August 2, 2016
The Penny-Pinching Pirates Pitching Parade
Acquired LHP Francisco Liriano, C-L Reese McGuire, and OF-R Harold Ramirez from Pittsburgh Pirates for RHP Drew Hutchison [8/1].
With the prospect of moving Aaron Sanchez to the bullpen, the top of the Blue Jays' rotation was going to take a major hit. Sanchez has been one of the best pitchers in the American League, and has shown absolutely no signs of slowing down. Unfortunately, he’s coming up against the dreaded “workload limit,” which left a large potential void in the Toronto rotation.
That void seems to have been filled, with a body if not a replacement ace. On the surface, Liriano isn't having a great season. His ERA is 5.46 in 21 starts, and his walk rate is a career high 5.5 per nine innings. However, his DRA is 4.23, which, while not amazing, at least plays in a regular-season rotation. He is also still striking out hitters at a nice rate of 9.1 K/9, and continues to get groundballs at a clip better than 50 percent. Couple that with the excellent Blue Jays infield defense, and there is some cause for hope that Liriano can find what he had during that 2013-2015 run, when he posted ERA/DRAs of 3.02/2.77, 3.38/3.07, and 3.38/3.29.
This seems to continue a recent theme for the Jays of acquiring pitchers whose walk rates have spiked, but have not come with a dip in stuff. Liriano’s velocity is right where it was the last few years, averaging 93.5 mph, and, per Brooks Baseball, his pitch movement is also quite similar.
In addition to the value he clearly adds to the Jays current rotation, Liriano is also signed through 2017 for another $13 million. This gives the Jays a nice replacement for pending free agent R.A. Dickey. In fact, this now means the 2017 rotation is full (barring injury) with Stroman, Happ, Estrada, Liriano, and Sanchez. That's very helpful for a team facing so many free agent decisions. —Joshua Howsam
Jesse Chavez, traded Monday for Mike Bolsinger, was made expendable because the Blue Jays were also able to acquire Feldman from the Astros. Feldman, himself a swingman, will attempt to do what Chavez never did, which would be to be anchor the lower tier of relievers in the Blue Jays bullpen. He comes with home run issues of his own, as he’s given up just under one per nine innings over his lengthy career. This, combined with the fact that the Blue Jays desperately needed a left-handed reliever, might make this move seem superfluous, but acquiring a pitcher who is able to have extended periods of success is almost always an upgrade regardless of which hand he throws with or how he allows his damage. Chavez, meanwhile, has yet to make it out of rookie ball, which means this was really a no-lose acquisition—or, at least, no-lose for the next half-decade or so.
Overall, this and the Chavez trade must not be looked at on their own, but rather in tandem with the Francisco Liriano acquisition. Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins improved the club today, which is what matters when the team is in contention. —Gideon Turk
A former 14th-overall pick, McGuire has long been lauded for his defensive prowess, showing off the agility, soft hands, and arm of a superior defender behind the plate. He’s consistently an asset on defense, showing strong intangibles to pair with his athleticism.
The questions on McGuire all stem from his bat. While he’s generally been young for the level, he’s yet to show much aptitude with the stick. The contact ability is there to make him an average (or perhaps slightly above) hitter, but he’s yet to show the kind of power that would stop pitchers from challenging him, and more than his fair share of at-bats end in weak contact. He works deep counts and shows an advanced approach at the plate, and will flash average raw power in BP, so there’s something to latch onto for the dreamers out there, but the likelihood remains a player who makes his bones on defense who might not kill you in the bottom third of a lineup —Craig Goldstein
Ramirez was a seven-figure sign by the Pirates out of Colombia in 2011, on the strength of his polish and feel to hit. Those are still his calling cards, and though the raw tools aren't dripping with upside, his steady output and rise through the system placed him on our Top 101 prospects entering 2016 (80th overall, to be exact).
How do you fix a pitcher with a matching 5.46 ERA and BB/9? I don’t know, but the answer isn’t sending him to Toronto, where he’ll pitch in a hitter’s park in the tougher league and away from the pitching coach who helped save his career. Liriano will always be capable of shutting down any opposing lineup on any day, but his value is the lowest it’s been since 2012 right now. It’s possible he’s headed to the bullpen in Toronto, too. Woof.
Prospects are rarely truly blocked, but with Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco and Austin Meadows all in front of him, Ramirez’s path to playing time in Pittsburgh was murky, to say the least. It’s a lot clearer in Toronto, and when you add in the better park this is a clear upgrade. —Ben Carsley
Acquired LHP Jonathan Niese from Pittsburgh Pirates for LHP Antonio Bastardo [8/1].
RESET!! This offseason, the Pirates traded Neil Walker to the Mets for Niese, and the Mets signed Bastardo as a free agent formerly of the Pirates. Both of these teams probably wish they could turn back the clock to August 2015—both teams are between two and four games back from the second Wild Card slot, and neither appears to be in contention for the division title at all. But, at least in terms of left-handed pitchers, each team has moved the needle back to where they were in the previous season.
If you listen to the BP Mets podcast For All You Kids Out There, you know that host Jeffrey Paternostro has often reminded listeners that the Mets value clubhouse consistency, and this deal proves that rule. Niese was kind of a vestigial piece last season, with the team focused on their rising “four aces” in Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz, Niese’s veteran competency was something of an overlooked commodity. And though last season’s 4.13 ERA was well in line with his 4.00 career mark, his 5.13 DRA was representative of a replacement-level starting pitcher. Despite throwing 177 much-needed innings, Niese probably wasn’t an improvement over the Logan Verrett-Sean Gilmartin types that the Mets had at Triple-A.
Coming over to Pittsburgh and working with Ray Searage was supposed to revitalize Niese’s career; so far, no such luck. This season he’s allowed far too many home runs, and his ERA and FIP have risen considerably, but DRA (4.64) and WARP (0.8) are kinder to Niese than it was in 2015. If Niese, who left the Mets under slightly acrimonious conditions this offseason, can remain a one-to-two-win starter for this team, that could be an improvement over Logan Verrett as the team’s fifth starter. But given his distaste for the squad’s defensive limitations last season, it’s hard to imagine that the southpaw will be thrilled with the new-look Mets’ terrible glovework this year. Nevertheless, the team was in need of some starting pitching depth behind deGrom, Syndergaard, Colon, and Matz, and Niese was an affordable, familiar option for this Mets team. —Bryan Grosnick
Acquired RHP Ivan Nova from New York Yankees in exchange for two PTBNL [8/1].
How many left-handed relief pitchers is too many? Over the past couple of days, the Pirates dealt away closer Mark Melancon for lefty Felipe Rivero, and the team already has southpaw Tony Watson as the squad’s new closer. Now, they’ve added Bastardo as the team’s third lefty in the bullpen, and that doesn’t even take into account Kyle Lobstein, who’d spent time on the big-league roster this season as well.
Bastardo certainly isn’t the best of the team’s lefties; despite being a solid relief option over the past several years, his time with the Mets has been something of a disappointment–though his strikeout and walk rates remained in line with his career numbers, his homers allowed have gone through the roof (up to 1.6 HR per nine versus 0.6 in the previous two seasons) and that has led to a heightened runs allowed (4.74 ERA) and DRA (4.72). His velocity is also down from his 2015 peak, but at around 92 miles per hour on average, that’s pretty close to his career velo.
Both Bastardo and the Pirates hope that he’ll regain some of the Ray Searage magic back in Pittsburgh, but this is an acquisition that seems more about ditching Jon Niese than it does about bringing in Bastardo. The Pirates didn’t particularly need another lefty in the ‘pen, but perhaps they figure they have a better chance to fix the guy they’ve worked with before, rather than fix the guy who didn’t seem fixable this season in Niese. Either way, the transaction doesn’t move the needle much for the Pirates, but if Bastardo can corral his homer problems, this one could be a win. —Bryan Grosnick
The acquiring of Drew Hutchison is not likely to convince the cynics among us that the Pirates aim here was anything more than a salary dump. Hutchison has spent most of 2016 toiling away in Buffalo after finding his 5.00 ERA squeezed out of the Blue Jays' rotation plans. Hutchison's stuff never really came all the way back from his 2012 Tommy John surgery, and in a June look he sat 90-92 with some cut and run on the fastball. He also featured a pair of inconsistent secondary offerings. The great and powerful Ray Searage didn't hold up as well after a peak behind the curtain in 2016, one of the reasons Liriano's contract is on his way out of town with a pair of prospects, but Hutchison will provide another reclamation project for him to try and work his magic. For now, it sounds like Hutchison will head to Indianapolis where he will continue to stay warm as a sixth starter. —Jeffrey Paternostro
If you ignore the vowels, Ivan Nova is a palindrome. If you ignore the command and lack of a third pitch, if you only look at the starts where Nova is able to throw his curveball for strikes, Ivan Nova—6 feet, 5 inches tall, 234 lbs, with an easy delivery and a beautiful curveball—looks like a competent major-league starting pitcher. Alas, his name is no palindrome and his performance to date has rarely been that of a competent major-league starting pitcher. Nova posted an ERA of 5.07 last season in 94 innings in returning from Tommy John Surgery, and has followed that up with an ERA of 4.90 in 97 innings this season.
The Yankees, who went into full-out sell mode this trade deadline, had no need for the last two months of Nova’s contract, for they were not going anywhere and he was certainly not getting a qualifying offer at the end of the season. Why the Pirates, though, would want two months of Nova, let alone give up something to get him, is a bit of a head scratcher. So why acquire Nova if you are the Pirates?
For starters, his DRA indicates that he is better than his ERA—his previously mentioned ERA comes in at 102nd of the 127 pitchers who have thrown at least 75 innings this season, while his DRA of 4.09 comes in at 67th of 127. That is nice and all, but still? Well, from a DRA standpoint, Nova has actually been better than Liriano (DRA of 4.23) this season. Adding Nova, who will cost almost nothing, allows the Pirates to hedge, which is a perfectly reasonable strategy for a
How do you fix a pitcher with a 4.97 ERA and a 2.84 HR/9? I don’t know, but getting him out of Toronto and into the National League is a good start. The odds that Hutchison ever matters for those of us in mixed leagues are pretty slim, but if anyone can fix him and his grounder-inducing ways, it’s maybe Rick Searage. At least, that's what fantasy owners have left to dream on. Feel free to buy low on him in super deep leagues or NL-only formats. Just don’t hold your breath.
Ray Searage. National League. It’s worth a shot. Truth be told it’s been three seasons since Nova was serviceable, so this is a longshot. But that’s what Pittsburgh is all about. —Ben Carsley
Jeff Quinton is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @jjq01