Pirates Take Calculated Risk In Acquiring Sanchez

The Pittsburgh Pirates have built up a pretty good farm system under Neal Huntington’s watch. Our own Marc Hulet ranked them ninth before the season, and over at ESPN, Keith Law ranked them eighth. They have also simulteanously been upgrading their Major League core, and have morphed into a contender this season. To do this at the same time, you have to get a little bit lucky, and you have to be a little bit creative and you can’t be squeamish about taking risks. They showed the latter two elements in trades both yesterday — when they acquired Travis Snider — and today by making two deals that essentially swap out Casey McGehee for Gaby Sanchez.

The first, and more important deal, sends outfielder Gorkys Hernandez and a 2013 competitive balance draft picks to the Marlins for Gaby Sanchez and minor league reliever Kyle Kaminska. According to Jim Callis from Baseball America, that pick is currently slated to be the 33rd selection in next year’s draft, and will carry a $1.525 million price tag, which is none too shabby, especially for a player that wasn’t even on the active roster. It would be very easy to declare this a huge win for the Marlins, especially if they no longer considered the 28-year old Sanchez to be part of the future in Miami (small caveat — here’s the list of players picked at #33 — not a lot of All-Stars in that group. Though obviously that doesn’t mean Miami won’t get someone good). That they also get a wild card in Hernandez, who once upon a time (2009, to be exact) was a top-100 prospect, and is still just 24 years old, is a nice get.

At the same time, this deal is no skin off of the Pirates’ collective backs. For one, Hernandez likely never had a place in Pittsburgh even before the team acquired Snider. And second, while the draft pick would be nice, it means nothing to the Pirates at this point. They didn’t do anything to earn it, and they have two first-round picks next season anyway. Even better, they may have acquired the perfect platoon-mate for Garrett Jones. McGehee had been filling that role, but Sanchez could prove an upgrade for two reasons.

For starters, Sanchez won’t cost as much going forward. McGehee is making $2.5375 million this season, and just by being in the majors and playing in 90 percent of his team’s games this season, his salary was likely to go by at least $500,000, but probably closer to $1 million. Sanchez, on the other hand, hasn’t yet reached arbitration, and any first-year bump he will get is going to be dampened by his being optioned to Triple-A earlier this season.

The second reason is that Sanchez is probably just plain better than McGehee. Since the start of 2011, success has been fleeting for McGehee. He hit .291/.360/.532 across 89 plate appearances this June, but remove that month and he has hit .219/.277/.337 across 804 PA since the start of ’11. There’s also the question of which McGehee is the real McGehee — is it the guy who posted a 6 wRC+ against lefties last season, or the one who has posted a 119 wRC+ against them this season?

There are, to be certain, questions surrounding Sanchez’s play. In the season’s first two months, his plate discipline eroded, while his strikeout percentage ticked further north. For a guy who was such a disciplined hitter coming into the season, it was a troubling development, as was his newfound inability to hit a fastball. Then again, both may have been flukes. Back in Triple-A, Sanchez’s walk-rate re-inflated, as did his ISO and SLG. Now, granted, he’s facing inferior competition there, but Sanchez wouldn’t exactly be the first Marlins player to suffer a demotion, be traded, and then find success elsewhere. Sanchez has always hit lefties well — to the tune of a 137 wRC+ — so if his plate discipline sticks once he returns to the majors, he should make a great platoon partner.

When the Bucs parted with Brad Lincoln, Huntington said he would find a reliever in short order, and he actually found two in Kaminski and Chad Qualls, who was acquired from the Yankees for McGehee. Qualls has been much maligned this year, but if you look at his splits the last three seasons, you find that he while lefties are firebombing him, he is doing just fine against right-handed hitters. Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle probably would have preferred someone who could fill Lincoln’s exact role, as Hurdle frequently pushed Lincoln past the three-out barrier. Then again, few managers like to burn through their bullpen playing matchups like Hurdle does, so Qualls may work out just fine as a ROOGY.

Last season, the Pittsburgh Pirates were fluke contenders, and they faded as the summer progressed. This summer, they are legitimate contenders, and Neal Huntington and Co. have done their best to augment their core while not robbing their future at the same time. In netting Gaby Sanchez for a draft pick, and then turning the dead wood that was Casey McGehee into a reliever who may replace some of what they lost in Brad Lincoln, the Pirates made some calculated gambles. But the payoff is a balanced roster with upside. Sanchez isn’t going to carry Pittsburgh to October, but if he hits the way he did last season, and this season in Triple-A, he and Garrett Jones will form a very effective first-base tandem.



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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com. He has written for The Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.


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Dave S
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Dave S
4 years 25 days ago

Love Sanchez vs McGahee.

Qualls vs Lincoln… not so much. But I could see Qualls being useful WAY before McGahee.

Travis Snyder… vs Gorky Hernandez and a pick…

I’m liking what the Bucs have done here.

Batt
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Batt
4 years 25 days ago

For sure… Nice work. They needed a big time SP to help their division chances, but it wasn’t going to happen. Neil has done a nice job the last couple of years being patient and competitive. He made the team more competitive this season and the next

Paul
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Paul
4 years 25 days ago

I think this is a huge overpay. Don’t forget that Sanchez was kicked off the Miami Hurricanes baseball team, and then this year failed to hold onto a job that was his. Gorkys Hernandez is just a guy, but you’re really under-rating the value of the pick – especially by linking to a list of guys who were picked there – bizarre. We know that first round picks, including supplemental firsts have better careers than players picked in the round after them.

And that’s before you take into account the draft pool increase that comes with the pick. The extra pick is so valuable because they don’t have to use all that money on that slot, which allows them flexibility to draft tougher signs with their own first rounder, or take a tougher sign down the line, etc.

I think it’s interesting that after failing to sign Appel (and just losing that bonus pool money) and their tough sign fourth rounder, and now trading their competitive balance pick, Huntington can be lauded for keeping an eye on the future. It is hard to imagine a GM performing worse with respect to the draft.

matt w
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matt w
4 years 25 days ago

Linking to the guys who were signed at 33 seems relevant. It’s easy to overestimate the value of a draft pick at the time you sign the guy, so it provides a little perspective to see that the best 33rd picks so far have ben Dave Burba and Mike Gallego.

The big value for the 33rd pick now may be the cap space; it could let you take a flier on two different hard-to-sign guys. But speaking of cap space, when the Pirates didn’t sign Appel the cap space didn’t just go away; most of it migrated to the 2013 draft, where the Pirates will have the ninth overall pick as well as their normal first-rounder.

B N
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B N
4 years 25 days ago

Still not quite sure how that is relevant. 33 is an arbitrary pick. The more relevant analysis would consider something like the production one sees for the bin of comparable picks (maybe 30-40).

For example, the best players picked at 35 were Johnny Damon, Mark Langston, and Aaron Rowand (unsurprisingly in that order!). So does that mean the 35th pick is better than the 33rd? Should teams trade down to get those coveted players? Obviously not.

There’s still a ton of value in the late picks. Even if a team could snag an Aaron Rowand under team control, I’m sure they’d be VERY happy with their return. Heck, they’d probably even be content with a Julio Borbon (much farther down the list, also a Pick #35).

B N
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B N
4 years 25 days ago

On the other hand, if you want to see a really funny list, check out guys drafted #31 (http://www.baseball-reference.com/draft/index.cgi?draft_type=junreg&overall_pick=31&query_type=overall_pick).

It’s almost as if Greg Maddux sucked all the WAR value right out of that pick, in perpetuity. Jarod Washburn was the sole survivor. They called him the professor but I’m thinking “warlock” might be more appropriate, given the circumstances.

matt w
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matt w
4 years 25 days ago

That’s a fair enough point about the bin. But if you’re looking at the 31st-40th picks or so, you have to keep in mind that the pool is ten times bigger, so if you’re looking at the best names picked there those are guys you’re a tenth as likely to get.

What’s more illuminating, maybe, is that only five 33rd picks ever put up over 5 bbWAR, and that’s pretty typical for that bin. That’s what linking to a list of guys tells you; if you’re just taking a typical pick in that range, you’re looking at someone who has something like a 1 in 8 chance of being any sort of useful major leaguer.

BlackOps
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BlackOps
4 years 25 days ago

Why do we have to remember that he got kicked of Miami’s baseball team?

Dave S
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Dave S
4 years 25 days ago

I will admit… not an expert on the new rules (and sure I’m not the only one…).

Care to illuminate me and the rest of the class?

And I am completely sincere in that request… not being snarky at all.

Dave S
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Dave S
4 years 25 days ago

And I am not at all interested in the “Gabby as annoying person” aspect… I just want to know the true value of the pick that the Bucs surrendered.

They get a replacement pick for not signing Appel… right?

Paul
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Paul
4 years 25 days ago

Re: Gabby, I was just pointing out that his history may indicate that he is not exactly self-motivated. In fact, I recall reading an article probably in BA about him being a prince of a guy. Just don’t see a guy spending that long in the minors, winning a job and performing really well for half a season, then be right back in the minors the next year. That’s not he arc of a high reward player, it’s a lottery ticket.

Which is my point about the draft. Given the new rules, a first round draft pick is most definitely not a lottery ticket like it used to be to an extent, especially for a small market team. A few key points on the draft:

1) There will be very few “compensation” picks going forward, so the supplemental first round will consist mainly of the “competitive balance” picks instead of 30+ picks to teams losing a free agent. As Paul notes in the article, there is a value assigned to that comp balance pick, and it is added to the overall draft pool of the drafting team. Fewer picks, and more money in your pool means these picks become almost exponentially more valuable.

2) Bonus pools. The higher you pick, and the more picks you have, the more money in your pool. Bonus money is deducted from the total in tiers, the first being the first ten rounds, where players can sign for any amount, and the second being after round 10 where only the bonuses over $100,000 count against the pool.

3) As in the past, to your question, teams that do not sign a player in the first round receive a compensation pick immediately following that pick’s draft position in the following draft. So they will pick 9th next year as compensation for failing to sign Appel (which at pick 8 last year and not having any extra picks to increase their bonus pool was an extremely foolish gamble). Also, if you fail to sign a “signability” player like their 4th rounder last year who they failed to sign, they don’t lose that round’s bonus pool allotment. However, failing to sign a 1st rounder and that money is not available in your pool.

They will also have their normal pick, but note that they should very easily finish with a record that will put them outside the Top 10. If they were to sign one of the few compensation free agents in the offseason (say, Josh Hamilton), they’d lose their regular pick. Their bonus pool will increase due to having that 9th pick.

The thing is by failing to sign Appel they missed out on signing a premium talent to keep building their farm system with, and because they did everything they could to sign him, and held onto as much bonus pool money as possible, it affected other picks down the line that they could have signed, and likely affected the players they drafted at some spots (meaning, players who would demand lower bonuses).

Yes, they will have two first round picks next year. My opinion is that it would have taken the comp balance pick in addition to the compensation pick to make up for that mistake. The Gaby Sanchez lotto ticket better pay out.

matt w
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matt w
4 years 25 days ago

I agree that the value of the pick lies in the bonus pool flexibility, but I think you’re far overestimating the cost of failing to sign Appel. They still have a protected ninth pick in the next draft, which is almost as valuable as the eighth pick. And it’s not like they left a lot of money unspent because of their attempt to sign Appel; they spent almost all of their remaining allotment. They took a calculated risk in taking the consensus best player available, but Boras and Appel decided to cut off their nose to spite the draft system, and (as they clearly stated from the beginning of the draft) when Appel made demands that would’ve cost them next year’s pick, they gave him their best wishes and banked the extra pick for next year. Not the best outcome but doesn’t seem like a disaster.

I’m not exactly sure what you were trying to say about the fourth round draft pick, but of course if you don’t sign a pick in the fourth round you don’t get the pool money for that pick (and you don’t get a compensation pick either). And I assume you were joking about signing Josh Hamilton.

And, as the list of picks shows, draft picks are a lottery ticket even if the new system lets you make some high upside signings. Again, they’re gambling on Sanchez, but any given two amateurs that you can draft for $900 k probably have less chance of fulfilling their potential than Sanchez has of getting it back. There’s many a slip ‘twixt the draft and the majors.

Justin
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Justin
4 years 25 days ago

I like the article Paul, but I find this point a little troubling

“And second, while the draft pick would be nice, it means nothing to the Pirates at this point. They didn’t do anything to earn it, and they have two first-round picks next season anyway.”

Just because the Pirates were not planning on having this pick does not mean they should just give it up because they have two first round picks. They could still draft a solid prospect at 33. If you want to argue that Sanchez is probably more valuable than that pick thats fine, but stating that the Pirates did nothing to earn it so they can just include it in a trade doesn’t seem very logical.

Colin
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Colin
4 years 25 days ago

I agree. By that logic, no one earned any draft picks (except by losing which is how the Pirates got the Competitive Balance pick anyway), so teams should just sell all of their picks…

Spencer
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Spencer
4 years 25 days ago

Agreed 100%.

I despise this “found money” argument.

As if how and when the pick was acquired influences it’s value at all

PiratesHurdles
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PiratesHurdles
4 years 25 days ago

The pick, currently #33, will be quite a bit lower because FA compensation picks are placed ahead of these. There won’t be a ton like in years past, but there will be 7-10, the pick will end up being #40-45.

Willie
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Willie
4 years 25 days ago

So for you pick lovers out there…you would rather gamble on a guy that would be at best 4 years away from producing anything at the major league level (with the odds being against him ever producing at that level), than add a guy that is batting 4th in our lineup today, fits in a perfect platoon, and is under team control for several years?? Yea I’m with you guys 100%.

Pudieron89
Guest
4 years 24 days ago

Since the start of 2011, success has been fleeting for McGehee. He hit .291/.360/.532 across 89 plate appearances this June, but remove that month and he has hit .219/.277/.337 across 804 PA since the start of ’11.

Yes, let’s just eliminate some of our sample to make a point. Awful.

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