Blue Jays Trade Targets: Do Pirates Offer Relief?

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So, I’m listening to Rum Bunter Radio (via RumBunter.com) this morning in the car. These guys offer great discussion about the Pittsburgh Pirates both on their site and their podcast. This episode featured a discussion about a few off season objectives the Bucs might have this winter and it got me thinking that there might be a scenario where these two teams matchup in a possible trade. The Pirates have two relievers that have been quite effective in 2015 and a desperate need for help at first base.

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So, in the podcast, the boys were talking about how Mark Melancon is eligible for a big raise in arbitration after saving 51 games in 2015. According to MLBTR.com, he is projected to make $10M in 2016. That means he could be out of the price range of the Pirates. The former Yankees, Astros and Red Sox righty has been one of the better relievers in baseball over the last couple years. He also saved 33 games in 2014. Now, his ERA and FIP have both gone up each of the last 3 years, which may lead to some question marks.

But, you shouldn’t be that concerned. According to Fangraphs.com, he still struck out 21% last season to walking 4.8%. His WHIP has stayed fairly consistent at 0.93 in 2015. He is a 57.5% ground ball pitcher who gave up just 25.6% hard contact. His velocity has lost a tick from 2014, but that doesn’t imply the end of days for Melancon. His cutter has an impressive weighted value of 13.8 and his curve sits at 4.3, which both are beauty offerings.

Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays /

Toronto Blue Jays

The issue with Melancon will be his hefty price tag. Do the Pirates pick him up again with an eye to trading him? Do they non-tender him to avoid the raise? Could the Blue Jays swoop in and pick up some help for their bullpen? They certainly are looking for help. Even if they decide to not fill the rotation holes with Aaron Sanchez or Roberto Osuna, they cannot be comfortable. They’ll be looking for an upgrade. If they move one or both to the rotation, they’re going to be even more desperate for help. Melancon can fill one of those voids.

But, if he’s too pricey, perhaps the Blue Jays could aim lower. See, on the Rum Bunter Radio show, they mentioned that Tony Watson is the guy who is ready to fill in for Melancon should he depart. Now, he’s projected by MLBTR to see $4.5 in arbitration, which makes him a much more club friendly option. His ERA, FIP and WHIP have been fairly close to Melancon and will cost half as much. He’s less of a groundball pitcher, but had a HR/FB rate of just 4.6% in 2015 and has given up just 23% hard contact. He features a nearly 94 mph sinker that he combines with an 87.7 mph fastball and a slider and changeup. Here’s the thing: his weighted pitch values have been nearly as good: wFB: 11.1, wSL, 1.8, wCH, 7.5.

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So, here we have two options, each with its own benefits. Melancon is a more expensive option. That means the Blue Jays might get away with forking over less to take on the salary for just one year before he becomes a free agent in 2017. Of course, that won’t be much less considering the impact Melancon brings. Watson would bring a lower salary and two years of control, which is desirable. But, he could be seen as the least effective of the two. However, depending on how the Blue Jays want to roll this winter, either would be a great pick up for their bullpen.

And, what would it take? Well, the boys at Rum Bunter have been lamenting for a while the performance of Pedro Alvarez at first base. His 27 homeruns are nice. His .243 average and .318 OBP are not so nice. But, what is worse is his defense. He made 23 errors at first base in 2015. He was worth -14 DRS and an ugly -26.4 UZR/150. Oh, and he’s projected to see $8.1M in arbitration. Now, they have a great option in Josh Bell in the minors, but he is likely not ready just yet. So, they’ll need a one year option to hold the fort. Enter the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Blue Jays have Chris Colabello in tow who won’t even be eligible for arbitration until 2017. We’ve seen how the club leaned on him as the everyday first baseman in the playoffs. On the surface, he may not have the obvious power that Alvarez has, but he has shown that he is a good bat in the middle of a lineup. He’s not a Gold Glove first baseman, by any means. But, his -5 DRS and -5.6 UZR/150 would likely be a welcome upgrade. Colabello is not a sexy name out there, but he certainly holds value for those who’ve been paying attention.

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Of course, if that doesn’t appeal, the Blue Jays have a better option in Justin Smoak. Smoak can match the power of Alvarez and then some. With regular at bats, Smoak could hit 30 round trippers. His .226 average and .299 OBP are not exactly attractive. But, realistically speaking, Alvarez wasn’t much better than that. Smoak’s K% of 26.3% is just a shade under Alvarez’ mark of 26.7%. So, offesnively speaking, this might be seen as a move sideways. But the real appeal with Smoak is his glove. He was worth 4 DRS in 2015 with a UZR/150 of 4.6. The Pirates could focus on run prevention and think of this as a  nearly 20 run upgrade.

Colabello won’t be earning much in 2016. Smoak is projected to earn $2M. Either of these would be an appealing option for the Pirates, with the scales tipping toward Smoak. On the surface, there seems to be a match here. The teams line up with what each needs. Now, teams are reluctant to part with bullpen help, so a one for one trade is obviously not in the cards. But, there is certainly ground for negotiations between these two clubs. The floor is primed for a dance. Each has something the other needs. And, in the offseason, that is tantamount to starting up the right tune.

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