(Opening image credit, usatoday)
Bleary-eyed but excited East Coast baseball fans are being treated to an Interleague series that hasn’t connected since 2007, kicking off last night as SP Gerrit Cole and the Pittsburgh Pirates defeated Jered Weaver and the LA Angels 5-2. With the solstice officially ushering in summer and the heat of pennant races, Angel Stadium of Anaheim is hosting 2 teams at very different places not only in the standings, but also in terms of build, and expectation fulfillment.
Surprising everyone around baseball with a 44-30 record to date, the Pirates are one of the worst offensive teams in baseball, but attribute their start to dominant starting pitching and work from the bullpen. Trailing only the Atlanta Braves by 0.01, the Pirates’ staff is 2nd in all of baseball in ERA, 1st in Batting Average Against (BAA), and 1st in shutouts by a wide margin.
Their disappointing season exceeding even that of the much-hyped Washington Nationals, the LA Angels are loaded with star power (and the epic contracts needed to acquire star power) offensively, yet after last night’s loss, sit 8 games under .500 at 33-41.
Perhaps the adage of “good pitching beating good hitting” rings true, as the Halos are saddled with the 27th-ranked ERA in MLB, and sit 25th in BAA. A particularly crushing blow was the loss of staff ace Weaver for the first 2.5 months of the season. When last year’s 20-game winner did return, he hasn’t looked nearly as effective (1-4, 4.65 ERA), and the normally dormant Bucco bats took advantage of Weaver’s rust last night.
Realizing the Pirates’ Achilles’ Heel to contention is their abysmal offense, a Pirate fan can’t help but greedily marvel at the collection of bats the Angels have assembled. Los Angeles is 9th in runs, 7th in batting average, 6th in OBP, and 7th in SLG. Entering last night’s game, the Halos had all of the following regulars over .800 OPSs:
Mike Trout (.939)
Peter Bourjos (.851)
Howie Kendrick (.834)
Mark Trumbo (.830)
Frankly, the only barrier preventing the Angels’ ascent to the top of every conceivable offensive category are the struggles of two of the game’s best hitters, Albert Pujols (.794) and offseason free agent prize Josh Hamilton (.640).
So if the Angels continue to falter come late July, could the Pirates pry one of these bats away?
Mike Trout– Impossible. Trout is the closest thing to “untouchable” in the Major Leagues today. Phenomenal talent.
Albert Pujols– Full no-trade clause; contract size would keep Pirates’ ownership awake at night.
Josh Hamilton– See Pujols, Albert.
Peter Bourjos– Unfortunately plays a CF position where the Pirates are incredibly deep (Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte if needed). Plus, would a contender be acquiring the Bourjos of 2011 and 2013 (116 and 140 OPS+ respectively) or 2010 and 2012 (69 and 72 OPS+).
Howie Kendrick– Can block trades to 12 clubs this season, but it’s unknown as to whether the Pirates are a member of that list of disapproval. However, the secondbaseman is a nearly identical career hitter to Pirates’ 2B Neil Walker, making a deal highly unlikely.
Mark Trumbo- By far the most likely of the bunch, Trumbo is passable defensively, but far from the leathermen GM Neal Huntington and Manager Clint Hurdle covet. Still, Trumbo plays two positions of great need for the Pirates offensively (1B and RF), is only 27, and- despite the far greater star power in Anaheim- has arguably been the Angels’ most consistent hitter over the past 3 seasons, posting OPS+ of 114 (2011), 124 (2012), and a 131-clip this season. Trumbo is perhaps the best power bat in the game whom nobody talks about.
However, production of that level comes at a price, and it would cost the Pirates at least 1-2 marquee prospects to land the 6’4″ righty masher. Still, Trumbo could make an intriguing backup plan if the Buccos truly do inquire about Miami OF Giancarlo Stanton, but are rebuffed by the price.
Thanks for reading.