Follow me on Twitter @jim_krug (Opening image Mark Reynolds, credit xosports)
Last week’s unfortunate 3-game sweep at the hands of the equally upstart Baltimore Orioles called to mind 2 things for me:
1. I long for a true geographic MLB realignment some day. The energy accompanying any Pirates’ contest with the Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians, or Philadelphia Phillies is too strong to ignore.
2. The Orioles have been far more effective than the Pirates at plucking productive hitting veterans off the MLB scrap heap.
Consider the run generation Baltimore is receiving from all of the following, under circumstances in which any of these players could’ve been wearing black-and-gold right now instead.
3B Chris Davis– .288, 12 HR, .842 OPS
The Orioles acquired he and SP Tommy Hunter from the Texas Rangers last year, in a deadline deal for RP Koji Uehara. Uehara is a great short reliever, but during a July, 2011 deadline that saw multiple RP net great returns, it’s likely the Pirates’ own CL Joel Hanrahan could’ve fetched similar value.
1B/OF Steve Pearce– .297, .777 OPS
Pearce could easily come back to Earth, but the righty absolutely battered his former team during the Orioles’ 3-game sweep, going 5 for 12 with a home run and 6 RBI. Baltimore acquied him from the Yankees for nothing more than cash. Pearce continues in a long line of Pirates’ power hitting prospects, which the team tired of quickly. Other names include Brad Eldred, J.R. House, and Jose Bautista. In most cases, it hasn’t hurt the Pirates, as House is now out of baseball, while Eldred just signed on with a Japanese League team today. But as Pirates’ fans know all too cruelly, Bautista became arguably the premier power hitter in all of baseball after being traded to Toronto for a quickly-disposed-of backup catcher.
As a fan, it’s incredibly frustrating to see the Pirates loyally devote season after season to total offensive black holes like former SS Jack Wilson, and current (hopefully soon to be former) SS Clint Barmes, and Cs Mike McKenry and Rod Barajas, while having such a short hook for young power bats, despite the generally longer time period it takes for them to develop at the MLB level.
3B/DH Mark Reynolds– .357 OBP, 5HR, .770 OPS
The huge knock against Reynolds are his strikeout totals- he’s led the league 4 years running. But if that doesn’t scare a team off, they’re well-primed to enjoy his home run totals- 28, 44, 32, 37 during that same time period. Reynolds has a career 110 OPS+ and .812 OPS (numbers that would put him 2nd on the Pirates, behind only Andrew McCutchen), and the Orioles acquired him for a pair of fairly fungible relievers, after the Arizona Diamondbacks grew tired of the strikeouts.
SS JJ Hardy– 11 HR, 95 OPS+
I’ll be honest here- outside of the home runs, Hardy isn’t doing well for the Orioles right now (.289 OBP), and does cost $7.41MM a year, which is a big part of the reason the Minnesota Twins let he and UTIL Brendan Harris depart for Baltimore for only a pair of non-prospects in return. But he’s still of infinitely more value than the Pirates are currently receiving for the $5.5MM they’re paying for Clint Barmes to post an abysmal 38 OPS+ (a number I didn’t even think was possible).
Plus, Baltimore enjoyed a 30 HR, .801 OPS season from Hardy in 2011, so he has afforded them substantial bang for their buck, especially considering he plays the most difficult position on the diamond at which to find power. He’s also 4 years younger than Barmes, and still has a much higher ceiling.
Overall, none of these players cost the Orioles much at all to acquire, yet all are paying substantial dividends, and are a large part of the reason Baltimore is surprisingly challenging in the most contested division in all of baseball. Contrast that with the Pirates, who not only are receiving little production from their scrap heap additions, but in the cases of Barmes, Barajas, and INF Casey McGehee (who I really thought would be better), they are directly hindering the team. Frankly, OF Garrett Jones (.734 OPS in 2012) is GM Neal Huntington’s only offensive scrap heap addition during his tenure that can remotely be considered a consistent contributor.
Many Pirates’ fans are convinced that good hitters cannot be acquired for next to nothing. Unfortunately, that’s only because the Pirates are quite terrible at doing so. Thanks for reading.