Pittsburgh Pirates Offseason: ESPN’s Best Trades For All Teams

Today on ESPN’s SweetSpot, ESPN’s baseball blog, David Schoenfield released what he considers what the best trades for each 30 teams would be.

With the Pirates, Schoenfield matched them up with the Indians, with the main piece being Andrew McCutchen.  We’ve written how McCutchen to the Indians would be a fit in the past, saying:

If the Indians are serious about making another run for the World Series, they need to upgrade their offense.  If the Bucs are serious about trading McCutchen, they need to target the Indians starting pitching for an appropriate return.  The two seem perfect trade partners, and both should be calling one another this off-season.

It naturally makes sense to pair the teams based off needs. The Pirates need pitching and the Indians need outfield help.  That is what Schonfield’s best trade is for these two teams, the Pirates and Indians making a deal around McCutchen.

He has the Pirates receiving pitcher Mike Clevinger, pitching prospect Triston McKenzie, and infield prospect Erik Gonzalez.  Schoenfield reasoned this trade by saying:

All the AL contenders get better! What’s McCutchen worth for the remaining two years on his contract? Hard to say after a tough 2016, and he’s not really a center fielder anymore. But Tyler Naquin rated as the worst defensive center fielder in the majors in 2016, so the Indians managed OK with poor defense there as is. The Pirates get two major league-ready assets in Clevinger and Gonzalez (.296/.329/.450 at Triple-A), plus a projectable arm in McKenzie (104 SO, 22 BB in 83 1/3 innings in the minors)

The Pirates receive their starter, and prospects, and the Indians receive the outfield help and bat they need.  The deal makes sense, until you look at it in-depth.

Mike Clevenger

Mike Clevinger is entering his age 26 season next year.  Jordan Bastian reported that he will begin as rotation depth with the Indians.  With their rotation of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer, and Josh Tomlin, that rotation is hard to crack.  However, there is also the fact that Clevinger is not all that good.

He entered the season ranking seventh among Baseball America’s top Indians prospects.  This partially is because of his breakout in 2015, posting a 2.73 ERA, 3.02 FIP, 8.26 K/9, and a 2.28 BB/9 in 158 innings for Double A Akron.

This is the one time Clevinger had control in his career, however.   Outside of 41 innings in 2012, 2015 was the only season in which Clevinger had a BB/9 lower than 3.25.  In 2016, while with Columbus, Clevinger posted  a 3.00 ERA and a 3.36 FIP in 93 innings.  While with Cleveland, Mike posted a 5.26 ERA and 4.86 FIP in 53 innings, and on top of that, he walked 4.92 per nine.

Clevinger couldn’t control his pitches and suffered.  Steamer projects him at a 4.08 ERA and a 4.12 FIP in 2017, splitting time between the pen and rotation.  Is this a player the Pirates should want leading the return for McCutchen? Not really.

Triston McKenzie

Triston McKenzie entered the year eighth in Baseball America’s top 10 Indians prospects, and he currently ranks fifth on MLB Pipeline.  He is a young right-handed arm, who is projectable, as he stands 6’5″ and 165 pounds.  McKenzie is only 19, and he does not turn 20 until August, so he has plenty of time to develop.  MLB Pipeline’s scouting report is very enticing:

At 6-foot-5 and 165 pounds, McKenzie requires as much projection as any pitcher from the 2015 Draft class. He’s capable of hitting 93 mph with his fastball but typically sits in the upper 80s, and it’s easy to envision him developing plus velocity once he gains strength. His curveball is advanced for a prep hurler and will flash plus with good depth, and his changeup already receives above-average grades from some scouts.

McKenzie certainly looks the part, and as a former first round pick in 2015, the seen potential is there with him.  But he still has a long way to go.  He has only pitched 95.3 innings in his professional career, but he has struck out 121 (11.42 K/9), and has walked only 25 (2.36 BB/9). So far McKenzie has excelled, but with only 34 innings under his belt in A ball, there are some questions, although he would likely be a piece in any McCutchen to the Indians deal

Erik Gonzalez

The last player that Schoenfield lists the Pirates acquiring is middle infield prospect Erik Gonzalez.  Gonzalez was not in Baseball America’s Indians top 10 prospects for 2016, but he does come in ranking ninth in Baseball America’s 2017 rankings, and he currently ranks eighth on MLB Pipeline.

Gonzalez stands at 6’3″ and 185 pounds, but he plays good defense and has quality speed.  The largest problem for Gonzalez is his bat.  In his 179 games and 766 plate appearances in Triple A Columbus, Gonzalez has hit .275/.313/.415 with a .330 wOBA and 108 wRC+.  He has not walked much, posting only a 4.6 walk rate in Triple A, and he does not have much power.

With the lack of power and ability to walk, he appears more of a utility player than a potential everyday player for a team.  Speed and defense as a utility player off the bench can be helpful, but not as a player you acquire for a star player.

Overall

I think that Schoenfield got the two teams right for the best trades each of the 30 teams could make.  However, I think that the package put together is rather light. McCutchen is projected to hit .283/.378/.469 with a .362 wOBA and a 129 wRC+. Triston McKenzie is the one player that makes sense, as it gives the Pirates another young arm to develop in the system.  But Mike Clevinger appears to be a backend starter at best, and most likely a bullpen arm, so he does not really seem to fit with what the Pirates would want or need (reminds me of Neil Walker for Jon Niese). Erik Gonzalez is also major league ready, but he projects more of a utility player with no power.

The Pirates and Indians match up extremely well for a McCutchen deal, just not with these three players.

*Numbers from fangraphs

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