J.A. Happ and the Pirates starters

With A.J. Burnett potentially missing a substantial amount of time and the Pirates having serious internal depth issues at starting pitcher, Neal Huntington probably spent a lot of time at the trade deadline looking to creatively add starting pitching to the Pirates. It’s no secret that the Pirates minor league depth has taken hit after hit this season. Brandon Cumpton, Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham, and even more players have suffered various season ending injuries, and Clayton Richard opted out of his deal for a Major League opportunity with the Cubs. Huntington also has a starting rotation currently where he doesn’t really have the ability to option anyone to AAA if he was to add a front line starter. Jeff Locke, probably the worst starter in the rotation, has pitched well enough to justify his role, especially as he makes the league minimum and is controlled for three more years. Thus the only way a starter would break into the rotation was if a pitcher was injured. Obviously that happened, and I suppose it’s lucky it was just before the trade deadline. That gave Huntington and company a day to find a replacement, even after they had already creatively acquired Joe Blanton to the bullpen (to give them an emergency starting pitcher if they needed one). It seems the best Huntington was willing to do was add J.A. Happ to the rotation, a curious decision, but one that can be justified.

Blanton best profiles as a a long reliever who can start in an emergency, almost exactly like the pitcher he replaced on the roster, Vance Worley. The logic behind DFA-ing Worley is probably that the Pirates hope he clears waivers and accepts an outright assignment to Indianapolis rather than forfeiting the remainder of his 2.4 million dollar salary. That’s possible. Worley hasn’t pitched poorly this year though, so it’s not out of the question that the Pirates lose him either on waivers or to a trade with a team looking to give him another shot as a back of the rotation starting pitcher.Either way, an answer on Worley’s status should come sooner rather than later. Blanton should provide similar value to Worley, so the move seems lateral. Blanton has been striking out more batters since he moved to the bullpen though, and that could be the reason the Pirates were interested. He also has a much better xFIP than Worley, so maybe his performance will be a tick above over the rest of the season.

J.A. Happ has not pitched well this season, but there are some reasons that explain why the Pirates were interested in the 32 year old veteran. His 4.64 ERA is masking his 4.07 FIP and 4.03 xFIP. Sure, he’s underperformed his peripherals in the past, several times in fact, but he’s also outperformed them enough that his career ERA, FIP, xFIP are basically in line. That at least hints that there’s a chance that over the course of the season his numbers will swing a little in the Pirates favor. Contrast that with Dan Haren, who the Cubs acquired at the deadline to fill out their rotation. Haren has his best ERA since 2011 despite striking out less batters than his career norm (16.8% of batters this year against 20.1% for his career). That’s why he has such a disparity between his ERA (3.42), FIP (4.58), and xFIP (4.56). To continue the comparison between the two players, looking at what projection systems expect of them going forward, it’s possible to make the case for why the Pirates acquired Happ instead.

Happ (ZIPS): 49 innings, 4.32 ERA/4.11 FIP, 0.5 WAR

Happ (Steamer): 50 innings, 3.78 ERA/3.77 FIP, 0.7 WAR

Haren (ZIPS): 57 innings, 4.48 ERA/4.11 FIP, 0.5 WAR

Haren (Steamer): 57 innings, 4.18 ERA/4.36 FIP, 0.4 WAR

I’m not pretending to know their logic, of course. They could have pushed really hard for Haren, although that wouldn’t fit their template for a typical starting pitcher. He doesn’t get enough ground balls. Essentially, the hope would be that Steamer is the most accurate projection of what Happ will be over the rest of this season. Splitting hairs between fifth starters might seem silly, especially when the difference in projected WAR is at most 0.3, but it’s important to remember that the difference is 0.3. This isn’t a massive issue. It just seems like, when you break down the advanced numbers (albeit at a very basic, not thorough level), the Happ trade doesn’t seem as bad as some have made it out to be. Especially when you consider that even if Happ struggles, he’s probably only going to make be in the rotation until A.J. Burnett returns (roughly four weeks, but perhaps longer), and then Happ can transition to the bullpen for September, starting if necessary but mostly providing the Pirates with a left handed long reliever for emergencies and mop up duty.

The Pirates acquire Joe Blanton (in which I try to feign enthusiasm for Joe Blanton and take shots at people who want to trade for no reason)

The Pirates pulled the blockbuster of the trade deadline last night when they traded for Joe Blanton, and they didn’t have to give up much. So all the fans clamoring for the Pirates to make a big move can rest easy, their appetite for trades satiated by Neal Huntington and Co. As far as these fans are concerned, this is the move that will catapult the Pirates from the cellar dwellers that they are into the first division of talent in the National League Central. This is a guy with veteran presence and a track record of success. Sure that track record sort of ended in 2007, but the Pirates are just the team to fix Blanton and turn him back into his old self.

*sigh*

I can’t keep this up anymore. Joe Blanton is a 34 year old former starter who gives the Pirates some emergency starting pitching depth and will get innings as a middle reliever. He’ll probably replace Doelis Guerra and provide similar value. The upshot here is the emergency starting pitching depth. It’s no secret the Pirates were thin at starting pitcher, and this acquisition does just enough to alleviate some of the concern. If Blanton ends up permanently in the rotation, that’s a bad sign, but if he starts a game or two due to injuries there are worse things that could happen (I guess). It’s better than some of the alternatives, although I’m not convinced it’s better than letting Radhames Liz take this spot. But this way Liz can continue to be depth, and no team has ever had too much depth. This post I’ve specifically avoided posting Blanton’s numbers so far because they aren’t good. This year they’re fine, but he’s also only thrown 41 innings. The ground ball rate and FIP are good enough, and those are probably a big part of what attracted the Pirates to him. That and the cost, which is basically nothing I assume. Just cash. So to recap: Limited downside, added depth, not exciting, middle relief.

Seattle Mariners Trade Candidates

Not every front office in baseball acts in the best long term interests of its own organization. These front office workers have to keep their jobs, and sometimes that means sacrificing long term success for short term ability to keep your job. There’s no tangible evidence the Seattle Mariners front office is in that situation. It was only two off-seasons ago that Jack Zduriencik was considered a good candidate to lose his job. The Robinson Cano signing and a strong showing last season helped the front office gain credibility and a stay of execution. This season has been the opposite. Some bad luck, bad performances, and bad front office-ing having the Mariners pretty clearly out of the playoff picture. It hasn’t all been bad for Seattle, but it’s been mostly bad. Yet, there were recent reports that they were looking to acquire a catcher. If they were in contention that would make sense. Mike Zunino and his 45 wRC+ (projected to be in the mid 70s over the rest of the season) could be pretty easily improved on. But what’s the point of trading assets to improve on Zunino if the team isn’t in contention? That indicates that the front office is unlikely to sell, and might actually look to acquire talent. I can’t speculate as to what amount of pressure to contend this front office is under. I know that if I was in their shoes I would be looking to sell a few players and retool for next season.

Seth Smith: He’s sustained his breakout 2014 season and won’t be a free agent until after next season at the earliest. Smith is a platoon bat entering his mid-30s with a commitment of at least $7 million after this season, so his contract would not be a massive barrier to getting a deal done. The biggest problem would be the front offices willingness to part with him. They could easily hold onto him and use him in a similar way next year.

Austin Jackson: I think it’s fair to call Jackson’s last year and a half disappointing. His sub .300 OBP isn’t helping him provide value. He can still handle center, and he’s a free agent after the season making the rest of his $7.7 million contract. Any team acquiring him will be aware of his offensive limitations, but he’s the type of player Seattle shouldn’t be afraid to move. He’s not really helping them contend this season and he won’t be back next year.

Logan Morrison: A low BABIP is hurting Morrison right now, but he’s still not a very valuable baseball player. He’s a league average bat that can’t really play defense at any position (a recurring theme on the Mariners). Don’t let the home run totals distract you from his inability to get on base. A team trading for Morrison is taking him probably as a bat off the bench.

Mark Trumbo: The newly acquired Mark Trumbo has played about as poorly as a baseball player can play since he was acquired. -1.1 WAR in 30 games is almost impressive. A .255 OBP with no position will do that though. The Mariners are probably better off holding onto Trumbo at this point because it’s not like his value can get any lower. Trumbo still has another year of arbitration after this season. While he’s likely going to cost more than his $6.9 million salary this year, if Trumbo hasn’t rebounded by the end of the season and doesn’t look like he will, non-tendering him is a simple and cheap way to cut ties with a player who hasn’t performed well. If there is a market in the offseason for a player like Trumbo, dealing him then would be another option.

Hisashi Iwakuma: The way Iwakuma’s surrendering home runs it’s almost like the hitters know what’s coming. Iwakuma was on the DL earlier this year with a strained lat muscle, so luckily for him it wasn’t his arm. It’s probably that Iwakuma’s struggles this year can be chalked up to small sample size, and that he’ll right the ship before the end of the season, but any team that was looking to acquire him as the three win player he’s been the past two seasons has got to worried. He’s seen a slow but steady decline in his velocity since he came to the states, but nothing so dramatic that it explains why hitters are using the aluminum power bat off him all of a sudden. Any way, he’s a free agent after this season and a good candidate to improve in the remainder of the season. Could be a good buy low candidate for a team or he could end up in the bullpen and left off a playoff roster, similar to Justin Masterson after the Cardinals acquired him last season.

J.A. Happ: A free agent after this season, Happ is pretty much a back of the rotation starter who pitches like it. An ERA around 4 and peripherals that match that. He doesn’t eat a ton of innings, never pitching more than 166 in a season. That he only has the remainder of his $6.7 million contract left makes him fairly cheap. Happ is another player the Mariners should deal, but probably won’t. There’s no reason to keep a player like Happ around. They won’t (shouldn’t) re-sign him and they aren’t crazy enough to offer him a qualifying offer, so letting Happ go for nothing after the season doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Unless the Mariners truly think they’re still in the wild card race. As it is they’re 7 games back, with 9 teams between them and the second spot. It just isn’t happening this year.

The Oakland A’s Trade Deadline

Baseball’s unluckiest team, if the A’s decide to sell is there any player who would be off the table? Billy Beane is known for his willingness to make deals, even some that defy conventional wisdom. Josh Donaldson for Brett Lawrie, Franklin Barreto, Kendall Graveman, and Sean Nolin last offseason is an example of a recent deal like that. But all the same the A’s do have a number of more likely trade candidates.

Brett Lawrie: The A’s acquired Lawrie last offseason, and he hasn’t been fantastic. He’s a 2 win player over a full season, meaning he has about a win left in value this season for any team acquiring him. Any team acquiring him wouldn’t just get him for this season though. They’d get him for 2016 and 2017 too, so he’s not a rental. Lawrie’s had some health issues, but while he’s on the field he’s a slightly above average bat that’s only 25 years old who has some positional versatility (2nd and 3rd base).

Josh Reddick: Reddick is an above average corner outfielder. Reddick will be a free agent after next season. He’s 28 right now, he’ll be 29 next year. He’s a solidly above average hitter with seemingly good defense. He’s making $4.1 million this year, and this offseason is his last year of arbitration so he won’t be getting excessively expensive. He’s a pretty attractive trade candidate.

Sam Fuld: Despite his 3 WAR performance last season, Fuld is probably best suited to being a 4th outfielder. He has a career wRC+ of 82. He’s 33 now so it’s probably fair to expect his defense to decline a little as well. That defense has been his calling card, essentially keeping him in the majors. He’s cheap and he can fill in adequately in center if need be. He probably wouldn’t cost much in a trade either.

Ike Davis: The strong half of a platoon at first base, Davis doesn’t really hit enough to justify his place in the majors. He’s a non-tender candidate after the season (in what would be his last year of arbitration), but if Oakland can flip him at the deadline for anything, I would call that trade a success.

Scott Kazmir: Strained triceps ended his last start, and he’s Scott Kazmir so there are going to be injury concerns. If he’s healthy he’s good though. And he’s a free agent after this year so there’s no long term commitment, and he’s only going to cost like $5.5 million over the rest of the season. He’s a solid starting pitcher, so trade for him. And then don’t be surprised when he gets hurt. But seriously, he’s pretty good.

Jesse Chavez: Chavez was a reliever who was fairly mediocre. Then he became a starter who was better than mediocre. He’s a free agent after next season, so he isn’t a rental. He made 2.2 million this year, so he won’t be incredibly expensive after this season. He’s another cheap middle of the rotation starter who could be available.

Tyler Clippard: Yet another reliever who’s presumably available. His ERA is pretty good, his xFIP is really bad and he costs about half his $8.3 million salary this year. That’s about it.

Arizona Diamondbacks trade candidates

What are the Diamondbacks going to do? I have no idea. They traded Touki Toussaint for salary relief, so they don’t seem to be going to hoarding prospects route of rebuilding. They even seem to think they’re competitive this season. In a division with San Francisco and more importantly the Dodgers, they aren’t. And their chances at a wild card spot seem about as likely as their chances of winning the division. With that said, they’re not terrible. They’re just not good. They should look to move certain pieces. Not Paul Goldschmidt (who, incidentally, is the reason they’re not terrible). There’s no way to get fair value for Goldschmidt, so the only thing to do is hold onto him and let him keep producing. Of course, these Diamondbacks are a bit unpredictable.

Aaron Hill: There’s no way a team would trade for Hill straight up. Hill isn’t good. His contract is bad. He’s been below replacement level this season. His .283 OBP isn’t going to play, especially for the rest of his $12 million dollars this year and next year. The only reason he’s on this list is because it’s possible the Diamondbacks want even more salary relief and would be willing to deal prospects to get it. Because that’s the only way they’re getting rid of hill without paying him.

Brad Ziegler: He doesn’t miss a whole lot of bats, but he doesn’t walk many hitters either, and he keeps the ball in the park and on the ground enough to have value on an MLB roster. He’s perhaps out of his element as the closer in Arizona, but whatever. A team could use him as a double play specialist He’s got what’s left of his $5 million contract this year and a $5.5 million club option next year with a $1 million buyout.

Addison Reed: By ERA, Reed has been bad. By FIP, he’s been better. Still not great. His biggest asset might be two more years of arbitration after this season, but this would be dealing Reed at the lowest point of his value. And the Diamondbacks front office would never do that.

Cliff Pennington: He’s a bad utility infielder. He’s making $3.25 million this year and is a free agent after the season. Buy at your own risk.

Oliver Perez: Another bullpen arm for hire, Perez (at this point) is a lefty specialist making $2.5 million in his last year before free agency

Welington Castillo: He could be traded 4 times in a season. That’d be interesting. He’s an acceptable catcher. Not an ideal starter, but a little too good to be a backup. A solid second division starter who isn’t a free agent until after the 2017 season.

San Diego Padres Trade Assets

I’m going to phone this one in a little bit more than usual and move on, mostly because I don’t think the Padres will sell much, if at all. If they wanted to rebuild they would certainly be an interesting team to keep an eye on at the deadline, but I don’t think A.J. Preller can afford to give up on this season yet. After an offseason of blockbuster transactions in which , the Padres still aren’t very good. Some of that is because of underperformance, some of that is just luck, but as it is their chances of making the playoffs are pretty remote. They could get a decent package back for Justin Upton, who would likely be the best outfielder available, but as it is they’ll probably hold onto him and offer him a qualifying offer after the year and take the draft pick. But they shouldn’t. He’s worth more than that, and they’re not going to be able to re-sign him (probably, I can’t look at their finances and check that statement). If they did decide to sell though, here’s a theoretical list of players who they might be interesting in dealing:

Justin Upton: He would probably be the best outfielder available. Any number of teams would be interested and even though he’s a rental it’s a safe bet that the return would be better than if they just held onto him and got the draft pick. But dealing Upton would be viewed as a sign of admitting defeat, and it doesn’t seem like that’s the road the Padres will want to go down. PECOTA has Upton worth almost 2 wins over the rest of the season, so he’d be a substantial upgrade for any team that acquires him.

James Shields: They Padres just signed Shields to a 4 year/75 million dollar deal. His salary this year is $10 million, meaning each season after this carries a much higher rate of pay at $21 million each year. Shields has been fairly good this season, if strangely homer prone. His 17% home run/fly ball percentage is way above his career norm of 11%. You would think PETCO would be helping him keep the ball in the park but so far, nope (18% HR/FB at home). I’m not sure what a market for Shields would look like. Teams were hesitant to give him the years he wanted last offseason, and he’s still a 33 year old pitcher signed through his age 36 season (with an option on his age 37 season, but assume a $2 million dollar buyout there probably). There would be teams interested of course. Everybody needs pitching, and even with his home run problems Shields has been good this year, and all the projection systems think he’ll be even better over the second half.

Andrew Cashner: Cashner bounces back and forth between good and bad almost as often as he’s on the disabled list. He’s not having a terrible year, and his peripheral stats say he’s better than his ERA. Not a lot better, but better. The projection systems also expect him to improve in the second half, mostly because of an unnaturally low left on base % and a higher than usual BABIP. Cashner is a good trade candidate for a team looking to buy upside. And he’s not a free agent until after next season.  

Joaquin Benoit: In the last year of his deal and still fairly cheap (costing only the remainder of his $8 million salary), the veteran Benoit can probably provide quality back end innings even if his peripherals indicate he’s been a lot worse than his ERA suggests this year. His home run/fly ball rate is higher than usual too, but the strange thing about the Padres this year is that almost every pitcher has a bloated HR/FB rate. I can say he’s in the last year of his deal because the arrival of Kimbrel virtually guarantees his option for next season won’t vest. His worse than normal strikeout rate should also be a concern. Basically, when it comes to Benoit, you might be getting a really good reliever, but you might be getting an average one.

Craig Kimbrel: He’s walking more people and allowing more home runs, but this is still Kimbrel. His contract hurts his value, with two more seasons after this one (plus an option) at more than $10 million a season, but he’s still valuable. The Padres might want to deal him for the same reason the Braves did. How useful is a first tier closer (if that’s still what Kimbrel is, relievers constantly breaking and all that), for a team that isn’t contending?

Ian Kennedy: If you like xFIP, you probably like Ian Kennedy to rebound. If you don’t like xFIP, you want nothing to do with Ian Kennedy, free agent after this season. That is all.

The Atlanta Braves Trade Assets

The Braves haven’t made it a secret that they’re rebuilding. All of their offseason moves, save the Markakis signing, where with an eye on the future. They’re only 5.5 games back in the wild card though. That might make it hard to convince fans that selling is the right move (realistically that shouldn’t matter, but it does). Their playoff odds (baseball prospectus) are 2.1%. They shouldn’t fall into the trap of buying into their own early season success. It also doesn’t seem like they should sell off their most valuable pieces though. Most of them are signed for several years and coming into their primes. For instance, there’s no reason to deal Freddie Freeman. Shelby Miller is the same. Julio Teheran’s value is probably never going to be lower than right now, so there’s no reason to sell him. I suppose if they could sell Nick Markakis they probably should, but they can’t. That leaves most of the people they should deal as spare parts who won’t garner much in return.

Cameron Maybin: Acquired from San Diego this past offseason, Maybin’s actually been somewhat valuable. He’s signed for another two years, for $8 million in 2016 and with a $9 million dollar team option or a $1 million dollar buyout.

Juan Uribe: Uribe doesn’t suck. He’s also not good. A slightly below average third baseman at the end of his career. Someone might be interested. His lack of positional flexibility (he might be able play second base sparingly, but he’s going to have to get the bulk of his time at third) doesn’t make him an ideal bench option, and he doesn’t have a large platoon split in his career, making him unlikely to find time against lefties in a platoon. His deal this year is for 6.5 million and then he’s a free agent, so chop off roughly half of that and it’s not an unfair cost for a player like Uribe, if a team has a need. But there are certainly more attractive options, and Uribe will probably find himself plan B or C.

A.J. Pierzynski: Does your team have anyone else who can catch? Anyone? If they have anyone else, go with that guy. Pierzynski shouldn’t be anywhere near a playoff roster.

Jason Grilli: What can you even say about Jason Grilli at this point that his book didn’t cover? His messiah complex notwithstanding, he’s a decent if old late inning reliever who doesn’t suck but shouldn’t be anyone’s first choice as a closer. He’s always been a fly ball pitcher, but this season he’s taking it to a new level. A 24.1% Ground Ball rate. More than 75% of the balls hit off Grilli find the air. That sounds like a disaster waiting to happen to me. Some of those balls will start reaching the seats eventually. Grilli can’t continue to compensate by striking out 11.53/9 and walking 3/9. Eventually this is going to tip the wrong way (unless he starts getting more ground balls).

Jim Johnson: The former closer, at this point, is a middle reliever, and not a great one. He’s cheap though, for any team that thinks they can help him return to his former glory. I wouldn’t bet on anyone thinking they can do that, though.

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