LHP Jeff Locke (Peter Diana/Post-Gazette)
Game: Pirates (59-42) at Reds (46-54)
Time: 7:10 p.m.
Site: Great American Ball Park
TV, radio: ROOT Sports, KDKA-FM 93.7
Weather: 81 and sunny
1. Gregory Polanco RF
2. Starling Marte LF
3. Andrew McCutchen CF
4. Aramis Ramirez 3B
5. Jung Ho Kang SS
6. Neil Walker 2B
7. Pedro Alvarez 1B
8. Francisco Cervelli C
9. Jeff Locke LHP
1. Brandon Phillips 2B
2. Jason Bourgeois LF
3. Joey Votto 1B
4. Todd Frazier 3B
5. Marlon Byrd RF
6. Bryan Pena C
7. Ivan De Jesus SS
8. Michael Lorenzen RHP
9. Billy Hamilton CF
CINCINNATI, Ohio — Reliever Joakim Soria strolled into the Pirates clubhouse at 3:52 p.m. Friday, just minutes before the trade deadline passed, and met with media shortly thereafter to discuss his move from the Tigers to the Pirates. Here’s the audio ...
CINCINNATI -- The Pirates made two deals that came out right after today’s 4 p.m. non-waiver trade deadline, bringing their total major league acquisition to five.
They announced a trade that brings lefty J.A. Happ to Pittsburgh from the Mariners in exchange for Class AAA Indianapolis right-hander Adrian Sampson. According to a source familiar with the trade, they also got first baseman Michael Morse from the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for Jose Tabata. CBS Sports first reported the Morse trade.
These moves are obviously intended to address two needs, one that has existed all season and one that cropped up recently: The rotation and first base, or at least a right-handed complement to Pedro Alvarez. A.J. Burnett has struggled in his past three starts, Charlie Morton in his past seven. Alvarez has hit better recently, but still has a .307 on-base percentage and is worth exactly 0.0 Wins Above Replacement, according to Fangraphs’ version of the stat (minus-0.4 according to Baseball Reference).
But neither Happ nor Morse are having great seasons. Happ has a 4.64 ERA with a 1.41 WHIP in 1082/3 innings and Morse is hitting .213/.276/.313 with four home runs and a 63 OPS+ (league average is 100).
CINCINNATI -- We have one hour remaining until the trade deadline. Here’s what’s been going on today:
***The Giants acquired righty Mike Leake from the Reds, meaning the Pirates won’t face him Sunday.
***I’m not a fan of the cliche “Our long national nightmare is over,” but that nicely describes the Phillies’ trade of Cole Hamels to the Rangers. Hamels hopes to pitch meaningful games for the Rangers.
***Elsewhere in the division: The Cardinals, who already added Steve Cishek, traded for Jonathan Broxton to strengthen their bullpen. This might be a net gain for the Pirates, against whom Broxton has a 6.00 ERA in 39 innings, including seven homers and 17 walks. That is Broxton’s highest ERA against an NL club. ... The Cubs traded for Marlins starter Dan Haren. ... The Brewers continued to sell, getting rid of Gerardo Parra in addition to Broxton.
***The Orioles designated Bud Norris for assignment, but he has a 7.06 ERA, he’s been pitching in relief since the beginning of July and is making $8.8 million this season.
***From late last night: The Pirates sent outfielder Gorkys Hernandez outright to Class AAA Indianapolis, where he had been rehabbing. They placed him on waivers earlier this week and he cleared. He was on the DL, but according to the Indianapolis roster he is active.
What type of shape is the Pirates’ pitching in?
- The rotation, which for most of the season has been the second-best unit in the NL, has dropped to third, with a 3.35 ERA, behind the Cardinals and Dodgers. In the past 30 days, though, their 3.88 ERA is 12th in the NL.
- A.J. Burnett’s past three starts: 16 innings, 32 hits, 18 earned runs.
- Charlie Morton’s past seven starts: 37 innings, 45 hits, 30 earned runs, 16 walks, 7.30 ERA, 302/.392/.544 opposing batters’ line. That’s a .935 OPS.
- Options at Class AAA Indianapolis: RHPs Wilfredo Boscan, Adrian Sampson, Radhames Liz, Chris Volstad.
- The Pirates’ bullpen in the past 30 days has a 4.68 ERA, 13th in the NL. Their 2.88 ERA for the season is still second in the NL.
CINCINNATI -- The Pirates did not acquire Joakim Soria for nights like Thursday, when their starter didn’t have it and they were behind early. But Thursday’s game showed the worst-case scenario for a bullpen that has been strong all year but faltered recently.
Deolis Guerra allowed six runs and seven hits in 11/3i innings, including two home runs. Antonio Bastardo allowed a run without allowing a hit because he walked three guys. Guerra allowed a run for the third outing in a row. Arquimedes Caminero retired the only batter he faced Thursday but had allowed two runs twice in his past four outings. Since the All-Star break, the Pirates’ bullpen ERA was 4.80 (prior to Thursday’s game), 25th in MLB.
Jared Hughes, Mark Melancon and Tony Watson can’t pitch every game, so the Pirates lengthened the bullpen by acquiring Joe Blanton and Joakim Soria.
“Part of it was availability, part of it was acquisition cost, part of it is opportunity,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “As we look at the club after we acquired Ramirez, we wanted to stay open-minded and stay flexible and versatile and add to the club the best way we felt possible, whether it's the team on the field or the organization as a whole. As we looked at the entirety of the board, who was available, what was available, what the acquisition costs were, we felt these were our best moves.”
The Pirates have not been able to upgrade first base, mostly because they have not been able to find a taker for Pedro Alvarez. Alvarez showed both ends of his spectrum Thursday night, driving a long home run but also throwing a ball into the outfield and allowing a run to score.
Huntington said he didn’t see the Pirates upgrading their rotation.
“We don't see the ability to acquire somebody that we would drop into the rotation ahead of one of our current starters at the present time,” he said. “We like our internal depth, we like our depth. As we sit here right now, given the acquisition cost of the starters that were out there, given the quality of the starters that are out there in comparison to what we believe we have internally, we went with the moves that we went with.”
That could become a problem after A.J. Burnett’s outing Thursday. In three starts since the All-Star break, he has allowed twice as many hits (32) as innings pitched (16), with 18 earned runs.
“I was not able to throw anything pretty much where I wanted to,” Burnett said.
In Charlie Morton’s past six starts, he has a 5.20 ERA and 37 hits allowed in 361/3 innings.
Gregory Polanco, the only other position player for whom the Pirates might have looked for an upgrade or platoon situation, is hitting better than .300 since the middle of the month, with an OPS of more than .800. The first-base situation is what it is. Which brings the Pirates back to the bullpen, their chosen unit to upgrade.
Last year’s Royals displayed how effective a strong back end can be, with Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland blowing everyone away and shortening games to six innings. The Yankees have some of that going on this year with Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller.
The other thing about going for an edge in the bullpen: Relievers are easier to acquire and cost less than starters. The Pirates will not part with the prospects it will take to get a two-month rental like David Price or Johnny Cueto, or at least the front office has shown no indication of doing so. (Last year, they had an offer out for Price, but he had another year of control, meaning the Pirates could have traded him in the winter and recovered what their farm system lost). Instead, they target A) players with years of control remaining or B) rentals who don’t cost too much to get. Aramis Ramirez cost a minor league right-handed reliever. Blanton cost cash considerations. Soria cost the most, talented young shortstop JaCoby Jones, but he still had only just reached double-A. Huntington and his staff have been successful in the past at finding pitchers who, with help from Ray Searage and Jim Benedict, can be effective, or rediscover a previous level of performance. These types of players often come at a bargain (think Vance Worley for cash).
The Pirates will pay Blanton and Soria less than $3 million for the remainder of the season. Starters cost a lot of money to sign (Kershaw, Scherzer, Greinke, etc.) and young ones get pricy in arbitration. As always when discussing the Pirates’ finances, which I know are a third rail at times, I’m not arguing for or against these policies, merely offering an explanation. There is an argument to be made to spend, especially with more and more national TV revenue coming in each year.
The trade deadline is 4 p.m. today.
Game story from Stephen J. Nesbitt: Burnett, bullpen shelled as Pirates lose to Reds.
Pirates notebook: Worley designated for assignment.
My apologies on Thursday’s chat: The plane broke on my connection to Cincinnati. We’ll do it today, at noon. You can find it here.