By: Noah Wright
Now let me first start off by saying that I am in no way a superfan of Neal Huntington or Bob Nutting. Neither Nutting or Huntington are great at ownership or being a GM. There could always be worse (cough cough Marlins Orioles), but they’re certainly not the best. Nutting barely spends, and Huntington has made some questionable trades such as Chris Archer for Austin Meadows, Tyler Glasnow and Shane Baz. However, not enough people give Huntington credit for some of his trades. Some have completely boosted this team in a positive direction.
- Andrew McCutchen for Bryan Reynolds and Kyle Crick:
Andrew McCutchen was one of the best players the Pirates had ever had. He was one of MLB’s top outfielders in his prime, and had led the Bucs back to the postseason in over 20 years in 2013. Between 2009 and 2015, Cutch had a .298/.388/.496 batting line, a 144 OPS+, 154 stolen bases, and 151 home runs in 4504 plate appearances. Although he wasn’t the best fielding CF, he definitely held his own for most of his prime. He even had a solid final season in a Bucs’ uniform back in 2017. However, it was clear that after the 2017 season he was not the same outfielder he was back in 2013 when he won the NL MVP award, and was only controllable through the 2018 season. That’s when the Bucs decide to trade the former all-star to the SF Giants for 2 players. A former top prospect named Kyle Crick, and a fairly unknown outfield prospect named Bryan Reynolds. Needless to say, the Pirates have easily won this trade, by a landslide. Sure Cutch was, and still is missed by all the fans today including me, but there is no denying that what the Pirates have gotten back has been amazing so far.
To start, Kyle Crick played himself into late inning, high leverage situations last season. After a so-so rookie season in ‘17, Crick put up a 2.39 ERA, 3.14 FIP, 1.127 WHIP, and held opponents to an OPS of just .569 across 60 and a third innings during 2018. He had lowered his walk rate from 4.7 a year prior to just 3.4 per 9, while increasing his strikeout rate from 7.8 per 9 to 9.7. Crick gave up just 3 home runs all of last season. The righty relief pitcher is enjoying a fantastic 2019 with a 1.83 ERA, 2.99 FIP, and 1.017 WHIP in 19 and two thirds innings.
As for Reynolds, well he looks like a Rookie Of The Year candidate this season. Through his first 132 plate appearances of his MLB career, Reynolds has an outstanding .350/.409/.575 line. All told, that’s worth a 161 wRC+. His OPS is first among rookies with at least 100 at bats. Although he does have an unsustainable .425 BABIP, Reynolds has shown the ability, both in the majors and minors to hit to all fields. Plus, he has made hard contact 47.8% of the time, and soft contact a mere 14.1% of the time. Reynolds has also been an asset with the glove. In left field, Bryan has 5 DRS, and .6 UZR. Although he has worse defensive numbers in CF, he is primarily a corner outfielder, and has an overall dWAR of .3. Although Cutch did solid with the Giants they eventually dealt him to the NY Yankees, and then he signed with the Phillies during this previous off season (NOTE: I started writing this before I heard of the ACL injury that will keep Cutch out for the rest of the year, which is a real shame, and hard to hear of).
- Mark Melancon for Felipe Rivero and Taylor Hearn:
Unlike McCutchen, Melancon was in the midst of another fantastic season. He had a sub 2 ERA to go with a 2.67 FIP, and .960 WHIP. It would be his 4th consecutive season as one of MLB’s top closers. But he was going to be a free agent at season’s end, and in all likelihood, the Pirates weren’t going to be able to retain him. The Nationals were desperate for relief pitching, so they jumped on the opportunity, and acquired the all-star right hander for 2 players: Felipe Rivero (now Felipe Vazquez), and Taylor Hearn.
Felipe Rivero was a young (24 years old), hard throwing right hander who was doing so-so out of the Nats’ pen. He had a great rookie season (2.79 ERA, 2.64 FIP, .952 WHIP in 48 and a third innings), but had a 4.53 ERA despite great strikeout and walk numbers. In 2017, his first full season with the Pirates, Rivero brokeout, and became the Pirates closer part way through the season. During that 2017 season, Rivero/Vazquez had a 1.67 ERA, 2.47 FIP, and .889 WHIP. He had given up just 4 long balls all season, and had struck out 88 batters in 75 and a third innings. Since then, Vazquez has risen to the top, and has become one of MLB’s top closers. After that breakout season, Vazquez received an extension that is not only affordable, but keeps him under contract until 2023. The past 2 seasons (including 2019), Vazquez has a 2.56 ERA, 2.41 FIP, and 1.211 WHIP through 95 innings.
Taylor Hearn was a young lefty in the Nats’ organization, and rose up through the Pirates’ farm. Last off season, he was sent to the Texas Rangers for relief pitcher, Keone Kela. Kela did fairly well in his time last year with the Bucs. Through 15 and a third innings, the righty had a 2.93 ERA, 2.97 FIP, and .978 WHIP. While this year he has struggled some, he has been injured. Kela is controllable through 2020, so once he comes back from injury, we could see that borderline all-star we saw last season.
- Daniel Hudson plus low minor leaguer for Corey Dickerson:
This is one of the trades where Huntington bassically got an all-star caliber player for free. The previous off season saw the Pirates sign RHP Daniel Hudson to a 2 year deal. Entering the 2017 season, Hudson was seen as a viable set-up option, and even potential closer if need be. But that all fell through when Hudson showed he was unable to hold leads, and walked a ton of batters. In 61 and two thirds innings, Hudson had a 4.38 ERA, 4.34 FIP, and awful 1.459 WHIP. He had given up 4.8 walks per 9, but had struck out 9.6 batters per 9. Facing that the contract was bad and eating up payroll space, Huntington shipped off Hudson and his contract plus a low minor leaguer named Tristan Gray.
After acquiring C.J. Cron from the LA Angels, the Rays decided to DFA Corey Dickerson, which came as a huge shock to many. The LF/DH had just come off a season where he made the All-Star game, and batted a strong .282/.325/.490 and 115 wRC+ in 629 plate appearances. Plus he had slugged 29 home runs, and was only owed just under $6 million for the 2018 season. While his defense was a bit questionable, afterall he played a handful of games as the team’s DH, he was still serviceable in left field. Regardless, the Bucs came down and took advantage of the opportunity, snatching Dickerson from the Rays for almost nothing. Dickerson then went on to bat .300/.330/.474 with 13 long balls, and a 115 wRC+ in 533 plate appearances. Dickerson had also showed a great amount of defensive improvement from 2017-2018, having recorded 16 DRS, 8.6 UZR, and a 1.1 dWAR and winning the NL left field gold glove. While Dickerson has been hurt for most of this season and is a free agent this upcoming off season, it’s still clear the Pirates got great value from this trade. Daniel Hudson was released late into spring training, and the Pirates effectively cut down a bit of money while receiving a great player in return.
- Tony Watson for Oneil Cruz:
After posting a 2.24 ERA, 3.05 FIP, and .987 WHIP between 2012 and 2015, a total of 277 and two thirds innings, Tony Watson had entered the 2017 season as the team’s closer. He struggled, and after 2 back-to-back blown saves vs the Baltimore Orioles, Watson was pulled from the closer role. At the deadline, the lefty was sent over to the LA Dodgers for a low ranking infielder named Oneil Cruz and a pitcher named Angel German. Watson was a rental at the time, and pitched well for the Dodgers for the rest of the regular season and into the postseason.
Oneil Cruz on the other hand has become one of the Pirates’ best prospects. Last season, the shortstop batted a strong .284/.343/.488 with 14 home runs, 11 stolen bases and a 134 wRC+ in 443 plate appearances in Single-A. Cruz has the ability to not only steal bases, but hit some moon shots thanks to his 6-6, 175 pound frame. Cruz is currently a shortstop, but could eventually move back to third base, a position he mainly played between 2016 and 2017. He has an incredible arm, as Fangraphs ranks it as an 80/80. MLB.com ranks his overall fielding prowess at 50, which is about average. Regardless, Cruz ranks within the top 100, currently sitting at 82/100. The 20 year old did get off to a slow start in Bradenton, but was limited to just 11 games so far this season after having a fractured foot. Cruz is still seen to be part of the Pirates’ near future. He is expected to reach the majors by 2020.