason, Nicasio and the Pirates agreed to terms on a one-year deal worth just over $3.6 million, in order to avoid arbitration. While Felipe Rivero is undoubtedly their best bullpen arm this year, Nicasio has been outstanding as well, posting a 2.53 ERA, along with a Fielding Independent Pitching of 2.72 in 50 games pitched. With Nicasio being considered a trade candidate, should the Pirates pull the trigger on him? -Here’s why I think it needs to be done. 

Nicasio is having by far the best season of his big league career, and his trade value has never been higher. With neither the division or wild card being a sure bet, it could make for an easier decision to sell high on him. Nicasio also possesses a very team-friendly salary, so any contending club can get him, which would lead to a bidding war. While I’m not suggesting the return for Nicasio would be quite the level of Mark Melancon, the Pirates should still net a solid package for him. 

 

 

 

 

Edwin Espinal Promoted to Indianapolis

By Jason Shetler

p/c: David Hague

The Pirates are promoting first baseman Edwin Espinal from AA Altoona to AAA Indianapolis, this according to Sean McCool of Pirates Prospects. 

Espinal was signed by the Pirates out of the Dominican Republic in 2011. The 23-year-old entered 2017 in his second season with Altoona, and is having a breakout year, hitting a career high 15 home runs, while posting a .797 OPS. Indianapolis is short a position player, following the big league call up of outfielder Jordan Luplow.

 

 

 

A 2017 Pirates Draft Pick is Already Making a Big Impact

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Tim Williams – Pirates Prospects

Entering the 2017 MLB Draft, the Pirates were given a significantly larger spending budget, and they certainly took advantage of it, by signing all 12 of their selections in the first ten rounds, specifically their first round pick Shane Baz and sixth rounder Cody Bolton, both of which were considered difficult signs. Jim Callis of MLB Pipeline ranked this year’s Pirates draft class as third best. Just like with any draft class, there’s always that diamond in the rough found in the later rounds. One player who appears to be that is Mason Martin. 

The Pirates drafted Martin as a 17th round pick out of Southridge High School in Washington. Prior to the draft, the 18-year-old outfielder had a commitment to play at Gonzaga, and was rated the fifth best draft prospect out of the state of Washington by Baseball America. The Pirates however were able to sign him for $350,000, well above the slot value of $225,000. 

Listed at 6’0, 200 lbs, the left-handed hitting Martin was described as having potential plus power, to go along with good bat speed, and he’s showing off that bat in a huge way against Gulf Coast League pitching. In just his first 11 games as a professional, Martin has already belted seven home runs, which currently leads the GCL. Aside from the impressive power has also been his overall approach at the plate, as he’s posted a .522 on base percentage. 

Based on the outstanding numbers, it certainly wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility to see Martin play full season next year for the West Virginia Power, assuming he continues to tear apart the GCL down the stretch. With the talent level of the higher draft picks, as well as Mason Martin’s potential to become an impact prospect himself, the 2017 Pirates draft class could very well be Neal Huntington’s best.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jordan Luplow Reportedly Joining the Pirates

By Jason Shetler

The Fresno State Bulldogs Twitter account was congratulating outfielder Jordan Luplow on his call up to the big leagues, so it appears he will join the Pirates before Friday’s game in San Diego.

In the 2014 MLB Draft, the Pirates chose Luplow as a third round selection. He was productive in his first full season of pro ball for the Low A West Virginia Power in 2015, as he posted an .830 OPS. He then spent all of 2016 with the High A Bradenton Marauders, posting an OPS of .784. 

Luplow began this year with AA Altoona, and made quite the impact offensively for the Curve, as he hit 16 home runs and put up a .903 OPS in 73 games. He was promoted to AAA Indianapolis on June 30th. The offense carried over, with a .975 OPS, while hitting five homers in just 21 games played. Luplow is currently the Pirates 20th ranked prospect according to MLB Pipeline.

 

 

 

 

Pirates Trade Targets: Infielders

By Jared Lankes 

The Pirates recent surge has propelled them into a state of being buyers at the trade deadline (or at least buyers and sellers) as they try to win the NL Central crown for the first time since moving into the division. Knowing this, the team has definite holes to fill. So throughout the week as we approach the trade deadline, I will look at some options that could fill these holes that the Pirates could, realistically or unrealistically, look to acquire. I will start with infielders.

Pirates have some infielders, but the main area of weakness has been 3rd base. David Freese hasn’t been good in an everyday role and we don’t have any clue if/when Kang will return. So, in short, Pirates could use an upgrade. Pirates can go two ways about this though. One way is to grab a 3rd baseman and keep Harrison at 2nd base. Another is to grab a second baseman and move Harrison to 3rd base. So, I will look at some options at 3rd base and 2nd base.

Joe Panik:
Joe Panik has had a rough go of it on both sides of the ball this season and over the last calendar year. However, the Giants are in no hurry to just give up on him, especially when they have very little in their pipeline to take over that spot. Panik is not a free agent until after the 2020 season, so the Giants can definitely afford to hold onto him and hope he bounces back. They will not trade him for a small return right now, but if they would, maybe he could fit as a bounce back guy with years of control attached.

Jed Lowrie:
Lowrie has enjoyed a renaissance of his career and is having a very productive offensive campaign. Like Nunez, he is flexible in positions, though he cannot play outfield. The kicker is that Lowrie would come with an extra year of team control, which may make him a more attractive trade candidate even though it’d cost more.

 Yangervis Solarte:
Solarte has been an above average offensive player for years and would add instant pop to the Pirates lineup. However, he is on the DL right now and likely won’t return in time for the trade deadline. Padres would be trading a very good player at low value, and I just can’t see that especially given Padres GM AJ Preller’s history of not disclosing medical concerns in trades.

Brandon Phillips:
I know, I know. Brandon Phillips is so gross if you are a Pirates fans. All of the years of him just showing up, crushing the Pirates for no reason, and smiling through it all has annoyed us. Right now, the 36-year old of the Atlanta Braves still gets it done enough at the plate and in the field. He’d be a decent upgrade, for what it’s worth. However, like I mentioned before, he’d be a rental, and I cannot see the Pirates springing for something like that. Additionally, the sheer weirdness of Brandon Phillips residing in the Pirates lineup and wearing a Pirates uniform may be too difficult to stomach. But hey, at least he’d see his old buddies with the Reds a lot in the second half of the season.

 Asdrubal Cabrera:
Asdrubal Cabrera has really not played third base at all in his career and got somewhat mad at the Mets for having him at second base. Those are the two main positions he would play if he went to the Pirates, so I don’t know if it’d work out at all. He does carry an extra year of control after this though, so that’d be a bonus.

Some of these options could push Harrison to 3rd base. Some would keep Harrison at 2B. In any case, the Pirates could definitely use an upgrade from David Freese at 3rd base, as he doesn’t look like a player that should be playing everyday. If the Pirates could grab any of these guys, they’d be upgrading a huge position of need.

Pirates Reportedly Scouting Sonny Gray

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Doug Duran – Bay Area News Group

According to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, the Pirates are one of seven teams who had a scout in attendance to watch Oakland A’s starter Sonny Gray pitch against the Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Center on Tuesday. 

Gray is arguably the biggest trade candidate heading into the deadline. The 27-year-old righty has spent his entire big league career with the Athletics to this point. Gray’s best year came in 2015, posting a 2.73 ERA, a 143 ERA+ and a 3.7 WAR, while being named an All-Star for the first time, as well as finishing third in the AL Cy Young voting. 

Looking to build off his strong 2015 campaign, Gray had a difficult time staying healthy last season, which resulted in a 5.69 ERA. He has bounced back nicely this year, putting up an ERA of 3.43, along with a 3.24 Fielding Independent Pitching and a 2.2 WAR. Gray will have two more years of club control beyond this season.