The team with the greatest impact on a seemingly quiet market

With the trade deadline approaching, it is always a nice time to look back on some of the deadlines past to determine what is a good deal and what is a bad one.

With word from Bob Nightengale that the market is extremely quiet just a week before the deadline this year, this also shows that teams are learning from this as well.

At last year’s deadline, the Pirates made a desperation move and it shows why prospects are being so coveted by the individual teams. Having lost a good amount of its fan base by a handful of tough moves, the Pirates needed to make something happen and traded for Chris Archer and gave up three of their top prospects in order to get the right hander with some team control.

Those three prospects? Tyler Glasnow, who looked like a Cy Young candidate before going down with an injury this season, 2019 AL All-Star Austin Meadows, and the 91st top prospect according to MLB Pipeline in Shane Baz. All of this cost returned the Pirates a near replacement level pitcher.

However, the trade deadline is all about desperation. It is about teams who feel they are a move or two away from winning it all. They just need to shore up one spot to be contenders. All they need to do is sneak into the playoffs to do some damage. This is why the asking price has skyrocketed, particularly for players of real value…with team control.

Regardless, here is the tale of how one of the smallest spenders in the game might have the biggest impact on this year’s trade deadline.

The story starts in September of 2017 when the Pirates donated Juan Nicasio to the Phillies in the hunt of the playoff hunt. After the Pirates saved $600,000 following a drop in the standings, the Phillies then flipped Nicasio for Eliezer Alvarez, who was the Cardinals number 19 prospect at the time. According to Pirates GM Neal Huntington, the Pirates were blocked from moving Nicasio by a direct competitor, so they waived the reliever as a workaround. However it played out, the Pirates came off as cheap, dropping a successful reliever for nothing who was then flipped for something.

Fast-forward a few months to January of 2018, when the Pirates traded stars Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole within a month of each other. McCutchen was a hero in Pittsburgh, who was likely past his elite prime, but the move was done to avoid ultimately overpaying McCutchen. At the end of the day, that makes sense. Small market teams need to make moves like this. However, it destroys your following when they get so attached to a hero and see them going away for unknowns.

The Cole deal was trying to sell high on a player who had team control still. The returns in these deals have to be enormous to make it worthwhile, and thus far, the Cole return has not been. Of the four players coming back in the deal, Joe Musgrove is the only one who is even of note. Michael Feliz and Jason Martin have yet to make much of a splash. While Colin Moran has remained on the big league roster, he has been unable to swipe the third base job away from a consistently scuffling Jung-ho Kang.

The one positive deal that the Pirates made was the one that was the nail in the coffin for many fans of the franchise. The McCutchen deal netted back Bryan Reynolds, who has put together a strong rookie campaign in 2019, and Kyle Crick, who has been a solid bullpen arm. However, all of this was to save $12.5M in 2018, and ultimately $10M in 2019, $17M in 2020, and $20M in 2021 (based on McCutchen’s free agent deal with the Phillies). Had the Pirates resigned the star outfielder, their payroll would have gone up, but still been well below the league average.

The issue with the Pirates has been attendance. They had risen to ninth out of the 15 National League teams in 2014 and ’15 when the team qualified for the playoffs both years. However, that dropped all the way back to 14th in 2018, despite playing around .500 ball for the season.

Enter the deadline 2018. The Pirates, desperate to make a splash, make the playoffs, and ultimately bring fans back, make the Chris Archer deal. Equipped with one of the strongest farm systems in the game, it was a risk to dig deep into it. That risk has just not payed off. Archer has an ERA nearing five for his time with the Pirates and the prospects that were traded away are paying huge and nearly immediate dividends for a new contender.

With this fresh in teams’ minds, combined with the mass amount of teams still in the wild card race, the pot is brewing for a quiet deadline. By the time we have reached now, a week before the deadline, it feels like a couple of big moves typically have already fallen. Combine that with a hard trade deadline this season, it has the feel of a market that has reached its boiling point of supply and demand.

Only time will tell if the market heats up this year, but if not, take the 2018 trade deadline for the Pirates as a cautionary tale and paving the road for what is being played out.

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