The third in a multi-part series laying out what pieces are available to the Pittsburgh Pirates, how well they’ll mesh with the team, and what the Pirates may have to move in return… (Opening image Zack Greinke, Image credit uweblogsports)
Part 3: Available pitchers, and their suitability grade with the current team roster
B+ SP Cole Hamels (L), Philadelphia Phillies
2012 Season: 10-4, 3.20 ERA, 9.0 K/9
Hamels or Geinke. Take your pick for the best arm available at the deadline. Both are only 28, and utterly dominant. I gave Hamels the slight edge, simply due to most teams’ unwillingness to deal within their own divisions, and the fact that he’s a lefty made for PNC Park. Despite constantly living in the shadows of rotationmates Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and one-time mate Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels has been absolute gold for the past 3 seasons. In fact, subtracting his 4.32 ERA 2009 season as a statistical outlier, he hasn’t finished with an ERA above 3.39 since his rookie year of 2006. He’s the ace stud in almost any rotation outside of Philadelphia.
B+ SP Zack Greinke, Milwaukee Brewers
2012 Season: 9-3, 3.32 ERA, 9.0 K/9
A lot of people are talking Greinke to the Pirates, simply because the similarly small-market Brewers acquired him two years ago after a long run of losing themselves. The 6’2″ righty hasn’t disappointed, compiling a 25-9 cumulative record for Milwaukee over the past 2 seasons, propelling the Brewers through a hard-fought 6-game loss to the eventual World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Championship Series in 2011.
Like Hamels, Greinke is in the twilight of his current contract, set to expire at the end of the season. So the only reason these compatibility grades aren’t A’s isn’t due to a lack of talent- both pitchers would immediately become the best arms in the Pirates’ already-overachieving rotation- but rather due to a deficiency of adequate trade chips in return.
The Pirates do have them, but while they may be willing to part for #2 prospect SP Jameson Taillon and/or #3 prospect OF Starling Marte for at least 3 years’ worth of young Diamondbacks’ stud OF Justin Upton, it’s unlikely they’d ante up such chips for what’s assuredly a rental through October at the latest. Despite the Nutting ownership’s willingness to spend on the draft and international signings, Pirates’ fans are still a ways away from seeing the team compete for marquee free agents that could command upwards of $15,000,000-$20,000,000 a season.
C+ SP Ryan Dempster, Chicago Cubs
2012 Season: 4-3, 1.99 ERA, 7.3 K/9
After Hamels and Greinke, there’s a significant dropoff in quality, and hence a drop in compatibility grades. Dempster boasts a stellar, league-leading 1.99 ERA…but it comes attached to a 35-year old’s body, and an inconsistent handful of years that culminated in a 4.80 ERA in 2011. Dempster still strikes out a LOT of batters (over 200 in 2010), and on an expiring contract himself, would cost far less than Hamels or Greinke to acquire…yet the chance of him anchoring a rotation down the stretch is far less likely.
C SP Matt Garza, Chicago Cubs
2012 Season: 4-7, 4.32 ERA, 8.3 K/9
Despite a roster of big names, the Cubs are just so utterly terrible this year that they’re bound to be at the forefront of countless trade rumors. Garza has one arbitration year remaining, yet is already earning $9.5MM, so he’s a rather expensive option for a guaranteed contract in 2013, as his salary is bound to increase even further. After being traded from Tampa Bay for a bevy of prospects, Garza posted a very solid 2011, finishing 10-10 with a 3.32 ERA and 9.0 K/9. But in 2012, his ERA has risen a full run, while his K/9 has dropped slightly.
Like Dempster, SP that whiff nearly a batter an inning will never go out of style, or demand. But neither would be the staff ace the Pirates need to vault themselves into legitimate NL Pennant contention.
C SP Wandy Rodriguez (L), Houston Astros
2012 Season: 7-6, 3.38 ERA, 5.9 K/9
Had Rodriguez’s K/9 not dropped over each of the past five seasons (career high of 8.6 in 2008), he’d be a much more attractive option, as the 33-year old lefty is signed through 2013 at $11.3MM, with a 2014 team option. Despite the declining ability to miss bats, Rodriguez has consistently finished each year since 2008 with a 3.00-3.60 ERA and around a .500 record on Astros’ teams that haven’t been competitive since then.
Overall, I didn’t include anyrelief pitchers, because the Pirates’ pen has been so oustanding that I find it highly unlikely that they pursue any upgrades there. Despite the success of the rotation to date, I do believe they need to acquire another arm for the stretch run. The tradeoff is this: Hamels and Greinke are the clear, staff ace upgrades that would make the team an immediate contender. But the cost will be substantial, and the Pirates stand next to no chance at extending them beyond 2012.
Dempster, Garza, and Rodriguez would upgrade the middle of the rotation after A.J. Burnett and James McDonald, but would they be improvements enough over SP/RP Brad Lincoln, and AAA SP Rudy Owens, Jeff Locke, and Justin Wilson to be worth the prospects they’ll command in trade?
Only time will tell. It should be an interesting July, if GM Neal Huntington is serious about this team contending.
Thanks for reading. Follow me on Twitter @jim_krug