First Things First
The Pirates are not serious contenders this year. They should not do anything that in any way weakens the 2013-2014 teams. Trading James McDonald, or any core player, for the primary purpose of improving this year’s offense would be a serious mistake. Any and all moves involving core players must be only be done with 2013-2014 in mind.
The Argument for Trading McDonald
The Pirates need to be legitimate contenders in 2013-1014. (Certainly Neal Huntington needs them to contend.) In order to make a run at the postseason in ’13-’14, the Pirates are going to need to be bold. The tactic of overpaying for one-year rentals in hopes of trading them off for underachieving former prospects must end. That strategy will not bring a winner next year, and it has proven ineffective.
In order to win in 2013-2014, and sustain it for five years, it is increasingly clear the Pirates will need two-to-three league average, or one-to-two above average, position players. The farm system cannot meet that need.
Conventional wisdom says that in late June, early July, the Pirates will trade players like Bedard, Hanrahan, Correia, maybe Karstens, parts of the bullpen, McGehee, and Jones. The question is, will these players bring back what the Pirates need to in order to contend in 2013-2014? Can they bring back legitimate, 25-28 yr old, major league hitters?
If “yes”, than there is no more talk about McDonald; if “no”, then we need to continue to talk.
If the players mentioned will not bring the return necessary for contention next year, the Pirates have two options: 1) Be aggressive in the free agent market and overpay for a couple of proven 30+ yr old offensive players; 2) Trade off a core player who has reached his peak value for league average, low-cost, position players.
The first option is unlikely to work. First, the Pirates have had a notoriously difficult time getting high profile free agents to even consider signing with them. Second, the financial burden of overpaying for two years of average to above-average production will have devastating consequences for the future.
The second option brings us to James McDonald. At this moment he is at, or close to, peak value. The question is, can he bring the Pirates a legitimate, top, major league ready prospect (ETA of late-2012)? Or, better yet, can he bring a couple league average players who can plug glaring holes at relatively low-cost?.
If the answer is “no”, then their is nothing left to discuss; if the answer is “yes”, then, the Pirates should seriously consider it. Here’s why:
Moving McDonald right now allows the Pirates to fill holes on their ’13-’14 roster at relatively low cost. With the money saved, they will have the financial flexibility to be aggressive in the free agent market this off-season. Instead of overpaying to patch holes, the Pirates would pay fair value to become average, and overpay to become a contender in the off season. This is a path to contention in 2013-2014.
Trading an asset like James McDonald when he is at peak value is exactly the bold type of move that this front office should consider. However, and let me be clear about this – it is done only with an eye on 2013-2014. Moving him under the circumstances I’ve outlined, not only provides a path to contention in 2013-2014, but more importantly it preserves the financial flexibility necessary for for sustained success once Taillon and Cole are ready.
Outside of McDonald, the only other piece that will bring the club value this season is Hanrahan. However, every team in the league knows the Pirates are desperate, so they are not likely to get value. Moreover, most other general managers now know that closers are overvalued.
Young starting pitchers, on the other hand, are an incredible asset. The Pirates have depth in this area. No one expected McDonald’s value to get this high. It is unlikely to ever be this high again. The opportunity has arisen to be bold; the front office should seriously consider it.
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