Joe Boyd – Now that we have one of these trade talks under our belts, it’s time to move on to the next potential trade piece, and that’s Richard Rodriguez. RichRod is the quintessential dominant closer, at least in 2021. The only issue? There are not many games for him to close out. So he would serve the Pirates best by being a trade piece. He has been phenomenal this season, and if we look at Baseball Savant, we can see that he’s in the 100th percentile for eXpected Batting Average, eXpected ERA, and in the 99th percentile for walk rate. Those are some pretty amazing numbers! There’s something else that’s equally exciting about RichRod and that’s that he is controllable beyond this season. If the Pirates are to trade RichRod, the return will be higher considering the fact that it will not be a two month rental. In fact, he is arbitration eligible through the 2023 season.
Justin Verno – This is likely to be one of the harder trades to evaluate and predict, so it’s no surprise it might be the most fun to delve into. And if anyone is to hurl insults our way over predicting a closer’s return, I am okay with that.
JB – When trying to determine RichRod’s value, I want to take a similar approach to how we analyzed Frazier’s value in the first segment, but I also want to look at some historical trades involving controllable relievers from the recent past. So let’s start with the surplus value.
Rodriguez has been a force this season and has already produced 0.9 WAR from the reliever spot. That projects to about a 3.0 WAR pace. He has already blown past his ZiPS projection for 2021 (0.4 WAR), so that is not even a reasonable lower bound number. I think a comfortable range from Rodriguez would be 1.4 – 3.0 WAR. So with that range, I think it’s fair to put RichRod at a total 2021 WAR of 2.3, and since he is controllable for the 2022 and 2023 seasons, we tap ZiPS future projections for his future WAR. And the last portion of the equation is estimated arbitration numbers for the 2022 and 2023 seasons. Based again on The Point of Pittsburgh, those estimates come out to about $3.17M for 2022 and $4.13M for 2023. Add that to his salary for 2021, and his total estimated salary is $9M.
Remember how I did not want to mess with Frazier’s projection, and that I would leave it up to the professionals for the future projections? Well, here I’m going to take a bit of creative freedom and give RichRod a bit of a bump. I think a fair expectation, taking into account age, would be a bump to 1.0 WAR in 2022 and 0.9 WAR in 2023. This bump will add a bit to his arbitration numbers, so we’ll bump those up slightly, as well:
Now that we have put Rodriguez’s Surplus Value in a realistic range, $9M-$14.6M, let’s take a look at some similar trades for relievers.
In my attempts to see what kind of value a controllable reliever typically nets, I found this interesting article from Baseball America from 2019. Gone are the days of the major hauls of the Andrew Miller or Aroldis Chapman deals, but an interesting comp did arise from the article. In 2018, the Astros traded RHP Jorge Alcala (#8 in HOU System, 40 FV) and CF Gilberto Celestino (#20 in HOU System, 40 + FV) for Ryan Pressley. Pressley had 3.5 years of control remaining. Another trade that you may be familiar with, Keone Kela (2.5 years of control) to Pittsburgh for Taylor Hearn (#7 in PIT System, 45 FV) and 3B/1B Sherten Apostel (#16 in PIT System, 40 FV) to Texas. One final comparison, Mychel Givens (1.5 years of control) to COL for 1B Nevin (40 FV) & 2B Vavra (45 FV).
When you look at these prospect packages, you will note that we are not seeing top of the farm prospects any longer. In fact, the market for relievers has come down quite a bit, but it is still reasonable and to be expected to receive two top 20 prospects from a system. The value in the Pressly deal is about $5.0M, the prospects shipped out of Pittsburgh for Kela are valued around $6M, and the prospects sent from Colorado totaled a value of $8M.
JV- Those trade examples are a good reason why a lot of Bucco fans will get upset, as they are expecting a Chapman or Miller-esque return.
A few things to keep in mind on RichRod:
He’s not LH.
He isn’t that flame throwing, high heat guy.
These two things matter for GMs. I’m not saying RichRod won’t bring a good return, he will, but I do want to express the belief that BC isn’t getting multiple top 100 guys here. That said, two trades I’d to throw into the bender to contemplate:
At the 2018 deadline, the Indians traded Fransico Mejia (an overall Top 25 prospect at the time) for Brad Hand and Adam Cimber. Hand had 2.5 years of control with an option at the time and he’s a LHR. While Cimber isn’t bad, the deal was about Hand for Mejia. Hand is not a flame throwing reliever, relying instead on movement not velocity. Sound familiar?
The other is a trade most Bucco fans remember well… Tony Watson to the Dodgers for pitchers Angel German and Oneil Cruz.
One of these trades was under the radar, and now looks phenomenal! The other was for a top prospect. I can’t stress enough that the closer market is a hard market to predict. We also have a really wide range of values to look at. If we use $10 million per win and the bump in projections, we get a surplus of $18 million. Use $8 million without the bump it’s as low as $8 million.
With all that said, I have the same surplus values for RichRod at $9 to $15 million. May I suggest we build two different packages each? One for sticking to the aforementioned $9 to $15 million return and one for if the market is one of the “man, that is bonkers” kind of return?
JB – That’ll work for me. Let’s start with the realistic option.
Realistic Trade Partner: Chicago White Sox
When you look at the White Sox, they are a team that one could consider a blueprint for the Pirates. They have been bad for a while, accumulating talent, and now they are ready to push to open that window of contention. They are fun, they have a roster of young, exciting players. If they added a player like Rodriguez to the bullpen, they could provide a stabilizing force, a strong veteran, and even leadership. And as mentioned previously, this is a leader for beyond 2021, so there is plenty to like from their perspective. This could be a low cost, high reward for Chicago. And for Pittsburgh, they continue to add young talent to a revamped farm that could pay dividends in the future, when they are ready to push to open their own window of contention.
Benyamin Bailey — RF — ETA: 2024 — 40+ FV ($4M)
Bailey is a behemoth (6’4 215 lbs) that walked more than he struck out in 2019 and has a high potential for power. He’s 19, so at that age and that size, he has corner outfielder (or DH) projections at the major league level. Fangraphs calls him a high variance player, and that’s exactly the player I would target in a deal such as this. The Pirates have revamped their player development for a reason, and it is to bring players along and develop them to be major pieces at the big league level. Not saying they will all hit, but again, if we swell the farm with talent that is anticipated to reach the majors at the same time, you have not only an insurance policy if some prospects fail, but a nice problem to have if they do not.
Bryan Ramos — 3B — ETA: 2023 — 40 FV ($2M)
According the FanGraphs, many scouts believe he possesses the feel/ability to hit and he is also the most advanced infield defender of the teenagers in Chicago’s system. There is a chance he could stick at third or move to a corner outfield or even first base. He’s another high variance bat with a long runway.
Matthew Thompson — RHP — ETA: 2024 — 40 FV ($1M)
I’ll be honest here, this is my favorite piece of the trade, but Fangraphs is certainly lower on Thompson than I am and lower than MLB Pipeline. According to Pipeline, Thompson is the most athletic player in the system, and sits 92-94 mph. Fangraphs says he can oscillate between that range and 90-92. Both sites agree that he has the frame to develop and there is still time and hope that he can fulfill his potential and consistently bring the heat.
Bonkers Trade Partner: Cleveland Baseball Club
If we’re going to do an off-the-wall trade that we weren’t expecting, I would have to assume it’s a team pushing for a pennant and also happens to have a deep farm. In this case, my two options here are the NY Yankees and the Cleveland Baseball Club. I’m going to say that NY doesn’t pick up the phone after Ben’s last deal netted multiple promising prospects. So here, we will go with Cleveland. I believe that this is a scenario of history repeating itself. The last deal where Cleveland shipped a top prospect for relief helped turned out rather well for them, and this one looks eerily similar.
The deal will take some additional input from the Pirates, but the deal is RP Richard Rodriguez and RP Clay Holmes for:
Bo Naylor — C — ETA: 2023 — 50 FV ($28M)
Naylor comes from the prep catcher pool which, historically, has not produced many MLB players. But Naylor could be an exception. He has maintained his athleticism and power during his development and looks like he could stick behind the plate. Fangraphs gives him a 40 hit tool, so he’ll need that power and to stick behind the plate to make the deal worth it, but if he does, the deal would look really nice for Cherington.
Now, I do not expect Clevend to do an almost identical trade as the one a few years ago that saw them ship out Francisco Mejia, but Justin wanted an off-the-wall deal, so I had to oblige. Nonetheless, I think the White Sox prospect package is more realistic and also just as enticing for a rebuilding club. I love the athleticism and power combination of that group and would love to see the Pirates Player Dev go to work on those young players.
JV-So, here we are again with no rumors of a specific team discussing a deal with the Buccos. The great news here is there’s no shortage of teams that could use an upgrade, and it wouldn’t surprise me if a team looks to add RichRod as the setup/fireman as well. There will be phone calls here, for sure. It took me the better portion of my day building my favorite packages, so you can imagine my dismay when Joe went with one of my trade teams, the White Sox. I even considered still using the White Sox and using different pieces (Jared Kelley in this case) but after further consideration, I’ve decided to go with the San Fran Giants. (Using the White Sox now would be tainted. Thanks a lot, Joe.)
Realistic trade partner: San Francisco Giants
I can’t think of a single “insider” that had the Giants pegged as a playoff contender, yet here they are right in the thick of it. Giants are no strangers to going “all in” and it would surprise me if they get aggressive here as their closer, Jake McGee, doesn’t have the prettiest slash line. His ERA is 4.58 and while the WHIP is a solid 1.12 and his FIP of 3.90 suggest a little bad luck, they don’t suggest he’s had terrible luck. The return:
Patrick Bailey –C– ETA 2022 FV 45+($8M)
At one point last year, a lot of insiders had Bailey going to the Pirates 7th overall in the MLB draft. He’s a solid receiver with a solid glove and a switch hitter. His bat will carry some power and if he can develop that bat a little, he has star potential. But, we aren’t there yet. I imagine Cherington and staff did a lot of work on Bailey and could be very comfortable adding him.
P.J. Wilson –CF– ETA 2023 FV 40 ($2M)
Fangraphs describes him as a “tools over feel” kid. The tools are there, but he needs a lot of development. With a lot of speed and a HUGE arm, both a current 70 on the scale, he’s certainly an athlete. If his bat develops, this is a great add.
Bonkers trade partner: Toronto Blue Jays
The Jays invested a lot over the last year or so, they are young and fun, and they are in the chase. Dolis has not been good; his ERA and his FIP are over 5. In short, they need an upgrade. Can Cherington get the big time overpay from the system he might know best?
Gabriel Moreno –C– ETA 2022 FV 50 ($28M)
I know, another C. I promise this isn’t purposeful, but just the way it trended. Moreno is about as rounded a prospect as you can find. He may not have an elite trait, but he does everything well. He throws well, fields well, hits well enough, and has a little pop. One bonus here is he doesn’t strike out a lot. I like Moreno a lot and if the Pirates GM can rob his old team, this is a guy I’d love to add
We keep saying that we aren’t TRYING to project catchers, yet we both keep targeting catchers. If anything, that shows that the Bucs need to add catchers to the system. Outside of Endy Rodriguez, there aren’t many. Maybe Geovanny Planchart develops? Or, Deon Srafford finds what they originally liked about him? All in all, the cabinet is bare.
One other thing that popped into my head is there’s a little more daylight in the packages here than with Frazier, specifically in the realistic trade. I have a 45+ in front and you have a 40, but my second piece is a leser piece. My 45+ is a little older and perhaps closer to the bigs. What are your thoughts on that?
JB – I tried to model the trade to look like those reliever trades that I mentioned at the top, and I don’t think that RichRod will command the top of his value range due to a lack of track record. I would love to be wrong, however. I also think that my targets are further down the line and provide the opportunity to develop. I mentioned in the piece on Frazier that those prospects that’re nearing their prospect ceiling have already had the work of their respective team’s player dev and those teams are ready to reap the benefits. I think that the Pirates have had a clear plan to target players further away and hope that that variance will break their way. I would expect to see the plan evolve as we approach that window of 2024/2025, but for now I am going after higher variance, younger players that have the chance to pop like a Peguero or Head.
I like the idea of San Francisco dealing from a position of strength, but we’ve seen those pesky NL West teams hoard their catching prospects, so I am cautiously optimistic that we could pry him loose.
JV-That’s why I went with Bailey. Ricardo Genoves is an option there as well, but Cherington doesn’t have to move RichRod, he can wait until the offseason. I think he uses that to get that 45 or a 45+.
I’m thinking of Jacob Stallings next? And with him we can start with IF the Bucs should even move him?
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