Why did the Pirates trade a draft pick for Gaby Sanchez, but not give one up for Kyle Lohse?

When word leaked out yesterday that the Brewers had come to a three-year/$33 million agreement with Kyle Lohse, a lot of Pirate fans immediately started wondering why the Pirates didn't make more of a push for Lohse given their current rotation woes. There are a lot of fairly straightforward answers to this question: Lohse is due for some regression and is much more likely to be a ~3.50 ERA/2 WAR guy in 2013 than the <3.00 ERA/4 WAR guy he was in 2012, $11 million a year is a lot of money for the Pirates to give to any player that's not a slam dunk, and due to their not being completely terrible last year, the Pirates' first round pick at #14 in this coming draft is not protected. Since Lohse is a Type A free agent or whatever they're called now, the Pirates would have to sacrifice their pick to the Cardinals in order to sign Lohse.

There's room for some debate on this topic over whether Lohse is really worth $11 million (he might be) over three years (he's not), whether or not the Pirates can afford to spend their money that way (they can't), and when the Pirates can start sacrificing draft picks for the present (probably never) . The reality as I see it is that there's no cognitive dissonance between saying that the front office did a pretty poor job building a rotation that's likely to be bad for 2013 and saying that we simply do not live in a universe in which the a team like the Pittsburgh Pirates can spend $33 million + a draft pick on the likes of Kyle Lohse at any point, especially not at this one.

One question that I thought was interesting, though, was this: why can the Pirates trade a draft pick for Gaby Sanchez (under the new CBA the picks from the bullshit competitive balance lottery are tradeable and the Pirates swapped the 35th overall pick in next year's draft along with Gorkys Hernandez for Gaby Sanchez) but not Kyle Lohse? The answer is complicated, but it's also interesting and worth diving into. 

The first step is to note that the gap between Sanchez and Lohse might not be as big as you think. If you go to their Fangraphs pages and look at projections (Lohse, Sanchez), you'll see Sanchez pegged as ~1 win player and Lohse pegged as ~2-3 win player. If you like Sanchez's defense (UZR does, DRS does not; I tend to default to DRS), Sanchez was a 2-3 win player in both 2010 and 2011, though, and it's not impossible to see him getting back there in 2013, especially if his hot spring training is an indication that he's fixed whatever was wrong with his swing last year and, say, Garrett Jones gets traded or plays right field a lot because Jose Tabata and Travis Snider both suck. You could say the same of Lohse, of course, but Miller Park is a pretty bad fit for a flyball pitcher. I'll freely admit that it's wishcasting on my part to hope that Sanchez is anything more than a competent platoon player and pinch-hitter, and so let's peg the difference between Sanchez and Lohse at one win. That's a real difference, but it's not as big as the 3-4 win gap between them in 2012. 

The second step is to look at 14th overall picks vs. 35th overall picks. It's a pretty striking gap. There have been 48 MLB drafts, which means that 48 players have been taken 14th overall and 48 players have been taken 35th overall. 32 of the #14 picks have made the big leagues, and quite a few of them have turned into decent players. The list includes Jason Heyward, Aaron Hicks (a Top 100 prospect in the Twins' system who got as high as #14 in the BA rankings before losing some luster in recent years), Billy Butler, and the Pirates' own Travis Snider in recent years. Historically there's also Derrek Lee, Jason Varitek, Cliff Floyd, and Tino Martinez, all of whom had careers of at least 20 WAR. At #35, only 26 of 48 have made the big leagues. There are no recent standouts picked at #35, and only Matt Davidson of the Diamondbacks is currently on Top 100 lists. Historically, both Johnny Damon and Mark Langston were picked 35th and they're better than any of the players listed as 14th picks, but after them only Aaron Rowand (18.9 WAR) even tops 10 career wins above replacement. In other words, if you pick 35th and get Gaby Sanchez out of that pick, you're probably lucky. 

All of this doesn't even take into account the effect that having two first round picks has on financial flexibility in the new draft. Last year, the Pirates sort of took a blind shot into the dark when Mark Appel fell into their laps with the eighth pick. They pretty seriously had now way of knowing how the process would pan out or how much money needed to be saved to sign Appel. I still think it was a good risk to take, but it obviously didn't work out in their favor. If something similar happens this year and a top five talent falls to #9, the 14th pick gives them some financial wiggle room. If it doesn't, well, the Pirates still have two first round picks. 

The final argument is even more straightforward: as it stands right now it seems like the Pirates were kind of dumb to trade even the 35th pick in the draft for Gaby Sanchez. I'm happy they didn't compound their mistake by giving away the 14th pick, too.

Pat Lackey

About Pat Lackey

In 2005, I started a WHYGAVS instead of working on organic chemistry homework. Many years later, I've written about baseball and the Pirates for a number of sites all across the internet, but WHYGAVS is still my home. I still haven't finished that O-Chem homework, though.

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