With Gerrit Cole having been called up, the most desirable prospect left in the Pittsburgh Pirates' farm system is Jameson Taillon. And if the Pirates want to trade for an impact position player for a final push to the postseason, he is the person that other teams are most likely to ask for in exchange.
For the record, I project Taillon as a Matt Garza-like "very good third starter," but not a top-of-the-rotation man. It is on this basis that I would be willing to use Taillon in trade for someone like the White Sox's Alex Rios.
But there is one important difference in Taillon's favor between him and Rios. Taillon will be making baseball's "minimum wage" for the first three years (unless he is offered a contract extension that will save the team money in the long run). Rios is highly paid for his level of production.
Therefore, it's hard to imagine the Pirates trading Taillon for Rios even straight up, unless the White Sox would split Rios' salary with the Pirates so that each team would be paying an equivalent amount for the talent they got (the Pirates paying half the price of Rios, the White Sox making up the difference for the privilege of getting Taillon).
If the White Sox wanted a "normal" return of Taillon and a second prospect (to compensate for the fact that Taillon is still unproven), they would have to eat most of Rios' salary. Whether or not Taillon was involved in the discussion, it is clear that Rios' salary was a factor in the deal for him not getting done.
A more recent trade rumor, according to the Marlin Maniac, is that of Taillon and Stetson Allie (the Pirates' first two picks of the 2010 draft), plus Gerrit Cole and Starling Marte, to the Miami Marlins for Giancarlo Stanton, Justin Ruggiano and reliever Steve Cishek.
Here the salary issues aren't quite so pressing because all of the Marlins are in their salary-controlled years. But the danger is that all three Marlins are performing below peak levels in 2013. If they don't regain those earlier peaks, the Pirates would give up a lot of future potential for a so-so present.
But the best trade of all involving Taillon was the one that could have been done earlier but wasn't. How would anyone like to exchange Taillon straight up for Manny Machado?
It's unlikely that the Baltimore Orioles would agree to this trade today, but years ago the Pirates had this trade as its "birthright." Instead, they made the opposite trade by taking Taillon instead of Machado with the second pick of the 2010 draft.
For what it's worth, I thought that was wrong at the time. Machado has since been nearly as productive a player in terms of WAR as Bryce Harper, Washington's first overall pick, according to baseball-reference.com. With the Pirates he could have been played at shortstop and would have represented a clear upgrade over Jordy Mercer, who could then have been trade bait.
That would have given the Pirates a one-two punch on the left side of the infield comparable to that offered by Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees (in happier times) or Jose Reyes and David Wright of the Mets (before the former was traded to the Marlins).
The other possibility would be to play Machado at third, where he is playing for the Orioles. Some would protest that the Pirates already have a third baseman. However, if the Bucs moved Pedro Alvarez (not a particularly stellar defender) across the diamond, they would suddenly have the power hitter at first base that the player of such a position is expected to be.
If Taillon has "very strong third starter" potential, this is actually "average expectations" for a pitcher drafted high in the first round, much like Paul Maholm from 10 years ago. Pirates management probably expected more from Taillon, but they shouldn't have.
The only rationale for drafting a pitcher with the first- or second-overall pick is if he is a college player like Gerrit Cole or Mark Appel. The Chicago Cubs did well to choose Kris Bryant with the second overall pick this year.
On the other hand, pitchers provide more "sleepers" in the later rounds. Brandon Cumpton was a ninth-round pick, for example. And quite serviceable pitchers of an earlier era, Zach Duke and Ian Snell were chosen in the 20th and 26th rounds, respectively, because it is much easier for a pitcher's talent to remain hidden.
Here's why I favored picking Machado at the time as well as today. Position players, particularly coming out of high school, are much more likely to live up to their potential than pitchers. It is therefore easier to draft Manny Machado and trade him for Jameson Taillon (if you need him) than it is to draft Taillon and trade him for Machado.
I thought Neal Huntington had learned a lesson when he drafted position players Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire instead of pitchers in the first round of the 2013 draft. Maybe he has learned his lesson too well and is now offering mostly pitchers for mostly position players in trade.
I don't like the Stanton trade for the Pirates, even as a hypothetical. I'd rather be on the Marlins' side, trading Stanton for pitching talent, now that everyone is in the majors, or at least league-ready.
Just because you were on the wrong side of the trade years earlier doesn't mean that you should compensate by taking the opposite (but currently wrong) side of the trade today.
I hope this rumor doesn't come to pass and Huntington doesn't go "Double Jeopardy" on Taillon.