By: Noah Wright
Currently in the rumor mill, it seems the LA Dodgers are interested in Pirates’ closer Felipe Vazquez, which is understandable. They’re bullpen is very weak. While Kenley Jansen is having another strong season with a 3.21/3.24 ERA/FIP and 6.43 K/BB ratio, he has been a bit susceptible to the longball. Through 33 and two thirds innings, Jansen has given up 5 homers. Pedro Baez is having a good season as well with a sub-3 ERA/FIP (2.80/2.90). Outside of those 2, their relief corps are pretty weak. Off season signee Joe Kelly has been awful. He has surrendered 18 earned runs in 26 and a third innings. Dylan Floro, and Yimi Gacia have combined for a so-so duo in the pen, and Scott Alexander has been hurt this season. Needless to say, this pen could use some work.
On the other hand, Pirates’ closer Felipe Vazquez has been one of the most dominant relief pitchers in the MLB. The past 3 seasons have seen him pitch to a combined 2.12 ERA, 2.43 FIP, and 1.065 WHIP. That also includes an 11.5 K/9 rate, 2.5 BB/9 rate, and .6 HR/9 rate. Vazquez is off to another fine season with the Bucs in 2019. Through 33 innings, Felipe owns a 1.91 ERA, 2.36 FIP, and 1.091 WHIP, along with the elite K and BB numbers.
But the Pirates should not trade Vazquez...yet. I’m ok with the idea of trading him, but just not yet. Sure he’s extremely valuable at just 27 years old and affordably controllable all the way up through his 2023 season. But one thing the Pirates don’t have is a replacement for him yet. Plus there should be no rush to trade him either. This is my first reason why they shouldn’t trade him.
The next reason they shouldn’t trade him this season is well, let’s remember how he got to Pittsburgh. Nearing the deadline back in 2016, the Washington Nationals were desperate for bullpen help. Like the Dodgers, they only had a few quality arms. Blake Treinen and Shawn Kelly were having strong seasons, but their closer, Jontahan Papelbon, was having an up and down season. There were moments where Papelbon looked like the All-Star the Nats had acquired last deadline. There were moments where it looked like Papelbon was entering that decline of his career. Right before the deadline, Papelbon had given up 7 earned runs in his past 4 appearances, and totaled just 1 whole inning of work. In a desperate move to acquire a shutdown relief pitcher, the Nationals traded Felipe Rivero (Vazquez), and Taylor Hearn for Mark Melancon. Melancon at the time was having another fantastic season as the Bucs’ closer. He had a 1.51 ERA, 2.67 FIP, and .96 WHIP through 41 and two thirds innings of work. But Melancon was at the end of his contract, so he was a rental at this point. Though Melancon pitched great with the Nationals (1.82 ERA, 2.07 FIP, .809 WHIP, 29 and two thirds innings), they did not resign him, while Rivero/Vazquez went on to be one of MLB’s best LHP relief pitchers. Hearn was traded to the Rangers at the 2018 deadline for Keone Kela. While Kela had struggled in 2019, he has been injured, and could return to his borderline all-star level performance he showed in 2018.
Another example I want to bring up is Aroldis Chapman. This was another trade at the 2016 deadline that showed desperation can make teams do interesting things. Chapman, who had been acquired by the Yankees the off season prior, was having another Chapman like season in the Bronx. He had a 2.01 ERA, 1.93 FIP, and .894 WHIP through 31 and a third innings. While the Cubs’ 2016 pen had the powerful duo of Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon to set-up and close down games, it could have used more depth. Chapman was sent to the Cubs in exchange for outfielder Billy Mckinney, RHP Adam Warren, and infielder Gleyber Torres. Torres was the headliner, and had entered 2016 as a consensus top 30 prospect in the MLB. By the time the 2017 prospect rankings rolled around, Torres was a consensus top 5 prospect. Did I mention that Aroldis Chapman was a rental too?
I’m not opposed to the idea of trading Vazquez. He could bring back a haul. But I am opposed to doing it now. We see how desperate teams can get at the deadline. Sure we might be able to fetch a larger haul now, but even if we wait until like the 2022 deadline, Vazquez will still be worth a large amount. There will be some team extremely desperate for relief help by 2022. There always in. In 2016 it was the Nationals, in 2017 it was the Nationals again, last year it was Indians. This year it’s the Dodgers. Next year or this upcoming off season it could be the Red Sox. Plus if they decided to keep going with the July deadline being the only trade deadline, the amount of desperation and tension for improvement could become even stronger. The Pirates could likely get the most value from Vazquez if they wait until the 2022 off season or 2023 deadline to dangle him in trade talks.