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Monday Mop-Up Duty: what the Pirates should target before the deadline

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DENVER –  History suggests that Neal Huntington will make a trade prior to  Thursday’s non-waiver trade deadline, or prior to the Aug. 31 deadline.

In 2011, he picked up Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick before the deadline.

In 2012, he acquired Travis Snider and Gaby Sanchez before the deadline.

Last season, he netted Justin Morneau and Marlon Byrd before the Aug. 31 deadline.

Now, some of those moves worked better than others, but the point is each year the Pirates were competitive at the deadline, and Huntington attempted to bolster the roster. Will he again? (Yes, a severe seller’s market complicates continuing this trend).  If he does, this year’s acquisition might look very different.

Huntington and Clint Hurdle had a 25-minute phone conversation prior to Sunday’s game when Hurdle said they discussed a number of scenarios. While Hurdle is not going to reveal the players discussed, I asked if his wishlist was shorter or longer compared to last season’s?

“I think we are looking at a couple specific areas,” Hurdle said. “It could be the same number (of needs), just different areas.”

Different being the key word.

Even though the Pirates’ bats struggled in the first two games at mile-high Coors, I think the lineup is generally OK.  The Pirates lead the NL in OBP, which is remarkable and great. Gregory Polanco will find his groove again. The Pirates are missing Starling Marte against LHPs. Josh Harrison continues to prove he is the real deal. Jordy Mercer has picked up his game and Pedro Alvarez figures to find another hot streak or two.

What’s different about this trade deadline than the three previous deadlines is the Pirates are focused on arms, and specifically, bullpen arms, from what we’re hearing at Trib headquarters.

The Pirates have been scouting the Red Sox’ pen, specifically Andrew Miller. But they might also have their eyes on Koji Uehara. He’d be a great end-piece for the Pirates.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays

Pirates scouts are watching the Red Sox. The Boston Globe reports free-agent-to-be Uehara isn’t available but I don’t buy it The Pirates could use a RHP beast reliever.

 

I typically don’t like trading for relief pitching, but given the price of starting pitching on the market, perhaps there is better value to be found in the bullpen.

Moreover, the collapse and trade of Jason Grilli, and the trades of Vic Black and of Bryan Morris have eliminated some of that bullpen depth Huntington spoke about over the winter. The Pirates need another arm or two as they are too often having to give the ball to Ernesto Frieri.

I didn’t like how Hurdle managed the bullpen on Friday but I love how he managed it on Sunday,

Sensing the fifth inning was the key moment in the game, despite trailing by two runs, he summoned Jared Hughes, holder of a 1.88 ERA and a 63 percent groundball rate. On Friday, Hurdle said he wouldn’t use Hughes when trailing. He reversed that position Sunday. Hughes got a key inning-ending double play. Hurdle then let Tony Watson pitch two innings, telling of the game’s importance. Hurdle put his best relievers for the situation when they were required. He was playing to win, not for another day.

“We’d already dropped two (games). There was a little more urgency to go where you have to go … to keep the score where it’s at,” Hurdle said.  “You’re trying to win every game and then you’re trying to keep maintenance to the bullpen. You have a ledger and a balance sheet and you’re trying to make sense of it all.”

But Hurdle would have to worry less about maintenance if he had more quality arms. It would allow him to more often to manage to win today than worry about saving arms for tomorrow. For this reason, perhaps the Pirates’ are right to be looking at bullpen arms – and not bats or starters -as the deadline approaches.

 

STARTING NINE THOUGHTS

9. While the Pirates reportedly had scouts checking out David Price and Jon Lester it doesn’t sound like the Pirates will make a big splash.  This is what Hurdle told me prior to Sunday’s game:

“You start talking about moving three or four prospects in your top 10, 15? That can get a little dicey,” Hurdle says. “What can help now versus hamstring you later?”

Huntington said the Pirates wouldn’t trade too much of the future for today and I asked Hurdle if he shares the same viewpoint from a different chair. Hurdle said he does (What else is he going to say?) but he added it is a position that requires “trust.”

8. I don’t want to keep banging on the Pedro Alvarez E5 drum, but his MLB-worst 22nd throwing error cost the Pirates two more unearned runs Sunday. In a vacuum, his throwing errors have cost the Pirate one win, according to numbers guru David Manel.  There’s not an easy answer here but Alvarez’s throwing arm could cost the Pirates dearly in close division/wild card races. Still, I’m not sure you can expect Alvarez to learn first base on the fly. That’s an offseason project … I think.

7. Vanimal, you’re probably aware of this, but Gerrit Cole‘s rehab starts are lined up with your turn in the rotation. Worley needs a solid outing tonight.

6. For me, the guy who should be on the rotation bubble is Edinson Volquez. He’s been trending down since April. And unlike Locke or Worley, I think Volquez could better fit in the bullpen. We saw Volquez’s velocity ratchet up to 98 mph at times this season and I think he could sit there consistently in short stints. If the Pirates don’t pick up a reliever on the trade market, perhaps Volquez in the ‘pen would  be a worthwhile experiment.

5. Who’s more fun to watch than Josh Harrison?

What are the odds Harrison is the 2015 Opening Day third baseman?

4. Gregory Polanco can still hit left-handed pitching. He’s going through an adjustment period, sure, but better now than in September. He’ll be fine.

3. If the Pirates are unable to come up with a starting pitcher and need depth in the second half, Nick Kingham looks like could hold his head above water at the major league level. Tyler Glasnow might be pushing his time table forward, too. Glasnow told TribLIVE Radio that his changeup has made major strides this season and it’s a pitch the Pirates have their young arms focus on. Glasnow has been No. 1 on Baseball America’s Hot Sheet in back-to-back weeks. ETA June, 2016.

2. I don’t like to say I told you so (OK, sometimes I do) but I told you so: Brandon McCarthy. McCarthy was a perfect fit for the Pirates and might end up being the best value trade this summer.

1. I still think the Pirates made the right trade at the time in moving Jason Grilli for Ernesto Frieri, but Grilli has a 1.74 ERA in his first 12 appearances for the Angles. And Frieri, well …. The Pirates once had bullpen depth, now it’s a position that needs another arm or two.

 

STAT OF THE WEEK: 1

Frank Thomas became the first Southeastern Conference product to enter the Hall of Fame. That shocked me.

 

HE SAID IT
“It was so significant, I didn’t even realize it until about five minutes ago,”

- Clint Hurdle on picking win No. 300 as Pirates manager on Sunday

 

NON-BASEBALL RECOMMENDATION OF THE WEEK

If you’re ever in Denver …

On Thursday’s off day I took a trip up to Estes Park in the mountains about 60 miles northwest of Denver. Amazing place. Well worth the 1.5 trip. (Also stop in Lyon and Boulder if you can on the way up or down). I also checked out the Garden of Gods in Colorado Springs prior to Saturday’s game. Aptly named.

- TS

 

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