In the midst of an 11-game winning streak, the Pittsburgh Pirates have gone from perennial sellers, to possible buyers before the July 31 trade deadline.
While 11 games shouldn’t decide what the Pirates do one way or the other, the paly of the Pirates in this stretch of play through late July is really forcing Neal Huntington’s hand as far as adding to the current roster goes.
Ideally, the Pirates add a starter and a reliever. Below, you’ll find my top five trade deadline targets for the Battlin’ Buccos here in the final week before the trade deadline.
J.A. Happ, SP, Toronto
A familiar face, Happ would be a great add to a Pirates rotation looking not only for lefty arm, but a back end of the rotation guy with obvious strikeout prowess.
This season, through 20 starts, Happ is posting his highest K/9 mark of his career, coming in at 10.26, while posting the second lowest BB/9 (2.76) of his career as well. He’s pounding the zone, getting a bunch of swings and misses, and trusting his defense behind him.
Aside from the K and BB numbers per nine innings, Happ’s BABIP is the second lowest of his big league career as well, coming in at .284, a major improvement from .302 in 2017. His HR/FB rate is a bit high (14.2 percent) and his ERA is paying the price for that at 4.18 through 20 starts, but his FIP tells a different story, as Happ comes in at 3.84, which is a great mark for a starting pitching in the American League, let alone the American League East with the Yankees and Red Sox.
While it would be unfair to expect the same dominance Happ showed in the summer of 2015 as a member of the Pirates, he’d be a reasonable add to a hot team looking to acquire a veteran pitcher for the stretch run.
Jake Diekman, RP, Texas
Right now, all the buzz for a left-handed reliever surrounds Zach Britton, but Texas Rangers left-hander Jake Diekman might be better in the end, and cheaper to acquire too.
Through 335.2 innings, Diekman sports a 3.28 ERA, 3.38 FIP, 2.1 K/BB, 1.43 WHIP, and allows a 95 mph+ batted ball just 34.4 percent of the time. He’s been overlooked in Texas, but he’s been pretty darn good.
Diekman rarely gives up a flyball (6.5 percent of the time) and induces a groundball nearly 46 percent of the time.
Diekman is a rental, but he came into the year making just $2.7 million, so he shouldn’t be owed that much for the second half of the season. It’s an under-the-radar move, but one that could pay off in a big way down the stretch for the Pirates.
Mike Fiers, SP, Detroit
In the starting pitching market this summer, one guy that seems to be forgotten quite a bit when it comes to the discussion of good starting pitchers available, Fiers gets overlooked time and time again.
The power righty has bounced back in a big way this season in Motown, turning in a 3.49 ERA in 19 starts for one of the worst teams in baseball. However, Fiers’s FIP tells a different story, as it’s at 4.57 on the year.
The key with Fiers this year is he’s cut down on his walk issues, dropping his BB/9 from 3.64 last season with Houston to 1.95 this season as a starter with the Tigers. He might not move the needle initially for the fan base, but he has experience pitching in the NL Central, and could be a viable bullpen option for the Pirates should they add another starter, or call up Brandon Waddell or Mitch Keller later this season.
Adam Conley, RP, Miami
A failed starter for the Marlins, Conley has found himself back in the big leagues with a new role as a reliever. Conley has pitched just 14.2 innings out of the pen, so it’s a very small sample size, but his K-rate and GB-rate are up big time, while his walk rate has improved substantially.
Two things have been the cause for such a big improvement for Conley. The lanky lefty has added just over 5 mph on his fastball, which is up from his previous 89-91 mph as a starter. Conley has credited his uptick in velocity to an improved release point.
With it being such a small sample size, Conley could be bought for cheap since the Marlins are selling once again.
Mychal Givens, RP, Baltimore
This is my clear-cut darkhorse for the Pirates at the trade deadline. It’s unclear if the Orioles will sell off Givens, who could slide into the closers role right away now that Zach Britton was dealt to the Yankees, and Brad Brach is expected to go as well.
However, Givens is a reliever having a down year, so some team could come in with an offer for the Orioles that they might not be able to refuse, considering the state of the major league team and farm system in Baltimore.
Givens’s numbers show he has deserved better this year. His ERA is a bloated 4.50, but his FIP comes in at 2.70, which is lower than the ERA he posted last season. Givens strikes out nearly 11 hitters per nine innings, but his walks are up this season, hovering around 4.14 walks per nine innings in a trying season for the Orioles.
One of the biggest causes of Givens’s jump in numbers this year is the .348 BABIP against this season, which is way up from the .251 he posted last season. He’s been unlucky, and has had a bad defense behind him. A change of scenery could do him some good.
Obviousy, I left Texas Rangers closer Keona Kela off this list. While I’m very high on the player, I don’t think it’s very realistic that the Pirates would trade a big enough package for a closer who won’t close for Pittsburgh, and is under control for just two more years. It’s just not really their way of operating, but it would be a great addition to the bullpen, putting the Pirates right up there with the top ‘pens in the game.
Aside from trading for a reliever, the Pirates should kick the tires on veteran reliever Santiago Casilla, whom the Oakland Athletics waived recently. Casilla sports a 3.16 ERA, and hasn’t allowed a home run all season long in 31.1 innings of work. He strikes out nearly seven hitters per inning, but he struggles with walks. That being said, he doesn’t give up many hits, sporting a .209 BABIP against. If the Pirates want to be conservative at the deadline yet still add, Casilla makes a ton of sense.