Pirates do Pirates at Deadline: Neat Little Moves

The Pirates seem to be perennial buyers at the trade deadline, and though there’s often pressure on the team to make the big move for an ace or a big first baseman, they usually make smaller moves that cost them less. So, in getting reliever Joakim Soria for infielder JaCoby Jones, lefty starter J.A. Happ from the Mariners for Adrian Sampson, and Michael Morse from the Dodgers for Jose Tabata, they spent this year’s trade deadline doing exactly what they’ve done in the past: working around the edges, making neat little moves.

Consider GM Neal Huntington’s moves over past deadlines.

35-year-old, retiring Derrek Lee for Aaron Baker
33-year-old, platoon outfielder Ryan Ludwick from San Diego for cash

33-year-old lefty starter Wandy Rodriguez for outfielder Robbie Grossman, left-handers Rudy Owens and Colton Cain

no moves (Justin Morneau and Marlon Byrd were done in August)

no moves

And then read what Huntington said to Travis Sawchick earlier this year:

“Teams that win the offseason don’t typically win the World Series, and the teams that win the trade deadline don’t typically win the World Series,” Huntington said. “Our goal is to put this club in a position to make the postseason and World Series not just this year but as many years into the future in possible. And the best way to ensure that doesn’t happen is to trade too many prospects too often.”

So, in essence, we could have predicted that the Pirates would act as they did. He hasn’t given up top prospects to get rentals or top players from other teams in the past, and he didn’t do so this year.

But he did improve his team. Especially around the edges.

J.A. Happ, Joe Blanton, and Joakim Soria replace Vance Worley, Deolis Guerra, and perhaps an injured starter on the roster. The ins may be only slightly better than the outs, but they do look like upgrades.

With A.J. Burnett’s fastball sitting under 90 in his last start, and closest prospects Nick Kingham and Jameson Taillon currently injured, Happ also represents a more theoretical upgrade over the sixth starter in Pittsburgh. Should Burnett head to the disabled list, Happ is capable enough of stepping in. He’d be a downgrade from Burnett but an upgrade from the Pirates’ best option:

A.J. Burnett 85 85 540 8.55 3.32 0.63 0.313 53.3% 9.5% 3.75 8.4
J.A. Happ 69 64 359.1 7.31 3.21 1.13 0.301 40.0% 10.3% 4.43 3.1
Joe Blanton 43 24 174.1 7.64 2.12 1.81 0.339 45.2% 18.0% 5.52 0.2

In the same way, Michael Morse provides a platoon mate at first base while Aramis Ramirez is still playing third base. When Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison return from injury, it’s still possible Ramirez ends up taking Morse’s job as the righty first baseman, but for now, Morse fills a role.

When they had righties like Gaby Sanchez, the Pirates found a way to stay out of the basement at first base by platooning there. This year, with Travis Ishikawa and Pedro Alvarez — both lefties — playing first for the team, they’ve gotten the worst production in the league from first base. For his career, Michael Morse is 20% better than league average against lefties.

A fully healthy team may not need Happ, nor might it need Morse. But it will need a better right-handed setup man than it’s had so far. No team has used fewer relievers than the Pirates this year (11), but that doesn’t mean the relievers they do have are all perfectly suited for their roles. Jared Hughes has been working as their latest non-closer righty, and Soria could improve that spot:

Joakim Soria 109 9.25 2.56 0.99 0.264 76.5% 44.9% 11.7% 3.22 1
Jared Hughes 141.2 5.65 2.92 0.44 0.283 76.5% 62.2% 8.3% 2.60 0.1

Among the prospects leaving town, JaCoby Jones was the highest rated, and he was given a 45 FV and ranked 13th on the Pirates list by Kiley McDaniel going into the season. This is the key paragraph in that writeup:

Jones is big and has plus speed and an above average to plus arm, so the tools and athleticism are there, but I’d guess he still ends up fitting best at third base in the end. For a kid with a raw approach at the plate, Jones puts on a polished show in BP, with above average raw power to all fields and an easy swing. Jones performed well in Low-A last year, but struck out more than you’d like to see while one of the older prospects in the league; some guys can make that work at higher levels, but very few.

So the Pirates gave up a faded older role player in Jose Tabata, a fringe righty in Triple-A in Adrian Sampson, and an old-for-his-level maybe player in JaCoby Jones. And for that, they improved the worst first base situation in the league, got a righty setup man with almost twice as many strikeouts per batter as their current guy, and received a credible sixth starter at a moment when one of their best starters is showing his age.

Neat little moves, Neal Huntington, once again.

We hoped you liked reading Pirates do Pirates at Deadline: Neat Little Moves by Eno Sarris!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

newest oldest most voted

I do think Soria represents a nice upgrade to the bullpen, but I don’t want to sell Jared Hughes short this year. He’s had a great season, especially since June. That said, in an ideal situation, he’s a great fixer-upper bullpen guy. He’ll almost certainly be Hurdle’s go to guy when a starter can’t get through their last inning and they’ve got runners on. He induces a lot of ground balls, and is the guy you want if you’re looking for a double play.

I’m perfectly fine with the Blanton and Morse moves, I just don’t understand the Happ trade at all.


I don’t think Soria is an upgrade to Hughes at all. Sub-2 ERA in consecutive years more than statistical noise given the team’s well-known defensive philosophy.

To me, the real cost of these trades isn’t the prospect cost – which were fairly minor – but players like Worley and potentially Caminero who still have upside and might be gone.