After having a day to think it over, we break down the Pittsburgh Pirates trade of Francisco Liriano and prospects to the Blue Jays.
It’s been one day since the Pittsburgh Pirates made one of the more confusing trades in recent franchise history. Yesterday, in one of the last deals to be revealed once the non-waiver trade deadline passed, we discovered that the Pittsburgh Pirates traded away Francisco Liriano and his full salary both this season and next, along with prospects Harold Ramirez and Reese McGuire, to the Toronto Blue Jays for 25-year-old right-handed starting pitcher Drew Hutchison. For our full coverage of the news, make sure to check out our post from yesterday.
Twitter exploded once the full deal was revealed. Most called it a salary dump. Many questioned the inclusion of prospects in the deal. Others had no idea who this Drew Hutchison was. And almost all were shocked and confused. Fans have the right to feel however they please, and I have no qualms with the response from any of them. I was confused myself. Even those that staunchly defend the Pirates and their front office to the bitter end found this trade questionable at best.
But let’s take the time to try to rationalize this deal the best we can. Let’s try to determine if the Pirates are better off in the short-term in their chase for a playoff spot, and how the team will look in the long-term. Let’s see what Drew Hutchison brings to the table, and what the Pirates have lost in Harold Ramirez and Reese McGuire. Ultimately, let’s figure out where the Pirates go from here.
Pirates won’t miss Liriano
So the headline piece in this deal is Francisco Liriano and his departure. Liriano was having one of the worst seasons of his career and had the second-worst ERA in a full season in his career. By ESPN’s measure of WAR, Liriano’s -0.7 would be the worst mark of his career. There were various signs throughout the season that Liriano’s downswing was one that could not be fixed, and the Pirates wanted to get rid of him before his salary became virtually un-tradeable. There were reports that Liriano wasn’t taking Ray Searage’s advice, and many experts and scouts noticed that batters weren’t chasing Liriano’s stuff outside of the zone anymore, making his devastating slider not-so-devastating anymore. Liriano seemingly had become un-fixable, and the Pirates moved on from him.
The Pirates won’t miss Liriano, or at least this year’s version of him. His spot will be taken in the rotation by new addition Ivan Nova, who is having a better season than Liriano this year. I believe that the Pirates will be better off this season with Liriano’s spot taken in the rotation by Nova, even if Nova doesn’t improve under Searage’s tutelage. Even when Liriano had a few good starts recently, he followed them up with a couple of poor ones. He wasn’t going to improve this season, and the Pirates are better off in the short-term with Nova instead of Liriano in the rotation this season.
Pirates may miss their prospects, though
The additions of Harold Ramirez and Reese McGuire in this deal was what really confused everyone. I’m sure Neal Huntington’s justification for doing so was that the Pirates have the depth in their system and dealt from a position of strength, which is what he said yesterday after the deal was made:
I don’t have an issue with trading away these prospects. There’s a good chance that Ramirez would never fit into the Pirates’ major league plans. Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco have two outfield positions locked down for the long-term, and Austin Meadows is looking to be the replacement for Andrew McCutchen whenever he goes. The only shot Ramirez had with the Pirates was either as a fourth outfielder or if Meadows flops.
McGuire, on the other hand, seemed to be the catcher of the future, despite the fact that he hasn’t been great offensively in the minors. We know that Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart have the catcher positions locked down in the short-term, and Elias Diaz could take over for Stewart next season as the back-up, and potentially after Cervelli in a few years. But who backs up Diaz then? And what if Diaz doesn’t pan out? He’s far from a sure thing, and he’s not an elite prospect. McGuire seems to have a higher upside than Diaz. McGuire is also stellar defensively, and offense has become a bonus for catchers in this day and age. Plus, the Pirates have had so many problems recently with catching depth that McGuire could have been needed sooner rather than later.
In the end, I don’t think the Pirates will miss either Ramirez or McGuire. The Pirates outfield is set for the future barring something catastrophic, and the team has discovered a way in the past few seasons of finding exceptional catchers, whether through free agency or trade. However, where the Pirates may miss these two prospects is in potential future trades. These two could have been used in a different trade for a better player than Drew Hutchison, or as part of a package for something other than seemingly a salary dump. For a GM that never trades away top prospects, the inclusion of two in this deal is certainly surprising.
Hutchison will be make an impact with the Pirates
One reason for frustration with this deal was due to the fact that no one knew anything about Drew Hutchison besides his name. Then, when we looked at his stats, we see an ERA of 4.97 this season, a career ERA of 4.92, and a guy that is currently pitching in Triple-A. Not very intriguing to say the least.
But as we look further into the former Blue Jays pitcher, we can see a few things that could point to his success in Pittsburgh. For one, if the Pirates keep Hutchison in Triple-A Indianapolis until August 30th, they gain an extra year of control with him. That means the Pirates would have Hutchison under control through 2019. With how expensive starting pitching is becoming, this could be a bargain.
Hutchison also has shown that he has the ability to be successful. From 2010 through 2012, Hutchison dominated the minor leagues, with ERAs of 2.49 (2010), 2.53 (2011), and 2.11 (2012) before his call up at the end of 2012. He posted high strikeout rates and low walk rates in each season as well. And in his first half-season in the bigs, he didn’t pitch terribly, posting the always-tough 4.60 ERA in a tough AL East. But since that point, Hutchison has fallen off, at least in terms of results, but I’m still intrigued. He still posts high strikeout rates and low walks rates at the major league level, and he’s still young. Unfortunately, he doesn’t better the team this season, but should be a quality back-end of the rotation pitcher for the Pirates next season, with the ability to be much more than that. The acquisition of Hutchison was a move made with an eye on the long-term, not the short-term. Was he worth two top-ten prospects like Huntington claims he was? I find that hard to believe.
The last piece of this deal was salary relief for the Pirates, both for the remainder of this season and next. I don’t see the money saved this season being used to benefit the team much, but $13 million saved next year could prove valuable. Unfortunately, the free agent starting pitching market isn’t pretty this off-season, so it will be interesting to see how that money is used. Maybe it goes to an extension for a current player (Gerrit Cole perhaps? Unlikely, I know), or maybe the Pirates target one quality starting pitcher in free agency. I could see an Opening Day rotation next season of Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow, Drew Hutchison, and an external addition being a high-upside rotation with the potential for greatness, and the Pirates would have Chad Kuhl and Steven Brault as depth options. Then again, we have to see this money spent first to believe it.
It’s easy to find the reasoning behind this deal: the Pirates wanted to save money on Francisco Liriano for next season so they can spend it this off-season, they wanted to add a back-end starter that was under control in the future, and they could deal prospects that they didn’t see as having a future with the big league team. But just because you can rationalize a deal doesn’t mean it was a good one. I think there were other ways to get rid of Liriano’s salary, including letting him finish the year and hoping he rebounds, or waiting until the off-season to trade him when the starting pitching market is barren. I would have also been okay with just Ivan Nova as the only starting pitcher addition at the deadline. I just think this deal wasn’t the only one possible for Neal Huntington, and that he was forced to make a crazy deal because he wanted to shed salary before this deadline. A wait-and-see approach could have accomplished shedding the salary while making a much more reasonable deal. Then again, only time will tell how this deal as a whole will play out.
Image Credit – Daniel Decker Photography