Analysis: Waiver trade options abound for Pirates down the stretch
PHOENIX — Last season, the Pirates fortified themselves for their playoff chase by adding outfielder Marlon Byrd, catcher John Buck and first baseman Justin Morneau. All three were acquired after the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
It could happen again this season. The Pirates were shut out in last Thursday's trade frenzy, but general manager Neal Huntington still is eyeing potential deals.
Any player traded in August must first clear waivers. Because the move is revocable, teams usually put most (if not all) of their players on waivers to streamline the process later.
A player stays on waivers for 47 hours. If he's put on waivers again, though, the move becomes irrevocable.
The waiver order is the reverse order of the league standings. When a National League player is on waivers, the NL team with the worst record is first in line to claim him. If the entire NL passes on that player, the American League clubs can claim him in inverse order.
When a player is claimed, his current team has three options: revoke the waivers and keep him, give that player to the claiming team (which is responsible for his entire salary) or arrange a trade with the claiming team.
Last week, the Pirates were in the running for several starting pitchers, including aces David Price and Jon Lester. The talent level available before the Aug. 31 waiver trade deadline isn't as high, but there are some interesting possibilities:
Cole Hamels: He's the biggest name among the pitchers who could be available, and he's still got great stuff, so naturally he comes with a plus-sized contract. Hamels will make $22.5 million in each of the next four seasons. His contract includes a $20 million team option for 2019 that vests at $24 million if he stays healthy and reaches innings-pitched thresholds. The Phillies are motivated to move him, but there's no way they'd eat enough salary to make the Pirates happy.
A.J. Burnett: Him again? The Pirates' stance is the same as it was before the July 31 deadline. They'd welcome Burnett back for the rest of this season, but he must give them an iron-clad guarantee he won't trigger his $14.25 million option for 2015. Burnett likely will keep his options open and stay closer to home in Philly.
John Danks: With $25.5 million left on his contract over the next two years, Danks almost certainly would clear waivers. However, the White Sox seem to be teetering on whether they want to move the lefty. He hasn't pitched more than 170 innings in a season since 2010, but is putting up decent numbers (9-6, 4.50 ERA) this season. If Chicago would eye a prospect-based package and include cash to cover some salary, the Pirates might be tempted to talk.
Bartolo Colon: The 41-year-old righty is a feel-good story (10-8, 3.88) with the Mets, but how long can it last? He's owed about $3 million for the rest of this season and is under contract for $11 million in 2015.
Edwin Jackson: The rebuilding Cubs would love to unload the right-hander, who led the majors with 18 losses last season and is owed about $26 million over the next two years. Pitching coach Ray Searage has worked miracles before, but all the pixie dust in the world isn't enough to make Jackson (5-11, 5.79 ERA) into the front-line guy the Pirates need.
Mat Latos: This one's intriguing. ESPN's Jayson Stark reported the Reds are willing to listen to offers for the 26-year-old righty. Latos (2-3, 3.31 ERA in eight starts) is making $7.25 million and has one year of arbitration eligibility left. However, the Reds probably wouldn't want to deal him to an NL Central rival.
Huntington won't limit his search to starting pitchers, of course. The Pirates could use bullpen help and a better bat for their bench. Those players are easier to get in August than a starting pitcher.
One guy the Pirates might look at with an eye toward next season and beyond is Miami Marlins catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
Saltalamacchia could be a good Plan B if the Pirates balk at the expected high cost of re-signing Russell Martin. The free agent market for catchers next season will be thin.
On the open market, Martin could command something like a three-year, $45 million deal. Saltalamacchia, a streaky hitter who has made a league-worst 12 errors, is signed through 2016 for a total of $15 million.