Pittsburgh — Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington remained bullish on his team even after parting with stars Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen in the offseason. Even after a swoon through June wiped out a hot start. Even after his club found itself floundering in early July.
And when the Pirates responded with a 15-4 surge that seemed to validate his optimism, he sent a message at the non-waiver trade deadline. The Pirates are intent on winning. Not just in 2018, but beyond.
Pittsburgh acquired starting pitcher Chris Archer from Tampa Bay and closer Keone Kela from the Texas Rangers in moves that cost the team top prospects in outfielder Austin Meadows and pitchers Tyler Glasnow and Taylor Hearn as well as two players to be named.
The decision to deal three players considered a part of the club’s next wave wasn’t easy. But Huntington believed it was necessary to bolster a group that has a chance to reach the playoffs.
The Pirates entered Tuesday night’s game against the NL Central-leading Chicago Cubs 3.5 games out of the second wild-card spot thanks to a torrid stretch that began July 8.
“Given the quality of the core, the players we have and those who are still on the horizon, the ability to add two players such as this, we feel, pushed us into a higher level and allows us to believe we are going to be one of those teams that has a legitimate chance to make the postseason not only this year (but beyond),” Huntington said.
Archer, a two-time All-Star, is 3-5 with a 4.31 ERA in 17 starts this season for the Rays. The 29-year-old adds experience to a Pirates rotation that includes three starters — Jameson Taillon, Trevor Williams and Joe Musgrove — 26 or younger.
“I’m excited,” Archer said following a round of hugs in the Tampa Bay clubhouse shortly after the deal was announced. “They’re super-hot right now, and they want me. They gave up their top two guys. Guys with some really good upside. I’m excited to be part of the organization that wants me, part of a rich baseball history, a hard-working community. I can’t wait to get there.”
Neither move is a rental for Pittsburgh, which was the only team to not sign a major-league free agent last winter despite parting with cornerstones Cole and McCutchen in January.
The 25-year-old Kela has 24 saves and a 3.44 ERA. He will be arbitration-eligible beginning next season and will not be eligible for free agency until after the 2021 season.
Pittsburgh will assume the remaining $2,049,731 in Archer’s $6.25 million salary. He also receives a $500,000 assignment bonus for the trade. His deal includes a $7.5 million salary for 2019, a $9 million team option for 2020 with a $1.75 million buyout and an $11 million club option for 2021 with a $250,000 buyout.
“To get Keone with two-plus years of potential contribution and who knows behind that, to get Chris Archer with three years plus this year where he’s going to impact our wins, those were really good gets in our mind,” Huntington said.
Meadows, a first-round pick in the 2013 draft, hit .292 with five home runs and 13 RBIs in 49 for the Pirates after making his major league debut on May 17. The 24-year-old Glasnow dominated as a starter in the minors but struggled during his first season-plus in Pittsburgh, going 2-7 with a 7.69 ERA in 15 games (13 starts) in 2017. The Pirates moved Glasnow to the bullpen this season with better results. The 6-foot-8 right-hander is 1-2 with a 4.34 ERA in 34 appearances.
The 23-year-old Hearn was acquired from Washington at the trade deadline two years ago. Hearn has gone 3-6 with a 3.12 ERA in 19 starts with Double-A Altoona this season.
Now all three are moving on, while Pittsburgh is moving forward in an attempt to make headway in the playoff race. Ten NL teams entered play on Tuesday within 5.5 games of a postseason berth. Just over three weeks removed from being a season-worst eight games under .500 (40-48), the Pirates are one of them.
Pittsburgh heads to the stretch with an improved rotation and a back end of the bullpen that suddenly looks formidable, with Kela joining All-Star close Felipe Vazquez and setup man Kyle Crick. The plan for now is to have Vazquez continue to work the ninth with Kela and Crick working ahead of him, though Vazquez is open to changing his role if it means the Pirates play meaningful games into September and maybe even beyond.
“Yeah, we’re here to win games,” Vazquez said. “It’s up to (manager Clint Hurdle). He’s the boss. I just follow. We’re there, if he decides lefty-lefty matchup, I’m up for it. It doesn’t matter. We’re trying to win games.”
Pitchers Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day and infielder Jonathan Schoop joined the exodus from the Baltimore Orioles, who have cut nearly $29 million in payroll obligations for this year and next while acquiring 14 prospects, one major leaguer and $2.75 million in international signing bonus allotment in exchange for six veterans.
The Orioles obtained $2.5 million in allotment from Atlanta for the pitchers and also got four prospects: right-hander Evan Phillips, infielder Jean Carlos Encarnacion, catcher Brett Cumberland and left-hander Bruce Zimmerman. They acquired infielder Jonathan Villar along with a pair of minor leaguers from Milwaukee for Schoop, getting right-hander Luis Ortiz and infielder Jean Carmona.
Baltimore began the day a major league-worst 32-74. The Orioles began the sell-off on July 18 by sending Machado, a four-time All-Star, to the Los Angeles Dodgers for outfielder Yusniel Diaz, infielders Rylan Bannon and Breyvic Valera, and right-handers Dean Kremer and Zach Pop.
The Orioles cut this year’s payroll by $20,077,929 with the deals of the six plus $9 million from 2019, and added $836,290 for this year with Villar. The Orioles started with a $151 million payroll for their 40-man roster.
Machado’s departure saved $6,365,591 from his $16 million salary, Britton’s $4,387,097 from his $12 million, Brach’s $1,749,435 from his $5,165,000, Gausman’s $1,836,559 from his $5.6 million, O’Day’s $2,951,613 of his $9 million and Schoop’s $2,787,634 of his $8.5 million. Schoop also has a guaranteed $9 million salary for next year.
Dozier dealt to Dodgers
The NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers kept revamping their infield, getting power-hitting second baseman Brian Dozier from the Minnesota Twins for infielder Logan Forsythe and two minor leaguers.
Dozier will join a Dodgers team that’s in a tight race with Arizona, aiming for a return trip to the World Series. The Dodgers went all in by acquiring Baltimore shortstop Manny Machado during the All-Star break for five prospects.
Dozier was the fifth player traded by the Twins in the last five days. Signaling the front office’s shift in focus to the future amid a disappointing season, Dozier followed starting pitcher Lance Lynn, relief pitchers Zach Duke and Ryan Pressly and infielder Eduardo Escobar out the door. The Twins received a total of 12 players in return, with Forsythe the only current major leaguer.
The Twins also got outfielder Luke Raley and left-hander Devin Smeltzer for Dozier.
Dozier is batting .224 with 16 home runs and 52 RBIs this season, with a .708 on-base-plus-slugging percentage that’s his lowest since he was a rookie in 2012.
The NL East-leading Philadelphia Phillies acquired All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos from the Tampa Bay Rays for a player to be named or cash.
Ramos is batting .297 with 14 homers and 53 RBIs but is on the disabled list with a left hamstring strain. He’ll upgrade an offense that has struggled during a four-game losing streak.
... Tommy Pham was traded by the St. Louis Cardinals to the Tampa Bay Rays, a year after establishing himself as one of the National League’s top outfielders.
St. Louis sent the 30-year-old and $500,000 in international signing bonus allocation to the Rays for a trio of minor leaguers: outfielder Justin Williams, left-hander Genesis Cabrera and right-hander Roel Ramirez.
... The Miami Marlins parted with right-handed reliever Brad Ziegler and outfielder Cameron Maybin, two well-traveled veterans who increased their market value by playing well lately.
Ziegler returned to his former team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, who bolstered their bullpen for the pennant race and gave up Double-A reliever Tommy Eveld. Maybin, a former Tiger, went to another contender, the Seattle Mariners, for minor league infielder Bryson Brigman and international slot money.
... The Los Angeles Dodgers bolstered their bullpen by acquiring right-hander John Axford from Toronto in exchange for minor league pitcher Corey Cropping.
Axford is 4-1 with a 4.41 ERA in 45 games for the Blue Jays this season. He’s held hitters to a .234 average.
... The Philadelphia Phillies acquired left-hander Aaron Loup from the Toronto Blue Jays for minor league right-hander Jacob Waguespack.
Loup has a 4.54 ERA in 50 relief appearances this season with 42 strikeouts in 35.2 innings, and the Phillies will assume the $594,422 remaining of his $1,812,500 salary.
... Left-hander Jake Diekman was dealt from the Texas Rangers to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for right-hander Wei-Chieh Huang and a player to be named later.
Diekman was 1-1 with a 3.69 ERA in a team-high 47 appearances for the Rangers this season.