Let’s be frank here in regard to the Pirates’ trade deadline deals — everyone had some level of disdain toward them.
Whether it was sending mixed signals selling on closer Mark Melancon then buying on New York Yankees pitcher Ivan Nova, or the debacle that was the Francisco Liriano, Reese McGuire and Harold Ramirez for Drew Hutchison trade, it would be hard to find anyone completely on-board with what the Pirates did.
But what a difference a month makes.
As a preface, this isn’t to say every move Pittsburgh made has worked out swimmingly. The Pirates might have been able to get more prospect-wise for Melancon. And were two top-10 prospects really necessary to shed Liriano’s salary?
Getting reliever Felipe Rivero for Melancon can’t even be considered a selling move at this point. Aside from saves — which Rivero hasn’t had a chance to get for the Pirates — the two are almost identical. Rivero has given up one earned run through 16 innings, Melancon one through 15. Rivero has one walk, Melancon two. But Rivero has nine more strikeouts.
Sure, Tony Watson has had his ups and downs as the Pirates’ closer. But Rivero hasn’t only been lights out, he also has years of control left.
Rivero’s success in the majors indirectly makes the Nova deal make more sense, because it now can be definitively said the Pirates were looking to be buyers at the deadline.
Outfielder Tito Polo and left handed pitcher Stephen Tarpley went to the Yankees in the deal that brought Nova to Pittsburgh. So far, Nova has been worth those two.
Aside from having the coolest name in baseball, Polo didn’t have much of a future in Pittsburgh with Gregory Polanco, Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and prospect Austin Meadows locked in the outfield spots.
Tarpley’s slow development suggested he might only be a backend starter. Adding left-handed pitcher Taylor Hearn (who came to Pittsburgh with Rivero from the Washington Nationals in the Melancon trade) softens losing Tarpley.
Nova’s acquisition has kept the Pirates in the hunt for the NL wildcard — Nova is 4-0 with a 2.87 ERA and has an impressive one walk in five starts. With Gerrit Cole’s recent struggles landing him on the disabled list, Nova is probably the favorite to start the Wildcard game, assuming the Pirates get that far. Liriano, by contrast, is 1-1 with a 3.97 ERA in four starts.
Still, it’s hard to call the move to bring Nova to the Steel City a complete win. There’s a real chance the Pirates could miss the playoffs entirely, and then Nova cashes in elsewhere in free agency. That makes losing two future trade assets hard to swallow.
But this is where the Liriano trade comes into play.
No matter how it’s sliced, the Pirates dealt top-10 prospects to cut salary. Shedding salary is never going to be an easy sell to Pirates fans, especially when it involves prospects. Ramirez and McGuire might not have been future starters in Pittsburgh, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t have value elsewhere.
While it would still be questionable to move Ramirez and McGuire to help make that deal work, using the saved money toward keeping Nova will go a long way in Pittsburgh helping its cause.
After losing J.A. Happ last season and Edinson Volquez the year before, the Pirates would be wise to pursue Nova in the offseason.
Say what you will about Happ’s peripheral numbers that indicate his record and ERA shouldn’t be where they are, but 17-4 with a 3.24 ERA on Sept. 1 is still 17-4 with a 3.24 ERA on Sept. 1. Even if he flames out over the last month, he still gave Toronto five quality months, which is more than anyone can say about the pitchers the Pirates added last winter.
They simply cannot make the same mistake they made last offseason with pitching.
Happ wasn’t signed, and quality starting pitchers weren’t pursued because Pittsburgh banked on guys like Jeff Locke, Ryan Vogelsong and Juan Nicasio not being bad enough to tank the season until June, when guys like Tyler Glasnow could come up. Not only were Locke, Nicasio and trade acquisition Jon Niese so bad none are in the rotation, Liriano fell off the map, and Cole and Vogelsong struggled with injuries. To make things worse, Glasnow still isn’t ready.
Rookie pitchers Jameson Taillon and Chad Kuhl have both been positive additions to the rotation, but the Pirates’ depth has still failed them.
The team will be in a similar situation next year with Cole, Taillon and Kuhl the closest things to locks in the rotation, with the hope Hutchison and Glasnow can round the rotation out.
Glasnow doesn’t appear to be any closer to being ready; he went on the disabled list after struggling with his command in a short trip up to the majors, and Hutchison has been dreadful in Triple-A.
Not pursuing Nova — or any other starters, for that matter — under the guise that Hutchison and Glasnow will all of a sudden be performing at a high level come June is the very definition of insanity. Then, if Locke is non-tendered and Vogelsong isn’t re-signed, Steven Brault and Trevor Williams are the only quality depth options if injuries or lackluster performances occur.
If the Pirates are really building toward next year in the hopes that it will be a breakout year, they simply cannot have their pitching depth be that thin.
With Nova and the cash to keep him, Pittsburgh sowed the seeds of having a stronger rotation next season at this year’s deadline.
It’s time to make it rain.
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