Now that the club is out on Shohei Ohtani, the Pittsburgh Pirates should explore trading their international bonus money to a team still in pursuit.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are OUT on shohei ohtani.
The lucky 7, according to team sources, are mariners, padres, angels, dodgers, giants, rangers, cubs #ohtani
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 4, 2017
Though many fully expected as much, the Pirates are not in the list of finalists for the “Japanese Babe Ruth.” It would seem that moving to Pittsburgh, one of the most interesting and livable cities in the United States, did not appeal to the 23-year old. However, as Rob Biertempfel correctly pointed out, it was not due to a lack of serious effort:
I do not think there's any reason to say #Pirates did not do all they could to lure Ohtani. At this stage of the game, money was not an insurmountable hurdle. It appears Ohtani prefers the West Coast, among other factors.
— Rob Biertempfel (@BiertempfelTrib) December 4, 2017
Regardless, now that the Pittsburgh Pirates are no longer in the mix, they are sitting on $2,266,750 in international bonus pool money. When the Ohtani sweepstakes began, this figure put them as having the fourth-most bonus money left and thus giving them a bit more money to entice Ohtani to Pittsburgh.
Of course, as the Ohtani posting has developed, it has become clear that money is quite possibly the least important factor in the entire process. Still, as the pool of finalists continues to dwindle, the ability to offer a bit more bonus money than others at the finish line might push the Japanese two-way player one way or the other.
With that in mind, what teams from Heyman’s list can bring the best return on the Pirates’ money?
Don’t expect much
First, here are the bonus pool budgets for the remaining finalists:
Available budgets for remaining Ohtani finalists:
Rangers ($3.53m), Mariners ($1.57m), Angels ($1.315m), Cubs ($300k), Padres ($300k), Dodgers ($300k), Giants ($300k)
— Levi Weaver (@ThreeTwoEephus) December 4, 2017
Finding a trade partner for the Pittsburgh Pirates in this scenario is tricky. Save for the San Diego Padres, all of the finalists are contenders or very near to contending. Thus, there may not be many “baseball trades” to be had, as teams would not want to give up major league pieces. And, those Padres would likely be loathe to give up front-line prospects they have so meticulously built up.
The Pirates were also late to the party. They could have sent their bonus pool — or even a portion of it — to the Seattle Mariners for hard-throwing right-handed reliever Thyago Vieira, who warranted a $500,000 bonus pool swap from the Chicago White Sox a few weeks ago. That would have been a nice return for the Pirates, who would always welcome an impact bullpen arm.
With all that being said, here are a few short looks at teams that line up decently with Pittsburgh.
The Seattle Mariners seem to be one of the front-runners in the sweepstakes, and rightfully so for the team that plays in a city with a large Japanese population and a proven ability to integrate Japanese stars.
At the major league level, the Mariners have a glut of pitching, and one wonders if someone like Erasmo Ramirez would be available. Ramirez is controllable through 2020, and has shown flashes in this time with the Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays. With Ohtani coming onboard to pitch, someone will be the odd man out.
Prospect-wise, RHP Nick Niedert – the Mariners’ number two prospect overall, would be a nice haul. The right-hander projects to hit the majors in 2019 and already has a 60-grade changeup. Even in welcoming Ohtani in to pitch, Seattle may be loathe to give him up, so the Pittsburgh Pirates might look further down the Mariners’ wares and see number eight RHP Max Povse, who carries an intriguing curveball — something the Pirates would always welcome in their system — or number 11 3B Joe Rizzo, who projects as a quality contact bat at third with power potential.
Los Angeles Angels
The Angels’ biggest pitch to Ohtani may be that he will get to play with Mike Trout everyday. That’s a hell of a pitch, and Ohtani would instantly shore up the Angels’ questionable major league pitching staff.
Finding a trade partner for the Pittsburgh Pirates in this scenario is tricky
It’s a good thing, too, because the Angels’ starting pitching staff ranked 13th out of 15 American League teams in fWAR with a 5.5 rating. Not only is it convenient to point to the club’s starting pitching unit as the one factor that kept them just out of the Wild Card race, but it would be absolutely correct.
As such, the Angels will not want to give up any pitching, but their top 30 prospect list is loaded with intriguing fringe-top 100 position players. Among those are four outfielders in their top 10, all offering a little something different. Number one Angels prospect Jo Adell carries a 65 run rating and 60 ratings in throwing arm and fielding. He is very much a work in progress at the plate, but has shown good contract skills in the Arizona Fall League and Angels’ rookie league clubs.
Number two Jahmal Jones has a 55 rates hit tool and many think he can develop gap-power. With an ETA of 2019, he is a tad bit closer to the big leagues and many project him to stay right on track. Number five Jacob Pearson mimics Jones, albeit with a little less power, while number six Brandon Marsh mimics Adell albeit with a bit more power potential.
With Andrew McCutchen likely playing out his final days with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and question marks still swirling about Austin Meadows, it would be easy to see the club trade a portion of its bonus pool money to re-stock some outfield help into the system.
The Rangers have the largest amount of money to spend, and have shown they can develop a Japanese pitcher with Yu Darvish, who is a close friend of Ohtani’s.
However, they will be in an uphill battle against west coast teams that are closer to Japan and could be better cultural fits.
The Rangers are looking to rebuild and compete on the fly, as they were not far from doing so last season.
To get a better handle on the Rangers’ prospects, I enlisted the help of Levi Weaver, who just launched a subscription site called The Upset, focusing on Texas sports. (Side note: please consider subscribing and supporting great journalism.)
Weaver had this to say about what might be available from the Rangers:
As for OFs, I think Ledarious Clark is an interesting name. He has enough pop/speed combo to maybe be a guy, though he’s still in High-A at 23. Josh Altmann plays first base, and looked like he might have something at High Desert in 2016, but since the team moved to Down East, he struggled in his second year at the level, so he might be a buy-low candidate.
A note on premium prospects
The Dodgers, Giants and Padres all have the lowest amount to spend — $300,000 each — and thus might be more apt to give up premium prospects to put them over the hump. But even considering that, the Pittsburgh Pirates might not be able to strike a deal with these clubs.
EDIT: As Pirates Prospects’ John Dreker pointed out to us, the $300,000 budget for the four teams is in place due to those clubs being in the penalty for going over their budget in previous years. Therefore, there is no reason to trade them money as that is the limit that they can offer. Thanks John!
The Giants we already know about — their system is bare — and with apologies to Christian Arroyo, not worth getting excited about. The Dodgers are wary of paying a near-45 percent luxury tax should they put out a huge payroll again, and thus need their farm system to stay intact. The Dodgers do have what is becoming a rare sight — a catching prospect in the top 100 overall (at #100) in Keibert Ruiz — that may attract the Pirates. The Padres are rebuilding and, as much as they would love to have Ohtani, might be loathe to pay a huge premium to get him.
All told, the Pittsburgh Pirates don’t have to trade this international bonus pool money. Perhaps they can pry away some talent recently made available by the Atlanta Braves’ front office follies. However, perhaps in the interest of due diligence alone, the club should look into what might be available from the Shohei Ohtani finalists.