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July 27, 2005

Prospectus Notebook

Wednesday Edition

by Baseball Prospectus

Pittsburgh Pirates: The last time the Pirates saw the trade deadline with more wins than losses under their belt was 1992. Barry Bonds was the NL MVP, Doug Drabek notched 15 wins with his 2.77 ERA in 256.2 innings, and Jose Lind was paid $2,000,000 to "hit" .235/.275/.269 in 505 plate appearances. It's been a long 12 years for Pirate fans, as deadline after deadline saw the team packing talent up and shipping players off to legitimate playoff contenders.

This year is no different, as the Pirates prepare to unload possibly four key players from their 25-man roster.

  • Matt Lawton, OF, LHB: Lawton is at the end of a mega-rich $27,000,000 / four-year deal, so any trade involving the veteran left-fielder is going to require the Pirates to absorb a significant chunk of change; anyone taking all of Lawton's salary from August 1st forward would be on the hook for more than $2,900,000.

    With a cumulative .270/.376/.438 line in 409 plate appearances, it's hard to see Lawton as an impact bat, but he'd certainly be useful as a platoon or role player. He's hit .283/.395/.469 against righties this year, and his three-year splits also show a significant platoon advantage (.801 OPS vs. RHPs, .681 OPS vs. LHPs). The other thing going for Lawton is that he's a plus defender in left and has shown the ability to cover ably in right field when that's necessary. He's got some speed, but has trouble picking his spots and getting good jumps (12 steals in 21 attempts for a 57.1% success rate). As a left-handed pinch hitter with good on-base skills Lawton could be a nifty pickup for a playoff club.

  • Jose Mesa, RHP: Every competing club could use an extra reliever or two, and a team picking up Mesa would only be on the hook for about $950,000. There's nothing electric in Mesa's numbers, though: 6.16 K/9, 1.44 K/BB, 4.03 ERA in 38 IP. The other thing to remember is that Mesa has a $4,000,000 option for 2006 with a $500,000 buyout. It's hard to imagine a team wanting to re-up him at that price, and once you add the buyout to his remaining 2005 salary you're talking about almost $1,500,000 for 20 IP of 4.00 ERA. To move him the Pirates are probably going to have to eat some of his salary.

  • Kip Wells, RHP: There is a dearth of starting pitching available this year, which makes Kip Wells one of the few targets for teams looking to shore up their rotation for a playoff race. Wells avoided arbitration in January, settling for $3,175,000, and he'll head into arbitration again next year, though teams trading for Wells this week may not be interested in him for 2006 at the approximately $4,500,000 that he would probably win in a hearing.

    Wells has been average at best this year (4.77 ERA/5.50 RA and 1.60 K/BB) and his strong strikeout rate (7.04 K/9) can't help the fact that he gives up home runs at a frightening rate (1.32 HR/9, 20th worst of the 105 MLB pitchers with at least 100 IP). Wells is only an improvement on teams that are desperately struggling at the back of their rotation, and even then the Pirates will probably eat some salary.

  • Mark Redman, LHP: The jewel of the Pirates trade options is surely Mark Redman, the left-handed hurler who has put up a surprising 3.99 ERA in 135.1 IP. Redman's strikeout rate is weak (4.79 K/9) but his walk rate is strong (2.66 BB/9) and his home run rate is fantastic (0.67 HR/9, or 25th best out of the 116 ML hurlers with 85 IP). Redman makes for quite an adept #4 starter, and because of his left-handedness could even slip into the #3 spot of a lopsided rotation.

    The problem with Redman, again, is financial. He's due approximately $1,650,000 for the rest of 2005 and is guaranteed $4,500,000 next year. Considering the astronomical contracts given to starters this past off-season, that would be more than reasonable, but potential trading partners are certainly concerned that he'll revert to his 2004 form (5.18 RA and 1.31 HR/9 [in a pitcher's park]).

    At press time the latest word from our resident rumor mill, Will Carroll, was that the Pirates were trying to trade Redman for Jeremy Hermida, the #35 prospect in our 2005 Top 50 prospects guide, and currently hitting .306/.466/.542 in the Carolina League. It would be nearly impossible to imagine the Marlins accepting that offer.

The Pirates have a number of options for teams looking to fill holes at the deadline, but in each and every case the options are less than awe-inspiring, and they'll all probably require the Pirates to eat salary and/or accept mediocre prospects in return. All in all, it's looking more and more like the many trade possibilities to the Pirates will bring in little if anything of use for a 2006 or 2007 campaign.

--Tom Gorman

St. Louis Cardinals: The Cardinals have half of their Opening Day lineup on the disabled list, a feat that's made even more impressive when you realize that they've lost no ground in the NL Central during that stretch. How have the Cards managed to replace Reggie Sanders, Yadier Molina, Scott Rolen, and Larry Walker? Let's take a look, using the quick & dirty but accurate measure, MLVr.


NAME       MLVR   VORP            REPLACEMENT   MLVR    VORP
Sanders    0.243  25.8            Taguchi      -0.049   4.1
Molina    -0.147   2.4            Diaz         -0.370  -3.3
Rolen     -0.050   2.2            Nunez         0.070   9.9
Walker     0.190  18.5            Mabry         0.029   5.3
There's some confusion in these numbers--Mabry would likely fill in at 3B if he wasn't already in the OF for Walker--but it does show us some interesting things about the way the team is constructed. The dropoff suffered by Rolen due to his shoulder and knee injuries is enough that, when playing, he's worse than Abraham Nunez, something not even PECOTA could project even predicting this type of injury scenario.

The catching is not a significant setback for those who pine for the days of Mike Matheny. Molina's defensive numbers (FRAR of 23, overall WARP3 of 4.1) are slightly better than Matheny's (13, 3.6), so this appears to be a smart move by the front office. It's hard to knock anyone for having a poor backup catcher in a thin market, but matching up the skills seems the smarter play. If you're willing to have a "catch and throw" guy as your starter, it's better to have a masher like Javier Valentin or Kelly Stinnett behind him.

So how are the Cardinals so far ahead in their division and why hasn't the run of injuries affected it? That's easy--the pitching has been great and Albert Pujols is still Albert Pujols, the most dangerous hitter in the game that's not a friend of Victor Conte. The pitching, led by Chris Carpenter and a reborn Matt Morris, is only half the story. Dave Duncan has mixed and matched well in the bullpen, negating any negatives and keeping his five starters out there for twenty starts each. (Morris missed his first two starts, so he has some catching up to do.)

The Cardinals have enough of a lead in the division that they don't need to do anything to win the division. The question that they have to answer instead is whether or not they have enough to make it back to the World Series. A thin minor league system might answer the question for them unless Walt Jocketty works some magic.

--Will Carroll

Related Content:  Kip Wells

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