SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER – It appears the Buc Nation pipedream that is Giancarlo Stanton-to-the-Pirates is drying up.
The Marlins believe their timetable to back to relevance has accelerated due to the better than expected performances of late and the emergence of some of their young players like Jose Fernandez. MLB.com reports Stanton is most likely staying put …. well at least until this offseason or perhpas next summer.
Stanton isn’t on the market, and he isn’t expected to be dealt this season. There is a chance he could be moved in the offseason, if he declines a multi-year offer. Even if he does, it isn’t automatic he will be traded. Basically, Stanton could fill a bulk of the $11.5 million that Nolasco was making this year. So financially, the Marlins are well positioned to take on Stanton’s first-year salary in arbitration.
A number of clubs have called on Stanton, including speculation that the Pirates were among them. But those clubs are likely not going to have a shot at Stanton until he inches closer to free agency. (It seems unlikely Stanton signs an extension in Miami, but we’ll see).
So with the most valuable player on the market apparently not really on the market — a player that would be an ideal fit for the Pirates given their weakness in right field — who might be a more likely trade target?
CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman is reporting the Pirates are interested in White Sox outfielder Alex Rios and shortstop Alexei Ramirez.
Would Rios fit in Pittsburgh? (AP)
*Rios is one of the top outfielders known to be available. He’s a good defender. His offensive production to date — .270 (avg.)/.326 (OBP)/.429 (SLG), 11 home runs, 19 steals — is above average.
The Pirates’ RF production to date – .237/.298/.373 – is the worst in the NL if evaluating by OPS
*Ramirez is one of the few everyday shortstop available but he’s having a so-so offensive year: .286/.311/.358 1 home run, 20 steals.
Jordy Mercer has posted a .257./.309./.383 line and has four home runs. His defense has been acceptable.
ANALYSIS: From an OPS standpoint, the Pirates might gain little offensive by adding Ramirez, but he would add speed and would be more of a known quantity at a key defensive position. Rios would offer a boost offensively, but we must also consider they are both right-handed hitters and would be moving from a very favorable hitters’ park to one of the worst parks for right-handed hitters in the game: PNC.
The other factor is cost: Rios has $18 million guaranteed through next season; Ramirez has $23 million owed to him through 2015 including his ’16 option buyout.
While I think Mercer remains something of an unknown at a key position and Ramirez would stabilize shortstop, and Rios would upgrade right field, the price in dollars might be too high for slightly better than league average production. If the Pirates pulled the trigger on such a deal the White Sox would have to absorb much of the dollars. Are they willing?
OTHER TARGETS: The Pirates have also been connected to Matt Garza, but the Rangers are the favorite to land him. Garza’s price is likely going to be high considering he is a rental and pitching isn’t a weakness for the the Bucs…. The Bucs have also been linked to Justin Morneau, and Cubs right-fielder Nate Schierholtz. Morneau hasn’t been the same since his concussion issues and while Schierholtz is having a nice season he is not an impact player. … I’m also curious to see what the Phillies do with Cliff Lee and Chase Utley (a possible option at first and second). Intrastate commerce? A Lee-AJ Burnett-Francisco Liriano top of the rotation wouldn’t be bad.
UNSOLICITED GUESS: This is my best guess: the Pirates are probably most likely headed for a modest upgrade.
But teams must be careful when moving assets or taking on dollars for incremental gains in production.
The Pirates gave the contending Indians left-handed situational reliever Ricardo Rincon for Giles and the Pirates gained a 1.000 OPS player for several years. You don’t want to make a mistake like that as an organization. So when making a run at a slight upgrade the cost has to be at a minimum, meaning a C-level, fringe top 10 prospects. Go big or think about not doing much at all.
CLOSING TIME IS GOING TO BE TOUGH
You knew it wasn’t going to be easy for the Pirates to earn their first postseason in 21 years this season, but you probably didn’t think it was about to get this hard.
As our own Dejan Kovacevic notes today in his column, of the Pirates next 30 games, 24 are against winning teams. Of the final 69 games, 23 are against the Cardinals and Reds.
That’s going to make for some compelling television but it’s also going to make the second of the season extremely difficult.
Baseball Prospectus is giving the Pirates 92 percent odds at making the playoffs. I like their chances but it’s still far from a lock. Buckle up.
TRAVEL NOTE: APPRECIATING U.S. SPORTS CULTURE
Thankfully, the mid-summer dead period in U.S. Sports is over today. The four-day All-Star break is one of the quieter times in the American sports calendar and I’m sure some of you were wondering what to do with your evenings this week. I know I was.
One thing that struck me during my European trip was the lack of a serious sporting culture. I toured four cities but found few true sports bars. The space devoted to sports in news print was much less substantial than in the U.S. and there is nothing like our cable television offerings.
Yes, soccer is big in Europe. But there are not major pro or college sports offerings we enjoy here.
You could argue our sports culture is too big of an institution and perhaps it distracts us from dealing with harsher domestic and geopolitical realities but I find it a welcome and necessary distraction. I’m glad we have it, and I gained a greater appreciation for it while in exile. Enjoy the second half, or rather, the final 40 percent of the baseball season.