Two Guys Talkin’ Trades – Time to Dive Back In

3-9-22 – By Justin Verno & Joe Boyd – @JV_PITT & Joe_Boyd11 on Twitter

Justin Verno – With the news that the MLB and MLBPA have basically locked themselves in a room and are finally getting to the nitty gritty, we finally have a light at the end of the tunnel. For Joe and I, that means getting back to trade talk. 

**CBA Update- Turns out the light at the end of the tunnel was an oncoming mac-truck.**

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming. 

A few months back (it seems like a year ago) we wrote a piece on some trade possibilities to keep an eye on over the Winter Meetings. We’ve already written some of them up: Bryan Reynolds. Jacob Stallings. Chris Stratton. 

The names that are left? Cole Tucker. Kevin Newman. Ben Gamel. There were some other names, but some were cut or left off the 40 man. Colan Moran, Steven Brault and Chad Kuhl. This makes JT Brubaker, someone we mentioned could be looked at, a safe bet to stay put. 

Joe, I think we can cover all three-Tucker, Newman and Gamel in one swoop. Ya with me?

Joe Boyd – Yup, let’s get to it. We are lucky enough that Fangraphs has released the 2022 ZIPS Projections for the Pittsburgh Pirates , so making these Surplus Value projections is a bit easier. Let’s go in reverse, controllable years order:

Ben Gamel – SV: $2.70M – Gamel signed a 1/$1.8M deal to avoid arbitration, and that deal was below his projected arb valuation of $2.79M, so that deal helps the Pirates quite a bit when it comes to his value.  ZiPS has his expected WAR to be at 0.5, so that’s how we get to $2.70M SV. 

Kevin Newman – SV:  $13.74M – Newman has 3 years of control remaining, and ZiPS is rather bullish on Newman, all things considered, with a projection of 1.0 WAR.  As a refresher, we have an age factor for future projections, so we’re looking at 1.0 WAR in 2022, 0.9 in 2023, and 0.8 in 2024.  It’s obviously impossible to predict 2022 let alone the following two years, but a 3-year WAR projection of 2.7 WAR is used to justify the SV for Newman. 

Cole Tucker – SV: $18.51M – Okay.  So ZiPS is clearly pretty high on Tucker.  He has played 136 career games over the course of 3 professional seasons with a total WAR of -0.7.  So to predict a season of 0.9 WAR is pretty bold.   So if we go with the ZiPS projection and four years of control, we get the $18.51M SV.  I personally would feel more comfortable at a value of about half of that, so I might go with a value of ~$8M. 

JV – The projections for Newman and Tucker are surprising, to say the least. Control, in many ways, is still king. The question becomes, “will teams see that value?” I lean strongly towards “no” on that question. And that’s okay, because we are no longer in the “accumulate as much talent as you can” phase. 

We’ve entered the next phase. That’s not to say Ben Cherington won’t have another trade up his sleeve in the rebuild mode, but all in all, the trades we see in the next 12 months or so are roster construction and rentals. 

Here I see three types of trades: a roster construction trade, a rental trade, and a viable change of scenery trade. Man, I love this phase. There are so many different ways to approach it. 

Joe has given up the surplus values of our three trade candidates, so let’s get started. 

Cole Tucker 

JB – Here’s Longenhagen’s write-up on Tucker in 2018, “Tucker is a big-framed 6-foot-3, 185, and is built like Manny Machado was at the same age. Tucker isn’t quite that twitchy, nor as athletic, but he is a plus runner underway and agile for his size, affording him average lateral range at short despite a middling first step. The development of Tucker’s arm strength, which had slowly been improving since 2015 labrum surgery, seems to have plateaued, with scouts grading it as a 50 or 55 on the 20-80 scale. That’s still enough to project him at shortstop, even if he’s just a 45 or 50 glove there at peak. Because arm strength and a good first step are of profound importance at third base, Tucker probably moves to second base in the event that he’s pushed off of short.

Tucker has better feel to hit from the left side, where he possesses superior bat control and a more graceful, controlled cut. Most of his in-game power comes from his hands/wrists with little coming from Tucker’s lower half. Combined with a patient, contact-first approach to hitting, that leads to lots of doubles down the line and to the right-center gap. He projects to clear the league-average shortstop hitting line of .260/.315/.407, and he could be an above-average regular if he grows into a bit more power.” Tucker really never developed that power and certainly didn’t grow into Machado.  He’s a clear candidate to go elsewhere to get another shot.  

Trade Partner – Toronto Blue Jays

Surprise, surprise.  The Blue Jays often come up here because of Cherington and Sanders’ intimate knowledge of the farm.  So why not a change of scenery for a change of scenery?  I’m thinking Jordan Groshans here.  Due to injury and pandemic, he’s only played one full season since being drafted in 2018.  He’s showing less pop than promised when drafted, but “Groshans has shown excellent control of the strike zone and promising bat-to-ball skills despite his odd-looking bat path.”  Fangraphs sees him as a good big leaguer instead of the star that was expected a few years ago.  Let’s see if a fresh chance and the GM that drafted him can untap that potential?

JV – I won’t lie. As I sit here and stare at my computer screen trying to come up with a team and a viable trade package for Cole Tucker, I’m stymied. I see no team willing to pay full price for Tucker, while at the same time I see no path to real playing time for him in Pittsburgh. And that also suggests that the Pirates won’t really be able to build or showcase that value. Add in that the Bucs have plenty of infielders on the way, and Coletuck just doesn’t have a home here. The Buccos should absolutely see if they can find him a home. Part change of scenery, part roster construction type move here. 

I think a team that takes a look at Tucker could view him as a utility player as he’s capable at 3B, 2B, SS and has dabbled in the OF.  I’m going with a team that could actually give him a chance to play everyday, be it at SS or with a different glove everyday ala Josh Harrison when he first came up for the Bucs. 

Trade Partner – Houston Astros

Forrest Whitley- SP-ETA: 2022–  40+ FV (3M)

For those that remember the Gerrit Cole trade rumors, yes, that Forrest Whitley. At one point Forrest seemed to be the main target that the Pirates sought in a package for Cole. At the time, he was a 65 FV guy and universal top 10 prospect.

Everyone who wants a reminder that there’s no such thing as a sure thing even with top 10 prospects, Forrest Whitley is your guy. A 5 pitch mix topping out at 99 MPH(Or as Fangraphs described him, “a 5 pitch fire-breathing dragon) he had the look of a legit ace and power arm. After testing positive for performance enhancers and a lost season to Tommy John Surgery, Whitley is looking to rediscover what got him there and a change of scenery could be just what the doctor ordered.

When it comes to pitching prospects, always remember TINSTAAPP! (There’s no such thing as a pitching prospect)

Kevin Newman

JV – Joe, I’m taking a different approach with Kevin Newman. Kevin is a former 1st rounder, so there’s some peegree here. Newman will never provide the big punch with the bat, but he is two years removed from a good year where he slashed 308/353/446 with an OPS of 800 producing a solid 2.4 WAR. He’s not going to be the centerpiece of a team, but he has played 3B, SS, 2B and even some OF in his time with the Pirates, so this too should have some value for a team. Perhaps a team will look at Kevin as a change of scenery candidate, and that’s what I’m predicting here: a change of scenery candidate for a change of scenery candidate. The team….

Washington Nationals – The Nationals finished with a 65-97 record in ‘21, but with the return of Stephen Strasburg, the rotation looks to be a good deal better. With Patrick Corbin, Joe Ross, Cade Cavalli, Eric Fedde and Josiah Gray in the fold, they have the make of a solid rotation. 

How does Newman fit? 3B appears to be set with Carter Kieboom. But Newman is a potential upgrade at 2B and SS. He could also be a viable super utility player, making him a safe addition. The deal?

Trade partner – Washington Nationals

Victor Roble-OF-MLB 

Most Pirate fans are all too familiar with the name as Neal Huntington insisted on him in any deal for Andrew McCutchen (reportedly) a few Winter Meetings ago. Robles was once a blue chip prospect and like Newman is two years removed from a good season, slashing 255/353/446 with an OPS of 745 and a 2.6 WAR. 

While Robles is projected at 1.7 a 1,7 and a 1.6 WAR over the next three years he is coming off 2 -0.5 WAR seasons. I think a change of scenery is something the Nats would consider here, as he is set to platoon with Lane Thomas and the Nats could use a 2B/SS upgrade. Robles carries a fantastic glove, and all the traits that made him a big time prospect are still there and he’s young enough to unlock it. 

A lot of Nat fans might read this and think Newman isn’t enough to land Robles, and perhaps that’s correct. If the Bucs need to add a prospect I don’t see anything wrong with adding a 35 or 35+ FV or even a good 40 FV kid. It could be well worth it in the end. Gamble away, Mr. Cheringon.

Trade partner- Colorado Rockies

JB – I’m rooting for Justin’s trade in this scenario, but I don’t know if Washington would be interested.  My route is slightly different.. I found a trade partner in Colorado.  They like the glove and maybe the thin air up here (spoiler, I’m in Denver) gives Newman a smidge of pop?  The roster has plenty of room for improvement, so they could play Newman as a super utility or settle him into a role.  

The deal is for lefty Lucas Gilbreath. From Longenhagen at Fangraphs: “Gilbreath took a huge leap and was a wonderful Instructional League surprise at Rockies camp. He went from sitting 89-94 in 2019 to sitting 94-97 during instructs and earned a spot on Colorado’s 40-man. Though he’s come out to start 2021 more in the 93-95 range, Gilbreath’s heater has many of the other characteristics of a bat-missing fastball and it will still be an effective pitch if he lives in that range. This is the arm du jour, backspinning, flat-angled fastball that power pitchers use at the letters. His slider feel has been less consistent but that’s a power, mid-80s breaking ball when it’s located right. If his slider location consistency improves then Gilbreath can be a high-leverage reliever. If not, he’s a fastball-heavy, middle-inning arm.”

If you head over to Baseball Savant, you’ll see his spin rates are in the 88th percentile for that fastball. It sounds like it could be an enticing pitch, and he’s also controllable for 6 more seasons, so may be worthwhile to make a deal work.

Ben Gamel

JB – I feel like, of these three, Gamel has an actual valuable spot on the roster.  He provides 4th outfielder depth, at the very least and also carries the smallest value to others of the three. Also, he isn’t a sunk cost.  It was the old regime that drafted Tucker and Newman in round one and so there is no need to keep them around.  Give ‘em the ol’ change of scenery and move on.  With Gamel, I actually would anticipate a higher price tag for this reason.  If a club were to just offer a $2M value low-level prospect, why take it?  Cherington should take a much higher price because the alternative is Gamel in a valuable role for 2022 on the Pittsburgh Pirates.  

Trade Partner – Oakland Athletics

Nick Allen – SS – 45FV – $6M

From Fangraphs: “Allen is one of the better defensive players in all of the minors. He’s a plus runner with outstanding instincts, quick first steps, smooth actions and more than enough arm to make plays from multiple angles. He’s seen considerable time at second base in his career, which has served to prepare him for the possibility of a future utility role as a big leaguer. Allen straightened up his stance in 2021, allowing his above-average ability to make contact to play better. He’s a bit of a free swinger, and while he’s found some occasional power, his overall pop remains well below average. His overall numbers are solid, but he’s also spent the last two years looking like an All-Star against lefties and a nine-hole hitter against righties, so he’ll need to improve against same-sided pitching. A valuable multi-positional role is the most likely outcome for Allen, but there’s the possibility he becomes an everyday player with enough bat for the bottom of the order to go with the stellar glove work.”

Is Tucupita Marcano this type of player? Yes.  Could they keep one of or both of the guys mentioned above that also fill this role? Mhmm.  But still it’s a valuable player that could be added to the roster for one year of Gamel, and more than that… doesn’t Gamel feel like an A?

JV – Good point, Joe. Gamel has a more tangible value. It’s worth noting  that Gamel could also be a good trade deadline candidate, so not finding him a home here isn’t  the end of the world. Don’t like what you get? Keep him and take a look at flipping him at the deadline. 

With all that working for the Buccos, I too think that BC can get more than the suggested SV. Let’s have fun here. The Marlins are rumored to be a team that wants a certain Pirate OF(Bryan Reynolds), so let’s flip the script here and act like that OF is in fact one Ben Gamel.

Trade Partner – Miami Marlins

Dax Fulton –SP- ETA:2025– 45 FV (6M)

Simply put, you can never have too much pitching. Standing at 6”6’ 230, Dax has the projectable frame teams love. He has three offerings led by a curveball (55 FV) and a 96 MPH fastball that sits in the mid 90’s(50 FV). The stuff is there. Dax missed 2019 with TJS, so there’s some work to be done here, but as Longenhagen points out

“Fulton throws quality strikes with two impact pitches and already has nascent feel for a third. He had TJ late during the 2019 summer and should return in 2021.” .

Conclusion:

JB – As stated in my Gamel section, Cherington has no connection to Newman or Tucker, why not try to cut bait and get a piece in return that can provide some value? The barrier to entry on these two will be very low.  I do think that Gamel is a piece that sticks around because the value to the Pirates is higher than the value of return he would net, so I think he’ll stay.  Either way, we’re just ready for some baseball. 

JV – Ben Gamel won’t end the season in a Bucco uniform. I think we agree on that, but I tend to agree he starts in one as he’s the perfect trade deadline candidate. Joe, it’s even possible if he hits like he did last year they could invariably get a better package for him come July 31st(or wherever they set the deadline for). But I do think we had to cover the idea he could be looked at. 

And Joe brings up the elephant in the room here: Newman and ColeTuck just aren’t Cherington’s guys. There’s no attachment. They are prime candidates to be moved for that reason alone.

There’s a little bit of a switch here in how Joe and I went about these trades. We went off script, and with the guys we looked at you have to be flexible. You just aren’t getting full value for Newman and Tucker. Time for Cherington to take a gamble and think outside the box. It just could be he gets rewarded for it!

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