By John Franco
After Jeff Samardjzia threw a 2-hit shutout against the Pirates last night, and while Paul Maholm and Carlos Marmol were holding them to one run on five hits tonight, GM Neal Huntington finalized a trade for… a pitcher. Specifically, the Pirates traded Colton Cain, Rudy Owens, and Robbie Grossman to the Astros for 33-year old Wandy Rodriguez. Since it would be a shame for the Pirates to spend three prospects and a boatload of cash to miss the playoffs, Huntington needs to address their more pressing need: a significant offensive upgrade. Since this great season was unexpected, Huntington also needs to weigh the value of a 1-year rental against the likelihood that the Pirates will also need a big bat for 2013 and beyond.
This is a tricky post to write, because the players on the trade block have been coming and going very quickly. Carlos Quentin signed a 3-year extension with the Padres. The Diamondbacks are now unlikely to trade Justin Upton.
The Pirates’ biggest need is in left field. Alex Presley is just 4-for-28 since returning from the 7-day concussion DL in mid-July, and sports a .270 OBP for the season. With Neil Walker, Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez providing most of the offense, the Bucs really need someone to set the table for them, and Presley isn’t getting the job done.
The Phillies have made Shane Victorino (.253/.316/.386) available, and he would be a good fit in the leadoff spot despite his middling numbers. Victorino is making $9.5 million this year and would be a free agent at the end of the year. It’s very unlikely that the Pirates would get any compensation as a result of his free agency, but that does help to lower his cost.
Victorino’s teammate, Hunter Pence, has also been mentioned as a trade candidate. Pence (.268/.336/.453 with 17 home runs) wouldn’t be a fit as a leadoff hitter, but would add another legitimate power threat to the lineup. I believe that Pence is under team control for 2013 (he’d be arbitration eligible) so he would likely cost the Pirates one of their big three prospects.
With Quentin off the market, his teammate Will Venable has drawn some interest. His numbers (.243/.315/.398) look a lot like Victorino’s, and his skills are similar. He is a completely different hitter away from Petco (.286/.354/.519 this year) and has at least 3 years of team control remaining, so he’s a tough player to value, assuming he really is available. The team control is nice, but the Pirates already have Jose Tabata as a (hopefully) adequate, cheap outfielder under control for a while, so they would have to believe in Venable’s ability to be a dynamic player in order to part with a big-time prospect.
Venable’s teammate, Chase Headley, has been shopped aggressively by the Padres. His natural position (third base) is one of the few areas of strength for the Pirates, but he could be useful as an outfielder or first baseman. Headley would be under team control until 2014, so his price would also be high.
If the Pirates are willing to make another major investment after the Wandy deal, they could purse Josh Willingham or Michael Cuddyer. Both players signed lucrative 3-year deals before the 2012 season ($21 million and $31.5 million, respectively) and are playing for teams that are a long way from contention.
Beyond these names, there are plenty of players the Pirates could ask about. How about Jacoby Ellsbury (free agent after 2013) from the Red Sox? I don’t think Jeff Francouer is an upgrade for the Pirates, but I know they’ve asked about his teammate Billy Butler. Maybe a shortstop, like longshots Jimmy Rollins and Stephen Drew? The possibilities are endless, and with a week to go before the deadline, the only thing the Pirates can’t do is stand pat.