Two Guys Talkin’ Trades – The Winter Meetings

8-10-21 – By Justin Verno & Joe Boyd

Justin Verno – For those of you that devour baseball trades and rumors like Joe and myself, there are two events worth setting up on your calendar. The first one expired a week ago–the July Trade Deadline. The second is still months away in the cold month of December: the Winter Meetings. COVID didn’t just affect how much toilet paper we bought last year, it also changed the July trade deadline and the Annual MLB Winter Meetings. 

There were no “live reports” or sit-down interviews with GMs or players’ agents. There were no live shots of a GM on their phone and the trade speculation that would normally follow. To put it simply, last year’s Winter Meetings were lame sauce, which really wasn’t all that shocking considering how much of a dud the 2020 July deadline was. (For comparison, the previous deadline was August 31st.)

The good news? The 2021 Trade Deadline seemed to make up for 2020’s Trade Deadline!  Here’s to hoping the same will be said of the 2021-22 Winter Meetings. 

Pirates’ GM and his front will have a lot of decisions to make and this includes no shortage of 40 man roster decisions, looking at the Rule 5 candidates (both his and other teams), and lastly, who is left on the 25 man roster that he could potentially get value back for via trades. Joe and I will examine some of the names Cherington could move, if it makes sense, and what has to happen for it to make sense. And here’s the fun part: some of the trade pieces he got back could determine how much of the 25 man roster he is willing or able to move in those December Meetings. 

Joe Boyd – Justin brought up the 40-man roster crunch and I think will have to be a consideration for Cherington. Fangraphs did a 40-man crunch article a few days ago that actually makes things feel relatively reasonable, but this is an issue that will have to be considered for the club moving forward. The article notes that the Pirates have 42 players on the 40-man right now (including 60-day IL players) and two free agents (Cahill & Shreve) to go along with Polanco’s club option. That puts the team at 39 spots and they’ll most certainly have to add the likes of Liover Peguero, Mason Martin, Canaan Smith-Njigba, Travis Swaggerty, Cal Mitchell and Tahnaj Thomas. But let’s look at Rule 5 later. First we need to make some room on the 40-man roster with our favorite, some trades.

JV – Let’s get started.

Kevin Newman – I know, “nobody would give up anything for Kevin Newman,” but his name reportedly came up at the deadline and man, I really would love to know if there were any substantial talks or if it came up in passing.  Moving Kevin makes a ton of sense with the haul Cherington got at the deadline adding three middle infielders: Hoy Park, Diego Castillo, and BC prospect crush Tucupita Marcano. With Rodolfo Castro, Philip Evans and Wilmer Difo still around, moving Newman could be high on the list. Even Colin Moran can play second in a pinch. The play of Castillo, Hoy and Marcano could be a key here. So keep your eye on how those guys perform down the stretch (we can add Difo’s name to that list). Newman needs to turn his season around here (a good 180% would be helpful in any possible return) but either way, I could see Cherington taking a shot at trading his “change of scene” candidate for another team’s “change of scene” candidate. Keep in mind Newman can play 2B, SS and 3B and with his speed, I can see adding an OF in the future. 

JB – Newman should absolutely be a candidate to move.  I’ve done a frankenstein version of my projections to look ahead to the offseason and Newman looks like a solid value candidate if you take the ZiPS projections.  He averages out to just under a 0.5 WAR/season player over the next 3 years of control and that puts him at just over $9.23M surplus.  Now, those that are paying attention may scoff at that number with Newman’s wRC+ sitting at 48 this year and 54 last year.  My guess is that his projections will come down quite a bit, so let’s maybe cut this in half to curb some expectations.  Newman is still a versatile former Round 1 selection, so perhaps he could have a taker or two.

For me, I think another player that could move at the Winter Meetings fits the exact same description as Newman and that’s Cole Tucker.  He’s another light-hitting former #1 pick that has some positional versatility and an extra year of control more than Newman.  He’s absolutely a change-of-scenery candidate.  Based on ZiPS, he’s a 0.3 WAR/season player and his value is just around $6M, but we need to look at him less as a chip to add value to the system and more at looking to add a lottery ticket or two that are not eligible for the draft.

JV – Neither of those names, Newman and Tucker, will net much but this is more for roster reconstruction than it is improving the system. 

But a guy that would bring a solid return is Jacob Stallings. And I know, I am bringing down the heat here. I think there’s as much a chance they move Stallings at the Meetings as there was at the Trade Deadline, maybe a hair more. But, there were rumors that Kim Ng made a play for him and that she will try again at the meetings. I don’t know how reliable that rumor was, but MLBTradeRumors stated that the local writers in Miami seem to think Stallings will be a candidate for Kim Ng to go get. So there is a little smoke here, but Cherington will have to weigh that against his value as a teacher to the pitching staff. BC will also have a keen eye on one of his trade acquisitions from the deadline and how he is developing, Carter Bins. If Carter gets a call to AAA before the season is over, moving Stallings could make sense. Hudson or Susac are capable place holders for a few weeks until Bins gets the call to PNC Park. But if he struggles a bit and stays in AA, I can’t see the sense in moving him. 

The Trade Deadline kids are making a huge impact on the Winter Meetings plans here, Joe. Both for who the Pirates could move and the 40 man being that a good deal of them are close to being in the majors. 

JB – Stallings could certainly be a piece that is moved.  I do think that they would like to keep his leadership and continuity, but I also would not bat an eye if Cherington gets a price that he wants.  Stallings is obviously not a “have to move” player, but rather a “if the team exceeds the asking price” player.  

Now I wanted to touch on two players that I think could absolutely move in December, Steven Brault and Colin Moran.  

Let’s start with Brault.  He’s obviously just now coming back for 2021 and we’ll hope that he’s a stabilizing force in the rotation.  But he’s a lefty with a decent track record and some control.  ZiPS has him as a 0.7WAR/season player over the next two seasons and that comes with a value around $6.17M.  

Moran is the final piece of the Cole trade remaining, and he provides pop from the left side of the plate and some positional “versatility.”  He can play 2B and 3B, but honestly, clubs that are looking for a 1B are the main market (Boston, potentially?).  Moran’s ZiPS are extremely similar to Brault’s except he gets a bit of a bump in 2023 for some reason, so 0.7 WAR in 2022 and 0.8 in 2023.  That puts Moran’s value at $6.96M.  

At those values, both Brault and Moran are looking at potential returns of a 45-FV prospect, but realistically, you could look at rising 40+ prospects for these players.  Fangraphs accounts for positional value in WAR, but I would still expect a slightly better return for Brault.

JV – Yeah, I think both of those names are names we could hear at the Meetings. Names to watch for this to happen? How about Mason Martin getting the call to AAA. Could it matter in how they view moving Moran?  

Listening on Brault is something I can see them doing here. They don’t need to move him due to that control, but LH starters always have a market. How he performs is very important here, so let’s watch for that, but how quickly they get Maguel Yajure and Roansy Contreras could play heavily in their approach with Steven.

Another interesting situation to look at here is Ben Gamel. Under control for one more year and playing some good baseball, this is another case of possible roster reconstruction with 40 man roster concerns. Reynolds is obviously not going anywhere (or is he?) and though he is the only given for the opening day roster, the Bucs have plenty of reinforcements on the way. Cal Mitchell, Canaan Smith-Ngijba, Jack Suwinski, and even Travis Swaggerty could be in play for a promotion early next year. With Jarred Oliva, Gregory Polanco (Yes, Polanco), Bligh Madras, Hoy Park and more as examples of guys likely ready to play opening day in Pittsburgh, it’s entirely possible Gamel could find himself on the move in the offseason. Joe, it’s interesting to me that 2 of the OFs I mentioned above were trade acquisitions for Cherington. He’s done a good job at adding talent that is in fact close to the majors, bears mentioning, again!

I have one more player I think we should continue to monitor, Chad Kuhl. I somehow feel unfulfilled watching Kuhl. I feel there’s more in the tank there, Joe. But if he throws well down the stretch, Ben Cherington could do well listening on him. So far, we’ve talked about guys that could be moved for roster construction purposes and others that would need a significant return. I think Kuhl falls into the latter. I get he’s technically a rental, and certainly he wouldn’t require a 50 FV prospect, but by no means does Cherington have to move him. If he doesn’t love what he hears, he can keep him and reevaluate later.

And all the same parameters that applied for Brault carry over for Chad. How Kuhl pitches matters. I don’t want to sell low here, but it isn’t the only thing to consider. How Brubaker, Keller, Crowe and Bryse Wilson pitch absolutely matters. Same with Yajure and Contrereas. Ben can’t simply trade a starter with no plan to replace him with a viable option?

Parting Thoughts –

JB – My parting thought here is I feel we are entering into the next phase of the rebuild.  This is good news in some ways, and not so great news in others.  For folks like Justin and me, you’ve probably seen the last of the major pieces getting moved.  Sure, Stallings could move and that would be a big shift, but the big returns are mostly done.  I’m not ruling out ALL trades, obviously.  I anticipate some roster shifting for the Rule 5 draft, maybe some ‘change of scenery’ moves, and maybe some prospect-for-prospect deals.  But I highly doubt we’ll see any foundational pieces move any time soon. All of the players we’ve touched on above, specifically Stallings, Moran, and Brault have to have a cost-benefit analysis done on trading them.  Does the benefit of new prospects outweigh the cost of losing those leaders (with very little value outside the organization) make sense for the benefit of the club?  

So what’s the good news?  I feel that we’re transitioning to the “play the kids” stage.  Cherington made some moves at the deadline for players that are closer to the majors than we anticipated.  Does that mean he thinks they are closer to competing? Does it mean that he is satisfied with the youth wave in Bradenton/Greensboro and he wants some stability/depth for when they are ready to debut?  I, for one, do not know.  What I do know is that this is the slog portion of the rebuild.  Trades are splashy, fun and get the discussion going.  Now we are playing those fringy youngsters to see which ones are worth a spot when the real reinforcements show up.  Are we going to watch Wil Crowe and Mitch Keller and Max Kranick take their lumps over the next two years? Yep.  Are we going to roll out Kevin Newman to see if that noodle bat starts to make some contact?  Unfortunately, it’s pretty likely.  But on the other end of that spectrum, let’s see if Hoy Park can keep the hard contact going or if Rodolfo Castro can stick as that versatile piece on the roster.  I do not think 2022 will be much better than 2020 or 2021, but we are getting close to turning that corner.  Cherington has made the moves to rebuild the farm, he will continue to add talent, maybe he will look to extend certain stars, and with any luck we will start to reap what we have sown by 2023.  

JV – Spot on, Joe. Sure, Stallings or perhaps a JT Brubaker could be guys we see get moved. And who knows? Maybe at some point our jaws are hitting the floor because a team decided they had to have Bryan Reynolds and were willing to force Cherington’s hand. But I think we’ve shown the Bucs are better off extending that man. (Hey Nutting, pay that man!)

And I have to say, as much as I love trades, and everybody who knows me knows I do love me some baseball trades, but nothing (and I mean nothing) beats the next phase. The “call the kid up!” phase. The “play the kids!” phase. And lastly, the “don’t be a prospect hugging team, go add a big name!” phase. In the not so distant future, Joe, you and I will be tackling this same exact issue, but hopefully we will be looking at it from the other side of the fence. I can’t wait for that!

My last thought here, I hope Joe and I gave some fans a reason to tune in down the stretch; a reason to get on line and talk some Bucco baseball!  We’d love to hear from you!

Joe?  I think we should take some time here, breathe, and collect our thoughts and in a few months, maybe early November, take a closer look at some of these names and break down the surplus and build some possible packages? What d’ya say?

JB – That’ll work for me.  Excellent work on this, Justin.  It’s been a blast doing these pieces.  Let’s do some brainstorming and reconvene in the near future.  Cheers!

Gary – I’d like to thank Joe and Justin for excellent work covering the trade scene this season and I’m grateful they plan to continue to offer their services as we move forward. This has been such a successful series and it’s a testament to the fair and agenda free way in which they approached a subject that is often painful for fans to think about. I’ve linked to Joe and Justin’s Twitter handles in the byline, please reach out to them when you have a thought on a potential trade, an idea you’d like them to talk about or if you just want to make sure they know you liked what they’ve done.

Hell of a season boys!

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