Thursday, June 27, 2013

Trade Target - Alex Rios

It's hard to type this post with the giant swarms of locusts outside my house coupled with the raining tree frogs.  Or at least that's what I expect will happen shortly with the Pirates in 1st place with the best overall record in MLB at 48-30.  Last year, when the Pirates were 62-46 at their high water mark after two-thirds of the season, I assumed it was a slam dunk for them to finish over .500.  I was thinking of playoffs and those types of things.  And then....the Pirates.
So this year I'm trying to just enjoy the ride and not get too far down the road, but it's so hard to do with the team doing so well in the standings.  We're a little over a month out from the July 31st trade deadline, so it's time to scratch that Trade Target itch again.  With Jordy Mercer solidifying things for the time being at shortstop, the only other starting position that is in dire need of an upgrade is right field.
Collectively, the Pirates’ right fielders are batting .232/.294/.366 (AVG/OBP/SLG) for an OPS of 660.  That number is the 2nd lowest on the team, ahead of only the shortstop OPS of 553.  Travis Snider has seen the lion’s share of time in RF, with 195 of the 327 plate appearances by RF’s, and has put up a triple slash line of .241/.323/.345 (for an ominous 668 OPS).  Snider has hit 2 of the Pirates’ 7 home runs hit by right fielders, neither of which is good enough for a position expected to produce power.  Simply put, your starting RF'er can't have a slugging percentage less than 400.  It doesn't matter how good of a teammate he is or how well he can grill 73 steaks.  
The good news is that this is not communist China.  The Pirates will be allowed to use capitalist principles to potentially obtain an asset by trading with another organization using desirable assets.  But who is potentially out there on the market?
The team that I’ve been focusing on lately is the Chicago White Sox.  The White Sox are a veteran-heavy lineup that is starting to show its age.  They are in dire need of a rebuild and have an abysmal farm system.  Any prospect that they obtain will be an upgrade to a system that has no foreseeable impact players to help the White Sox on the near horizon.
Alex Rios is the lone bright spot offensively for the White Sox this year.  His triple slash line is .276/.335/.459 (794 OPS) with 11 HR and 13 SB’s.  As per the defensive metric Ultimate Zone Rating, he is playing a well above average RF defensively, too.  Rios has no major LHP/RHP splits, either, and is actually a little bit better against LHP's.
Rios is under contract through 2014 at $13M/year.  He also has a club option for 2014 at $14M or a buyout for $1.5M.  Over his career, Rios has averaged 3.0 Wins Above Replacement, but in 2013 he’s on pace for a 6 WAR season.  Assuming he’s good for 3.5 more WAR this year and 4.0 WAR in 2014, that’s a 7.5 WAR for him.  One WAR is worth approximately $5.0 to $5.5M dollars on the free agent market, so his value would be $37.5 to $41.25M.  Subtracting off his $18.5M of scheduled salary (all of 2014, ⅓ of 2013, $1.5M buyout in 2015), you’re looking at $19 to $23M of surplus value.
I’ve done research on surplus value of Top 100 Baseball America Prospects at other writing stops over the years.  My research found that a hitter ranked #26-50 by Baseball America is worth $18M of surplus value over their first 6 cost-controlled years.  A hitter ranked #51-100 is worth $10M.  Likewise, a pitcher ranked #11-25 is worth $18M, a pitcher ranked #26-50 is worth $15M, and a pitcher ranked #51-100 is worth $8M.  (For completeness sake, a hitter ranked #1-10 is worth $42M, a hitter ranked #11-25 is worth $33M, and pitcher ranked #1-10 is worth $27M).
So, if the Pirates were to obtain Rios without any salary relief, they could be expected to send someone like Gregory Polanco (who should move up BA’s rankings from his preseason rank of 51) or an Alen Hanson/Tony Sanchez combo (both of whom could be in the 51-100 range).  Other packages could include Nick Kingham (should be in the 51-100 range), Josh Bell (51-100 hitter range), or some major league pieces if the White Sox want some major league readiness.
One of those pieces could be Travis Snider himself, but as a left-handed hitter it would hard to include him for the Pirates.  They could still have Alex Presley as their lefty 4th/5th OF along with righty Tabata, but I think the Pirates like having as much flexibility as possible.  Jose Tabata could be included in the deal going back to the White Sox, as the Pirates may want to shed his contract and the White Sox may be lured by youth and potential, while overlooking his injury prone nature.
Although I’ve focused just on Alex Rios in this post, there are other RF options out there that I'll be looking at in upcoming weeks. Regardless, there are options out there and the Pirates can utilize their fully stocked farm system to their advantage to make a significant upgrade.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Wandy 2014 Option Situation

On June 5th, Wandy Rodriguez pitched 1/3 of an inning and then grabbed his left elbow in discomfort.  He was put on the 15 day DL on June 6th and it was announced that he merely had elbow inflammation.  Wandy was unable to pitch during a side session this week and there is no talk of when/if the next one may occur.

It's hard for me to be optimistic that this story will have a happy ending.  If Wandy has anything less than Tommy John surgery for his elbow, I'll be surprised.  The issue at hand, besides the obvious 2013 on-field performance that would be missed, is the option for 2014 on Rodriguez.

When Wandy was traded from the Astros to the Pirates, his 2014 club option of $13M became a player option for $13M.  As part of the deal, if Wandy exercises the option the Astros send the Pirates $5.5M.  So the Pirates would be on the hook for only $7.5M for one year of Wandy.  Good deal.

But it's not a good deal if Wandy needs TJ.  Most common returns are 12 months for TJ, so Wandy would return in late June 2014 under this scenario. That's roughly the halfway point of the year, so the Pirates would be paying $7.5M for only a 1/2 year of his services.  That's not a good return on investment.

Rodriguez's K rate has been steadily dropping each year since 2008, but his BB rate has been improving over the years, too.  His ERA/FIP have remained steady over the years.  If the Astros weren't kicking some cashish in 2014, Rodriguez probably wouldn't be worth $13M.  If Rodriguez were healthy, there's a chance he would turn down the $13M option and try to get a 3 year deal on the open market, even if would be for less average money per year.

I just hope the Pirates and Wandy don't wait to long to make a decision about his elbow, one way or another.  If affects not just 2013, but also 2014.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Fountain at Point State Park Is Spraying Again

If Pittsburgh had a symbol, what would it be?  The Monongahela and Duquesne inclines?  The three rivers themselves?  A folding chair holding a parking spot?

All good choices, but I think the answer for me would be the Fountain at Point State Park.  The Golden Triangle is set off by this majestic fountain spraying high in the air to frame every aerial shot you see of the City.  Since 2009, the Fountain has been out of service for intense repairs, but it re-opened last week at the start of the Pittsburgh Arts Festival.

As per the Wiki link above, the Fountain has been rehabbed at a cost of $9.6 million.  People at the Arts Festival, when we went on Sunday, were glad to see it back in service.  Although it's been gone so long that people were apparently confused and thought it was a communal Lazy River to jump in with their clothes on and wade around.  I felt like we were at the Ganges River in New Delhi.

The Fountain is served by the mysterious "fourth river" of Pittsburgh, which is actually an underground aquifer that feeds many of the wells in the region and originates all the way up in Moraine State Park.  It is said that it takes water 40 years to travel in the aquifer from Moraine to the Allegheny, so enjoy that vintage 1973 water if you see the refurbished fountain this year.

Back in the 90's, I believe if my recollection is correct, there was a pie-in-the-sky idea to run a cable car from Mount Washington down to the Fountain's end of Point State Park.  In addition to being tacky in general, I always felt that would have taken away from the simple beauty of Point State Park and the Fountain.

You don't miss something until it's gone.  Then you really appreciate it when it comes back.  Good to have you back, Fountain.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Future Is Now

On Tuesday, June 11th, 2013, the long, long, long suffering Pittsburgh Pirate fan base saw their equivalent of Halley's Comet.  They were able to witness the debut of an actual homegrown, bonafide ace #1 pitcher in the form of Gerrit Cole.

Cole was the first overall pick in the 2011 draft, just two short years ago nearly to the day.  There were many good choices at the top of that draft in the form of Gerrit Cole, Trevor Bauer, Dylan Bundy, Danny Hultzen, and Archie Bradley.  Bundy and Bauer already reached the majors in 2012 (Bundy is out this year with elbow issues already in his career), but Cole was the overall best mix of pure stuff and proximity to the majors.

Cole's arsenal consists of four pitches, three of which are either plus pitches or have the ability to be plus pitches: He starts and ends every conversation with a 97-99 mph fastball (an 80 on the 20-80 scale), his 90 mph slider (already plus), an 88-90 mph changeup, and a functional curveball.

His debut was against none other than the defending World Series Champs, the San Francisco Giants.  His mound opponent was 2-time (but on the wane) Cy Young Winner Tim Lincecum.  And Cole upstaged both of them.  His final line betrays how dominant he was in this game -- 6.1 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, and 2 K.  The outing got away from him in the 7th inning, where his two runs scored, but he completed his debut in just 81 pitches.  His command was faltering, but not his stuff -- his fastball was still sitting 95-96.

According to Fangraphs, Cole threw 80% fastballs (65 pitches), 17.5% sliders (14), and 2.5% changeups (2).  Obviously those numbers are going to regulate over time to around 65% fastballs and more changeups.

Cole didn't seem overwhelmed at all by the moment.  Not after striking out the first batter he faced in 3 pitches, not after driving in the first 2 runs with his first hit since high school (seriously), and not during his post-game interview with the media.  He's ready.  He's able to shoulder the burden of a downtrodden franchise on his 6'-4", 240 pound frame.

Cole is bushwhacking through the forest, clearing a path for the potential stampede of pitching prospects coming behind him.  This time next year, Jameson Taillon should debut and become a solid #2-level pitcher, just a shade in ceiling behind Cole.  Nick Kingham, recently promoted to Double A Altoona, may see the majors in late 2014.  Tyler Glasnow is breaking out in a huge way at West Virginia, but he's probably 3 years away.  Luis Heredia has yet to debut in 2013, due to conditioning issues, but he's in the mix too.

There may be no flying cars, but the future is here.  June 11, 2013 was the start of a new era of hope for the Pirate franchise.  The debuts of McCutchen and Alvarez were extremely important, but Cole symbolizes the transition from pretender to contender for the Pirates.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Pirates Select Meadows and McGuire

Tonight was the start of the overextended-for-TV MLB draft.  The Pirates had two picks in the first round at #9 and #14.  Number 9 was the compensatory pick for not signing hypocrite Mark Appel and 14 was their normal pick for collapsing down the stretch and underachieving.

The Pirates were heavily connected to Reese McGuire, the lefty-swinging high school catcher from Washington state, so much so that Neal Huntington personally flew out to check him out twice.  So at #9, with McGuire sitting right there, the Pirates selected....Austin Meadows.

Yes, Meadows is a potential toolshed of 5-tool talent and he did semi-slip to the Pirates at 9.  You never draft for positional need in MLB, due to the long development times, but here's the Pirates' depth chart at OF:

McCutchen -- thru 2017 with 2018 option
Marte -- thru 2018
Snider -- thru 2016
Tabata -- thru 2016 with 2017 option

Presley -- thru 2017, but he's a bench guy
Lambo -- intriguing rebound year
Polanco -- the next big thing, should be ready in 2015
Bell -- may be ready in 2016
Barnes -- injury prone, ton of tools, 2012 draft pick, may be ready in 2016

Now with Meadows, he's probably on the 2017-18 track with a ton of guys ahead of him.  Yes, there will be injuries and attrition, but that is an incredibly deep field.  Perhaps some are trade chips.

Then at 14, after his hometown Mariners passed on him, the Pirates popped Reese McGuire.  They left Braden Shipley on the board and I'm sure there was some discussion about him, but it seemed like McGuire was a fait accompli.

I'm leery of his offensive profile and I saw him backhand stab some pitches behind the plate, but the Pirates had a ton of eyes on him.  He's probably 2018 ETA.

Here's my spur of the moment updated Top 10 prospects:
1. Gerrit Cole, RHP, AAA
2. Jameson Taillon, RHP, AA
3. Gregory Polanco, OF, A+
4. Tyler Glasnow, RHP, A
5. Nick Kingham, RHP, A+
6. Luis Heredia, RHP, A
7. Josh Bell, OF, A
8. Alen Hanson, SS, A+
9. Austin Meadows, OF, Unsigned
10. Reese McGuire, C, Unsigned

Both of these guys will sign and will sign for right about slot.  They'll both report to the Gulf Coast League, probably around late June if I had to guess.

The Pirates' Top 10 is crazy deep right now.  I pushed Dilson Herrera and Tony Sanchez out for these two and they're both having great seasons and potential.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Little Free Library

DB~ and I met through a mutual friend of ours, but our relationship first started out due to a shared interest in geocaching.  We still cache when we go on trips to different cities and countries, but we only periodically due it around Pittsburgh.

However, DB~'s love of books led to her to find another interest that is map-based called Little Free Library.  The name pretty much says it all, but to further drive the point is a little box that holds 30-50 books and is placed outside of a home.  You bring a book with you to replace a book that you may want to take.

There aren't a ton of them in Pittsburgh yet, but we did find one relatively close to our area in Wexford.  At the start of May, we tracked it down and exchanged a book for another.  It's a little wooden box with a glass door.  It appears to be weather-resistant, but I would still be skeptical of the books' condition in winter.

As luck would have it, when we were in New Orleans we stumbled upon another one during our travels through the Garden District.  This one was curated by a little girl, apparently, as there was a doll house nearby with a little handmade gravel walkway from the dollhouse to the Little Free Library.

Anyone can install one of these Little Free Libraries near their house or in a public green space.  I imagine you could build your own of these -- it's really just a big bird house with a door mounted on a 4x4 post -- but you can also purchase one ready-made for $400+ at the website.

I have a feeling that these are going to be popping up in neighborhoods with more frequency in the near future.