For the second straight year, the Pittsburgh Pirates find themselves in the thick of the NL Central race. In 2011, the acquisitions of Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick turned out to be rentals that did nothing to help their disastrous second half. Pirates GM Neal Huntington has been busy again this past week, making four different trades. How did he fare this time around?
1) Wandy Rodriguez for three minor leaguers – It might seem like a big price for a middle-of-the-rotation starter, but Houston kicked in a fair amount of cash in order to obtain better quality prospects. The Pirates are waist-deep in pitching prospects. While you can make a case that the Pirates did not need Rodriguez, they didn’t surrender any of those top prospects to get him. As a bonus, acquiring Rodriguez means that other pitching-needy teams (Braves, Cardinals, D-Backs) don’t get him either. The Pirates’ rotation may not be overpowering, but it’s plenty sturdy.
2) Travis Snider for Brad Lincoln – It might seem like Snider has been around for 10 years, but he’s only 24, and two seasons removed from hitting 14 home runs in about a half-season worth of at-bats for the Toronto Blue Jays. He has consistently mashed in the minors, including in Triple-A this season: 13 HR, 56 RBI, 1.021 OPS for Las Vegas. With Edgar Encarnacion and Adam Lind in place, Snider is left without a regular place to play. The Pirates are a perfect landing spot for him. While it may be asking too much to jump right in and offer lineup protection for Andrew McCutchen, Snider has solid run-producer potential. The fact that Snider isn’t just a two-month rental shows that GM Neal Huntington has his eye on the future as well as 2012. In Lincoln, the Pirates are losing a useful bullpen arm who has seen huge jumps in his K/9 and K/BB ratios. Lincoln, 27, could be enjoying a breakout season, but it also seems reasonable to expect a correction in his numbers moving to the AL East.
3) Gaby Sanchez and Kyle Kaminska for Gorkys Hernandez and a competitive balance draft pick – In 2010-11, Sanchez compiled 38 HR, 163 RBI and 144 runs scored. Not spectacular numbers, but certainly useful. In 2012, Sanchez bottomed out, tallying an awful .556 OPS before being sent down. At age 28, Sanchez obviously no longer qualifies as a prospect, but if he can regain his prior form, he will provide an upgrade at first. At worst, he should be a decent part-timer (.298/.390./.488 against lefties). The Marlins get the Pirates’ competitive-balance draft pick, which will be the 33rd overall next year, per Jim Callis of Baseball America. Hernandez and Kaminska are thrown-ins, essentially.
4) Chad Qualls for Casey McGehee – Qualls, a veteran of several pennant races, presumably replaces Lincoln in the Bucco bullpen. McGehee had been a part-time player – and not a very productive one at that (88 OPS+) – before the Snider/Sanchez deals, so he was entirely expendable. Compared to Lincoln, Qualls is a downgrade, but the Pirates are hoping to get Juan Cruz back in August to help take up the slack from Lincoln’s trade.
After the deals, let’s take a peek at the Pirates’ lineup and rotation:
The only thing Huntington has not yet addressed is the gaping black hole at shortstop. How Clint Barmes still has an every day job in the majors defies reason. Stephen Drew or Marco Scutaro would have been perfect fits, both offensively and defensively (then again, Jose Lind might represent an improvement over Barmes at the plate).
In all, though, the Buccos’ dealings should prove more productive, not only the rest of this season but into 2013 and beyond. Whether it’s enough to catch the Reds and continue to hold off the Cardinals remains to be seen; however, it seems clear that the Pirates are on the verge of snapping their 20-year run of sub-.500 finishes.