With nine days left until the trade deadline, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that this year’s deadline is going to be a lot like last year’s. In the National League, the top eight teams are within four games of each other (not four games of a playoff spot; four games of each other) and in the American League you could probably go down as far as 10 teams that think that they’re still in contention, since the Red Sox are within six games of the second wild card. You could probably draw the line one team further down, with the Rays at 6 1/2 back, but I think they’ll trade David Price and that means they’re not contenders. Simply put, that doesn’t leave a whole ton of sellers on the market, and most of the teams that find themselves in playoff contention this year are too smart to participate wildly in a seller’s market. That means it’ll likely be another boring July 31st and another busy August, as waiver claims are made.
If I can briefly summarize the Pirates’ MLB Trade Rumors page right now, it looks like this: the Pirates are interested in most of the relief names you see bandied about right now (Joaquin Benoit, Joakim Soria, and Antonio Bastardo all seem like potential targets), and they’ve been at least seen scouting some of the available starting pitching, including Ian Kennedy and our old frenemy AJ Burnett. They’ve been linked to Josh Willingham as well, which makes sense given that Michael Martinez started in right field last night and the bench is a bit thin on right-handed bats.
Relief pitching might be their most obvious need, but you only have to spend about two minutes on that page to be reminded that relief pitching is everyone’s most obvious need at this time of year, and that if there are 19 contenders and 11 sellers, there aren’t going to be enough relievers to go around. Therefore, the teams that get relievers at the deadline are going to be the teams that overpay for them, and the Pirates just aren’t going to be one of those teams.
There is one caveat to this: I don’t think it should be surprising that the starters that the Pirates have been linked to (Kennedy and Burnett for sure) are pitchers on teams that have available relievers. My guess is that the Pirates are going to try and swing a trade for two pitchers in one fell swoop, hoping that interest in two pitchers helps them create a more attractive package to the Padres or Phillies than the teams that are just willing to trade for a reliever.
I’ll also say this: the Padres don’t have a general manager right now, and if they don’t hire one before July 31st, I don’t think they’ll make a significant move like trading Ian Kennedy. Trading relievers is one thing, but trading a good starter under contract for another year (or making a package deal for Kennedy and Benoit) is different. I would also guess that the Pirates probably won’t trade for Bastardo and Burnett, because Bastardo is an overrated lefty and because Burnett is expensive and the Pirates just got burned badly by the Wandy Rodriguez experience. Their interest is those two is probably limited to, “Will Ruben Amaro Jr., pay us to take these players away from him?” because that’s always a distinct possibility.
Anyway, the main point here is just this: don’t be surprised if the Pirates don’t do much at the deadline this year, even if you hear their name mentioned in a lot of rumors. The market, particularly for relievers, is pretty likely to be crazy and it’s hard to imagine the Pirates getting involved in that kind of thing.