Sawchik: Pirates counting on return of Marte, Cole to boost team for stretch run
There are those questioning the Pirates' willingness to make a major addition prior to Thursday's nonwaiver trade deadline. Pirates general manager Neal Huntington insisted the club stretched “beyond” its comfort level in making offers, saying the Pirates were heavily engaged in talks for impact players such as aces Jon Lester and David Price.
Perhaps the Pirates were selling the wrong commodity — prospects — in an unusual trade market. Most of the impact players were traded not for prospects, but for major league talent. The primary sellers in a seller's market, the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays, hope to contend in 2015 — not rebuild. MLB Network's Peter Gammons reported the Pirates made an offer of four prospects to Tampa Bay that was deemed by many insiders to be superior to that of the Detroit Tigers' package.
Whatever transpired before the deadline, an important larger point to remember is this: Deadline deals rarely dramatically impact clubs. According to Baseball Prospectus's prediction tool, PECOTA, the Tigers elevated their championship odds by just 0.5 percent by adding Price. The Pirates' title odds before the deadline — 2.8 percent. After the deadline — 2.8 percent.
Fangraphs.com's prediction tool had the Pirates' chances of winning the division declining by 6 percent after the deadline, but their wild-card odds increased by 2 percent.
Those percentage odds are a strong argument to not trade too much of tomorrow for today.
What can improve the Pirates' postseason odds more than anything is to get healthy.
The Pirates hope soon to enjoy two de facto additions in the return to health of Starling Marte and Gerrit Cole.
Marte began a rehab assignment Saturday and should rejoin the club at some point this week. He has missed a quarter of the season because of various ailments. The Pirates have missed his defense, speed and bat against left-handed pitching.
Marte's return is much needed, but it is Cole who represents the most impactful player the club can add internally.
Cole struck out seven in five scoreless innings Monday during a rehab start with Indianapolis but was scratched from his second rehab start Saturday. The club was not calling it a setback.
“After Gerrit's last outing and last bullpen, we decided another bullpen to refine some things was the best course of action,” Huntington wrote in an email to the Tribune-Review.
After Cole did not make a rehab start in returning from his first trip to the disabled list in June (shoulder fatigue), the Pirates have worked him back slowly from his lat strain. The Pirates need Cole to be 100 percent in August and September.
Cole's sophomore campaign has been something of a disappointment. He has made two trips to the disabled list. He has been inefficient with his pitches. He has not been able to extrapolate his September 2013 over the first half of 2014.
After Sept. 1 in the regular season last year, he went 4-0 with a 1.65 ERA, striking out 10.97 batters per nine innings. That potential still exists for 2014. This is a 23-year-old with an upper-90s fastball and three other pitches, including a plus curveball.
Huntington noted Cole's return could strengthen the bullpen, too, by bumping another starting pitcher — perhaps Vance Worley or Edinson Volquez.
Perhaps Cole can be in the second half what Lester will be to the Oakland Athletics and Price to the Tigers. The Pirates need him to perform again like the ace he was last September when he was their best pitcher and got the call over veteran A.J. Burnett in Game 5 of the National League Division Series.
On Thursday, the Pirates decided not to increase their offers and pay a staggering price for a short-term boost. Part of that decision is perhaps tied to knowing the limited impact any addition might have. But the decision to stand pat also might be tied to knowing which players soon might be returning to health.
Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.