After trouncing the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday, 9-2, to kick off one of the most important homestands in PNC Park history, the Pittsburgh Pirates head into Tuesday’s doubleheader with some glaring needs.
It’s no coincidence that this crucial stretch of games coincides with MLB’s non-waiver trade deadline on July 31.
An argument can be made that the seven-run rout over the Cardinals was a statement that no major acquisitions need to be made. It could be posited that some added reassurance was gained from that crucial victory in front of 32,084—a record crowd for a non-holiday Monday night game.
Manager Clint Hurdle isn’t buying it.
“We’re a confident team,” he said, via The Associated Press (h/t ESPN). “I think we’re a team whose confidence isn’t built on its last game. It’s not shattered by a losing streak. You continue to push through and that’s what we’ve done from Opening Day until now.”
With that in mind, the team’s weaknesses in right field and the loss of All-Star closer Jason Grilli would merit some sort of acquisition. The addition of another starter could be warranted, too, with the uncertainty regarding Wandy Rodriguez at the moment.
Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan is reporting that Houston Astros’ starter Bud Norris has been scratched from his start Tuesday night, and the Pirates could be the likely destination.
Norris is 6-9 with a 3.93 ERA pitching for the worst team in MLB. His FIP is 3.87, which places him fourth among Pirates starters in that respect, according to FanGraphs. The major upside to Norris is that he is under team control until 2016, something that is critical when considering the ages of A.J. Burnett and even Rodriguez.
Ultimately, acquiring talent in all three areas could be done.
Brian Wilson, the former San Francisco Giants closer, who has been rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, was a free agent and could have been a key acquisition that didn’t require high-level prospects in a time that usually calls for such costs.
Scott Miller of CBS Sports described the Pirates as “serious suitors” with the team recently sending a scout to watch the right-hander workout, as per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review‘s Rob Biertempfel (via Travis Sawchik).
The former Giant would have slotted nicely into the Pirates bullpen.
Wilson attempted to comeback from his injury during spring training but wasn’t ready for action. Several months later, the bearded reliever is ready to rejoin a team and re-establish his famed aura on the mound.
Tuesday afternoon, Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports reported that Wilson had chosen to sign with the L.A. Dodgers, thus eliminating any hopes the Pirates had at bringing in the former All-Star.
Grilli and Mark Melancon formed one of the best one-two punches in baseball during the first half of the season, which provided the foundation in which the Pirates’ success was built upon.
Wilson had the pedigree to slot into either of the late-inning roles and to provide some relief on a taxed bullpen.
With Wilson off the market, there are several options left on the trading block that could make sense.
While not directly linked, the Padres’ Luke Gregerson would fill an immediate need at the back end of the bullpen. The Padres have been receiving calls on the setup man, as per CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman.
Another reliever that would make sense and that has been directly linked to the Pirates is Cubs lefty James Russell, via Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal.
Both relievers have ERAs under 3.00 with Gregerson also notching three saves.
On the offensive side of things, the production out of the right field spot in the Pirates order has been terrible. Every once in awhile, a Josh Harrison will connect on a pitch or Garrett Jones will be inserted into the corner outfield spot.
Overall, run production is extremely low from the group that includes, Travis Snider, who is on the 15-day DL, Alex Presley, Harrison and Jones. Russell Martin did appear in right field, too.
Jones leads the group with a 106 rating in the wRC+ category, according to FanGraphs, which attempts to measure a player’s total offensive value by a number of runs, compared to the league average. The league average is 100, so Jones is creating six percent more runs than the league average.
With Starling Marte likely solidified as the lineup’s leadoff hitter—utilizing his unique speed—Neil Walker heating up as the team’s No. 2 hitter and Andrew McCutchen firmly in the No. 3 spot, the organization is likely to look for a power bat or a well-rounded run producer that could slot into the No. 5 hole behind Pedro Alvarez.
Hunter Pence fits the Pirates’ need.
Sure, Pence would be a splash acquisition, but there is value in many of the places that the Bucs lack.
Pence has a 119 wRC+, according to FanGraphs, and has one of the lower strikeout percentages in the league at 16.1 percent. Avoiding the strikeout is something that other right fielders on the market, such as the Mets’ Marlon Byrd (28.4 percent), have not been able to do.
The Pirates are fourth in MLB with 891 strikeouts, trailing only the Mets, the Braves and the Astros.
The runs created by Pence are also more than Alex Rios (wRC+ of 103).
The Chicago Cubs’ Nate Schierholtz has been a suprise this season, posting a line of .276 with 14 home runs and 40 RBI. He also a 130 wRC+.
However, Schierholtz primarily plays against right-handed pitchers and playing him everyday is a bit of a risk. There’s always the option of platooning him with a right-handed right fielder, but who?
Jose Tabata has underwhelmed.
Pence is hitting .277 with 14 home runs and 51 RBI, playing in a ballpark that is very spacious. Six of his 14 home runs have been hit at AT&T Park. He has also stolen 14 bases and has yet to be caught.
Pence was acquired by the Giants last season, and the organization subsequently went on to win the World Series. That kind of experience is invaluable on a team that doesn’t boast many playoff veterans.