Another Trade Deadline has come and gone in Major League Baseball. To say that the 2015 version of the annual cut-off date was a hectic one would be a very big understatement. From the blockbuster deals, to the minor transactions that took place during the last few weeks, 29 of the 30 Major League teams, excluding the Arizona Diamondbacks, took advantage of the deadline to help strengthen their respective ball clubs. The Pittsburgh Pirates were no different. With voids left due to injuries to Jordy Mercer, Josh Harrison and now AJ Burnett, the Bucs looked to fill those voids in the days leading up to the deadline. Though six days have passed since the deadline, we have now seen some of the acquisitions in action. Some have seen immediate success and will only help the Pirates in the long run, while others have struggled and may not necessarily be the answers to some of the Pirates problems.
On July 23, the Pirates were one of the first teams to get the dealing frenzy started, reacquiring former Pirates third baseman Aramis Ramirez from the Milwaukee Brewers, 12 years after he was initially traded by the Pirates to the Chicago Cubs. With a lack of depth on the left side of their infield, General Manager Neal Huntington made the move to bring in the slugging third baseman, in hopes that he could be a veteran right-handed bat in the middle of the Pirates lineup. Though he has been slotted into the cleanup spot in the Pirates lineup, the transition back to Pittsburgh hasn’t been an easy one for the 37-year old veteran. In nine games with the Pirates, Ramirez has six hits in 38 at-bats and is hitting .158 with no home runs and three RBI. Despite his struggles in his return, I do like this deal for the Pirates. What Ramirez provides for this club is a lot more than just the ability to hit from the right side of the plate. His leadership will be cherished by this young group as the season progresses. Ramirez has always been known to show his leadership through his work ethic and play on the field. Though he’s gone through some tough times at the plate recently, his season numbers are not terrible. In 90 games with the Brewers and the Pirates, Ramirez is hitting .237 with 11 home runs and 45 RBI. His offensive and defensive abilities have always been stellar over the years. Now, you may ask, should Ramirez be hitting cleanup for this ballclub? My answer would be no. Ramirez, who has said that he plans to retire at the end of the season, would fit in well hitting sixth or seventh in this lineup, giving the Bucs some depth at the bottom and giving the younger guys opportunities at the top. I like Starling Marte in the cleanup role, but only Manager Clint Hurdle knows whether or not a change would be made. Aside from the fact that he should possibly drop down in the lineup, Ramirez is a solid addition to the Pirates roster and I commend Huntington for this deal, in which he didn’t give up much in exchange for the man who sits eighth amongst active players in home runs. Ramirez brings a lot home in his return to Pittsburgh, but he was brought in, not only to fill needs in the infield, but to help bring a championship home in his return to Pittsburgh.
One day before the Trade Deadline, the Pirates made a pair of deals in an attempt to bolster their bullpen. In the Pirates first deal of the day, Huntington traded for Kansas City Royals pitcher Joe Blanton in exchange for cash considerations. Blanton moved to the bullpen with the Royals this season after not pitching in 2014, and following an abundance of sub-par years as a starter for teams such as the Oakland Athletics, Philadelphia Phillies, Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Blanton doesn’t have the same stuff that he had when he won 16 games in 2006 with the Oakland Athletics, but he has been a solid bullpen arm in his return to Major League Baseball this season. His ERA has never been flashy in past years, posting a career 4.50 Earned Run Average. Though I am not completely sold on Blanton, you can’t hate this deal. The Pirates didn’t give up much to acquire the 34-year old right-hander and his season numbers have not been terrible. In 16 appearances with the Royals and Pirates this season, Blanton is 2-2 with a 3.92 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 43.2 innings. The Pirates designated Vance Worley for assignment after acquiring Blanton, so his role as a long relief option is obvious. Though he wasn’t the best relief option available at the deadline, Blanton’s experience is bound to help a talented Pirates bullpen in the long run.
On the same day that the Pirates acquired Blanton from the Royals, they continued their quest to bolster their bullpen by acquiring Joakim Soria from the Detroit Tigers. Soria, who was the closer in Detroit, was one of the best relief pitchers available at the deadline. He is also expected to make this bullpen even more dominant. His 2015 campaign has proved that he is capable of creating a solid setup duo, along with left-hander Tony Watson, for All-Star closer Marc Melancon. In 46 appearances with the Tigers and the Pirates, Soria is 3-1 with a 2.68 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 43.2 innings. He has made three appearances thus far for the Pirates, picking up a save in a win against Cincinnati on Sunday and striking out two in one inning of work in last night’s victory over Chicago. One of the main needs for the Pirates heading into the deadline was bullpen help and Soria is a pitcher that fulfills that need. Whether he is serving as a setup man or a closer, the 31-year old right-hander is bound to help the Pirates pitching staff as the season progresses.
As the 4PM trade deadline was nearing on July 31, the Pirates looked to be finished making any deals to bolster their roster. It wasn’t until moments after the deadline that two trades were announced. The first one was a deal that sent right fielder Jose Tabata to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for first baseman Michael Morse. Though some may not like this deal, I wasn’t particularly disappointed with it. Morse has not had a very good year, hitting .216 with four home runs and 12 RBI, but he does have an impressive track record. Morse, who won a World Series Championship with the San Francisco Giants last season, is a career .277 hitter and does fill a need for the Pirates in regards to a right-handed bench bat who can also play first base. Now, I understand he wasn’t the best option available amongst first basemen and his .091 batting average against left-handed pitching isn’t ideal, but he might be worth giving up a guy like Jose Tabata, who never really lived up to the hype while playing in Pittsburgh. Despite his struggles and injury issues this season, Morse has had two official at-bats as a Pirate, striking out in Tuesday’s game against Chicago and hitting a pinch hit single in the sixth inning of last night’s game. I’m not saying that Morse is the answer to all of the Pirates problems, but he could fit in well, platooning with Alvarez and Travis Ishikawa at first base. However, his prowess at the plate and his ability to be a solid bench bat are what make me think that Morse is a solid addition to the Pirates roster.
The Pirates final acquisition was the only one that I didn’t necessarily agree with or like. Following the acquisition of Morse, Huntington sent minor league pitcher Adrian Sampson to the Seattle Mariners for Starting Pitcher J.A Happ. Following some concerns regarding the health of Starting Pitcher AJ Burnett, Huntington made the deal for Happ in order to fill the void in the starting rotation. Happ, who has struggled with an abundance of teams after winning 12 games with the Phillies in 2009, made his first start as a Pirate on Tuesday. His appearance was short lived, as he only lasted 4.1 innings while giving up four runs on eight hits and striking out six batters. Though I understand why Huntington made the move to acquire Happ, I’m not entirely sold on him being capable of replacing Burnett in the rotation. In his last 15 appearances, which includes 14 starts, Happ is 1-6 with a 5.99 ERA and a 1.66 WHIP. Though I believe that Charlie Morton is capable of being a solid number three starter for the Pirates behind Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano, I’m not too confident in the bottom part of the rotation. Jeff Locke, who is capable of pitching fairly well, is much too inconsistent for my liking. He did have a solid outing last night, going 5.2 innings while giving up four runs on four hits and striking out four batters, but his inconsistency is what most people recognize. Though the addition of Happ may work out, it also may be a risky move for a team that is still attempting to catch the St. Louis Cardinals and win their division. I hope that Pitching Coach Ray Searage can work his magic on Happ, like he did with Liriano and Edinson Volquez when they were struggling, and that the 32-year old lefty can prove me wrong in his next couple of starts.
Five deals were made by General Manager Neal Huntington in the days going into the 2015 Trade Deadline. With the loss of AJ Burnett to the 15-day disabled list, it’s safe to say that the starting rotation that we all considered to be one of the best in baseball at one point, has now taken a huge hit. However, we put so much emphasis on the starting rotation that we forget just how good the Pirates bullpen is. The additions of Soria and Blanton will only help improve the pen, while Ramirez and Morse will provide more depth to the Pirates lineup and bench, even when Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison return from injury. If I were to give the Pirates a grade at the Trade Deadline, I would have to give them a B-. There are still some questions surrounding this team, but Huntington did fill some injury voids and made the bullpen more dynamic. It looks like only time will tell how much of an impact these deadline deals will actually have as the Pirates continue to gain ground in the National League Central Division and make their push towards the postseason.