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Should the Pirates be buyers of impact talent? Taillon for Lee, would you do it?


SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER – Major League teams and parospect hounds have valued prospects more and more over the last two decades, particularly as the price of free agents have skyrocketed. Never has it been more imperative, especially for mid- and small-market teams. to build around cheap, productive, homegrown talent.


But have teams begun to overvalue prospects? To see a team trade a top 10 overall prospect like the Royals did, sending Wil Myers to acquire borderline ace James Shields, is extremely rare. There’s been only a handful of top 10 overall prospects to be traded over the last decade.


But if you examine this study , which I have cited here before, you wonder why more prospects are not flipped. You wonder if the Pirates really ought to consider being buyers, and not buyers in an insignificant way, like trading for a fifth-starter or middle reliever at the deadline, but in a big way.



Blig like in a Cliff Lee-like, ace-like way.


According to the study of Baseball America’s top 100 list from 1990-2003, 77.4% of its pitching prospects were busts, and 62.9% of its position players failed to become useful major league players.


And even if you examine the elite, top 10 overall prospects 59.2% of pitchers busted over that time period, while position players fared better, busting at a 37.4 percent rate.


(Those numbers suggest the Pirates should build around position players early in the draft – see: Machado, Manny though the Catch 22 is the Pirates are not going anywhere without top-of-the-rotation starters … but that’s a blog for another day)


So if the odds suggest Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole are more likely to fail to live up to expectations than to be successful, should they be made available for a current significant asset like the Phillies’ Cliff Lee, who will likley remain a much-discussed player as the trade deadline approaches?


Teams shopping for starters at the trade deadline appear likely to find a limited supply of attractive arms, says’s Buster Olney (Insider subscription required). TwoCubs pitchers headline the developing market, with Scott Feldman shaping up as the surprise top option at the moment. (Matt Garza, of course, will begin his potential audition on Tuesday.) In addition to several other well-documented trade candidates inRicky Nolasco of the Marlins and the Astros‘ Bud Norris and Lucas Harrell, Olney pegs the Padres‘ Jason Marquis and Edinson Volquez as likely available. Meanwhile,Bartolo Colon of the Athletics and Cliff Lee of the Phillies could also be dealt, writes Olney, with the A’s having other internal options and the Phils still weighing how to proceed with their excellent (but expensive) 35-year-old co-ace.


With a limited pool of arms likely available this season  (though I think David Price could join the mix), and with an ace as the asset most likely to make a major impact in a playoff push,  let’s use Lee-for-Taillon as our theoretical experiment.


The price to acquire aces is high. Remember when Ubaldo Jiminez was still viewed as a top-of-the-rotation arm? He cost Cleveland their Drew Pomeranz – fifth overall pick in 2010 – and Alex White, their 2009 first rounder. Shields cost Tampa Myers and Jake Odorizzi. If the Pirates call the Phillies – this is pure speculation – I would think the conversation begins with Cole or Taillon.



*The Pirates desperately need to change their perception end their 20-year losing streak. They are off to their best start since 1992. Adding a significant piece like Lee, could make their start sustainable. It’s hard to place a value on what a playoff series would mean for the city and the organization. I imagine PNC Park would be a madhouse.


*A Lee-Burnett-Rodriguez-Liriano-(No. 5 spot: Cole/Locke/Morton/McDonald) rotation would be one of the best in the National League, and the Pirates would have a rare amount of starting pitching depth. A rotation like that would give the Pirates a chance to win a playoff series or two.


*Lee would not be a one-year rental. He’s under contract for two more years, with an option, and has shown few signs of slowing down even at 34. If Burnett and/or Rodriguez leave he could be a staff anchor for two more years, and perhaps be a positive influence on young arms like Cole and Locke.


*A winning season certainly wouldn’t hurt job security for those in the organization.


*The Pirates have a lot of right-handed pitching depth: Luis Heredia, Tyler Glasnow, etc. It’s a potential surplus from which to trade.



*Using the above study assumes Baseball America and Major League teams have not improved at evaluating prospects over the last 20 years. I would think they have to a degree.


*Any player 30+ is subject to a decline in performance. Particularly, a workhorse pitcher. Look at how quickly Roy Halladay declined. Matt Cain has lost a tick of stuff this year. Jiminez has fallen apart. That risk is real and potentially devastating.


*Even if Taillon only  has a 45 percent chance of hitting, that is still a decent rate for an incredibly valuable property : a young, cost-controlled ace, under team control for at least six seasons. The Mets aren’t trading Matt Harvey for anybody, the Cardinals aren’t trading Shelby Miller. The Pirates have a chance to have a 1-2 impact duo.


*The Pirates might not need more pitching, what they might really need is another bat.




Here’s where I come down: even with the inherent risk of pitching prospects, I’d only trade elite talents like Cole and Taillon for a similar elite talent on the younger side of 30. If teams are talking Price and Hamels, that’s interesting. But even Lee, as good as he is, any one north of 30 and even 33 carries too much risk for my liking.


Such trades are so rare to begin with that this is most likely just a theoretical exercise but it’s still an interesting one to discuss.


Taillon for Lee: would you do it?



  1. justin says:

    phew. that Lee rotation is fun to think about. i feel like the phillies would have to pick up a chunk of the nearly 100 million left on his deal, but i’d be able to dig that deal.

    heck, the pirates could probably flip lee for a slightly-worse-than-taillon prospect in the offseason if they were so inclined.

    The Phillies are a really interesting franchise. They seem to refuse to believe that they aren’t very good anymore and they have little farm talent to speak. It’ll be interesting to see if they stick with older guys like utley, rollins, young, and lee or deal them.

    I guess while we’re on the topic of the phillies, i think either michael young or utley would be a nice pickup considering the inconsistent play from pedro and walker.

  2. Nate83 says:

    You need to add to the Cons money. It would be an unheard of amount of money for the Pirates to spend. Especially when you consider they are trading away a pitcher(s) they have 6 years of control. Teams like the Pirates rarely give up players with that much control to take on payroll. They would be left with a giant hole 2 years from now when Wandy, AJ, Lee and Liriano are gone and they don’t have the money to sign 10-15 million a year free agent pitchers.

  3. Matt says:

    I would not make that Deal.

  4. NMR says:

    Yeah, I think Travis will learn that it’s impossible to discuss Pirate moves without factoring money. Even in a hypothetical situation.

  5. NMR says:

    I wouldn’t make this move for the same reason I wouldn’t have made the Shields-Myers trade.

    “A rotation like that would give the Pirates a chance to win a playoff series or two.”

    The Pirates, like the Royals, are still a long way from being a legit championship contender. They’d essentially be trading away a piece needed to become a legit contender for a piece that makes them merely pretty good.

    Even after all the years of losing, and even if the chance that the prospect does reach potential is slim, I still don’t like the idea of settling for pretty good.

  6. Phil Packer says:

    I know……how about drafting Manny Machado over Jameson Taillon??? Machado is well on his way to being the next A-Rod in Baltimore, while Taillon still wallows away in AA ball. Taillon will NEVER pan out, he’s a bum….I’d trade him for Lee in a heartbeat.

  7. John Lease says:

    I’d rather keep Taillon, that high of a pick shouldn’t go for an aged, though good, rental.

  8. Do not trade our young pitching period we will win with the team we have so far mgt has made the correct moves stay the course we are ahead for the other teams with our youth stay that way no rent a players that make to much and leave anyway.

  9. Bizrow says:

    It’ll never happen unless the Phils pick up a ton of the $$ owed him.

  10. T.S. says:

    Huntington doesn’t have the stones to make a move like you’re describing above.

  11. cmat0829 says:

    The question wasn’t “does Huntington have the stones to make a trade” it was “would YOU do the trade”. My view is NO , NO , NO , NO. The Pirates, if they want to contend seriously for a championship, need Cole and Taillon to come up and succeed and be cheap, controllable talent they can spend the rest of their resources to build around. The premise seems to be “yes, trade because Taillon isn’t a sure thing”… well, Lee at 34 isn’t a sure thing either.

    Will Cole and Taillon both become aces of a staff for 4-6 years? I hope so. If they do, the Bucs have a chance to contend for all those years. If not, they at least won’t have 1/5 or 1/4 of their payroll tied up in one pitcher.

  12. JohnS says:

    I don’t think now is the time to make that type of move. This is a team that is still growing. I like the mix of players and the roster seems to have legit MLB depth for the first time in a while.

    I would stand pat with the roster and see how the next two months go.

  13. Travis Sawchik says:

    The Phillies do seem to be in denial, but I think they have to blow it up. As you mentioned, they have a depleted farm system. All their stars are over 30 and the Braves and Nationals are going to be tough for the foreseeable future. Heck, I like Miami’s long-term outlook better at the moment. …. Michael Young would be an interesting add. Good platoon partner for Pedro.

  14. Travis Sawchik says:

    I understand the Pirates’ spending history, but consider they don’t have many dollars guaranteed going into next season. They could take on payroll. Now, would they be willing to take on Lee’s $63M? Not all of it, I’m sure, but they could shoulder more dollars than they took on in Burnett deal, imo.

  15. NMR says:

    Yinzer alert.

  16. NMR says:

    You nailed a very important point, cmat.

    We always see stats on the number of prospects that bust.

    What about the number of veterans in their mid-30s that bust as well?

    I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see close to equal risk involved.

  17. Travis Sawchik says:

    But could being “pretty good” for one September mean to the Pirates than other clubs? What would it mean for 2014 attendance and a possible payroll bump?

  18. Travis Sawchik says:

    As I wrote, while Cliff Lee is an intriguing add, and more than a rental with 2014, 2015 and an option remaining on his deal, keeping Taillon is the wise play.

    Maybe Glasnow/Wilson/Bell gets Lee? Or is that too steep?

  19. Travis Sawchik says:

    Interesting study idea, if nothing else.

    For some reason I think Cliff Lee is going to age really well because of his clean mechanics and track record, but we’ll see.

  20. Travis Sawchik says:

    If I’m the Pirates’ GM for the day, I see if I can land Lee without giving up Cole, Taillon or Polanco.

    And if I can get Lee, I try to flip Locke

    Lee-Burnett-Wandy-Liriano-Cole/Morton? … Plus Michael Young as a throw in….that would make this start sustainable

    It’s fun to pretend

  21. justin says:

    Yeah the only thing that scares me with Young is that he threw a little fit when Andrus moved him off shortstop. Who knows what’ll happen if he’s made a platoon man. But we’ll see.

    He’s definitely one of the top guys I’d want to see here as long as he wouldn’t throw a fit, considering acquisition cost, experience, and stats. Another nice feature is that he can also play second, which happens to be the position of another struggling Pirate – Walker.

    I love talking about buying instead of selling :)

  22. I wouldn’t make it. Taillon will be better than Cole. Trade Cole for Lee.

  23. Larry W says:

    It would be insane to change strategy now. They have built a great portion of this team through the minors and should continue to do so. If the Phillies want to unload Cliff Lee for a prospect, that is one thing. But if they want a young top notch player in return, I would not do it. Neil Huntingdon and staff have done a very good job of turning this franchise around. They did make a good trade for Wandy. All they gave up were a few prospects. (None with the talent of Cole or Taillon). As stated earlier, it would be insane to change strategy now.

  24. JohninOshkosh says:

    NMR and I had a similar discussion last fall. Need to “deficit spend”, sign a quality arm, send a message to the fanbase etc. If I recall, correctly, Anabel Sanchez’ name came up. I think that if the Pirates want to acquire “names” and proven major league talent, it will have to be accomplished via the good ole trade. But there is a lot of “prospect love” on Federal Street. Personally, I like aggressiveness in a FO. I make the trade.

  25. Dan Finnegan says:

    No. Lee is too old. I would look for a younger guy, perhaps like Garza, and not offer any of my top pitching guys, like Cole, Taillon or Heredia. I stay in the driver’s seat in any trade and be confident enough in my prospects that if I don’t make a trade on my terms, they’ll be able to get the job done.

  26. Travis Sawchik says:

    The Pirates do have the luxury of pitching depth, they have a lot of arms to round out a rotation … I just wonder if they could use another top-of-the-rotation arm

  27. Travis Sawchik says:

    I think it’s a fascinating question. More realistically I think the Pirates consider trading from their Tier B of prospects to add another quality arm/bat … it could be an interesting trade deadline

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