With this move the Pirates have officially cleared their trading block.
Thursday saw the departure from Pittsburgh of two left-handed pitchers: Major League reliever John Grabow and AAA starter Tom Gorzelanny.
The Pirates received RHPs Kevin Hart and Jose Ascanio and infielder Josh Harrison.
Hart will report immediately to the Majors and is expected to take Virgil Vasquez's place in the pitching rotation, though he'll have to wait until the next time through as he pitched on Thursday. Ascaino will report to AAA and Harrision will report to high A.
While the Pirates have other players on the team that teams are attracted to—namely Zach Duke, Paul Maholm and Matt Capps—it's unlikely that they'll be traded this year due to the amount of time the Pirates still have left on their contracts. Prying them away would take a haul that's way more than they're worth.
This trade may have also signaled something else: the death of the Dave Littlefield Pirates.
The Pirates have been drastically overhauled since the firing of former GM Littlefield and his replacement with Neal Huntington. Nowhere is this more apparent than with a quick look at the 40-man roster.
Only four players that were on the 40-man in 2007—Littlefield's last year as GM—remain on it today: Matt Capps, Ryan Doumit, Zach Duke and Paul Maholm.
Without further adeiu, let's take a look at the players exchanged.
A 31 year old left-handed setup man, Grabow has been a solid but unspectacular reliever for the Pirates since 2003. Earlier this year, he represented Team USA in the World Baseball Classic—after several injuries and dropouts of the relievers chosen before him.
Grabow has never had a strong WHIP, with it hovering around 1.40 for his entire career. However, he has always had a solid K/BB ratio and has rarely blown a game for Pittsburgh. He should provide a steady presence as a middle reliever in Chicago.
A left-handed starter, Tom Gorzelanny was once thought to be a fixture of the Pirates' staff for years to come.
In 2007, Gorzelanny compiled a 14-10 record with a 3.88 ERA, 1.39 WHIP and 1.99 K/BB ratio. Great numbers for a pitcher in his first full season of Major League ball.
However, Gorzelanny was also drastically over-worked by then manager Jim Tracy. He threw 201.2 innings that year after throwing only 61.2 the year before.
The next year, a dropoff in his stuff was obvious and his numbers showed it. He finished the year with a 6.66 ERA, 1.80 WHIP and 0.96 K/BB ratio. He threw only 105.1 innings before being demoted to AAA, where he has remained since but for a brief call-up to fill in for an injured bullpen pitcher.
Gorzelanny seems to have found his groove again in AAA, but there's no telling how much of that is going to translate to the Major Leagues. As someone who's seen him pitch there, his stuff still looked just as flat as it did in 2008.
Gorzelanny may become a serviceable starter again some day, but as it stands right now it appears that he's damaged goods—another cautionary tale about the dangers of over-working a young pitcher. The Cubs should be familiar with that. Just ask Mark Prior or Kerry Wood.
26 year old Hart for 26 year old Gorzelanny may end up a wash, but it also may end up a (very) minor win for Pittsburgh.
Hart has good stuff, and has put up superficially good numbers for the Cubs. He has a 2-1 record with a 2.08 ERA, but he's gotten those things despite a 1.52 WHIP and having walked almost twice as many batters as he's struck out.
Then again, he's only pitched 21.2 innings this year, and in his short stints for the last two years pitched at an acceptable rate for a fifth starter. He's certainly not an ace, but one wouldn't expect that in exchange for a reliever.
Hart may be an upgrade over Tom Gorzelanny based on stuff. Unlike Gorzelanny, Hart still has a live fastball and can ramp it up to about 96 when he needs to. He also throws a curveball, slider, and changeup. All of his pitches are said to be good, but he's had problems with getting the ball in the zone his whole career.
Hart's likely future is in the bullpen, where he can work off of his 96 MPH fastball to get hitters out. For now, though, the Pirates might as well throw him at the rotation and see if he sticks. Virgil Vasquez and Jeff Karstens have proven that they can't.
24 years old and a reliever by trade, the Cubs were in the process of trying to convert Ascanio to a starter in AAA at the time of this trade. He's looked passable as a starter thus far, which is good news, because he'd looked anything but as a reliever.
Ascanio has seen three incredibly short stints in the Majors as a reliever, and has played like a replacement level player in all of them.
In his first go-round as a starter at AAA, Ascanio has posted a 2-4 record with a 3.16 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 47 K and 18 BB in 51.1 innings. Those are better numbers than he's posted as a reliever since 2007 in AA.
Ascanio throws a fastball, slider, changeup and sinker, which gives him a pitch arsenal worthy of a starter.
Time will tell whether Ascanio will surprise me and end up being a good back-end starter, but at the moment I see his ceiling as a long reliever and his floor as a depth guy—someone for the Pirates to call up when one of their bullpen arms gets injured, much like they did with Gorzelanny earlier this year.
The player with the most upside in this deal, Harrison is an infielder who has hit very well in the minors. He plays multiple positions, but the Pirates have said that they see him as a second baseman.
Harrison started out this season in low A and has since been promoted to high A. Between the two leagues, he's hit a combined .327/.372/.464 with 5 homers, 8 triples and 26 steals. The most impressive thing about him is his discipline: he's struck out only ten more times than he's walked.
Harrison's numbers are certainly impressive, but they come with a caveat: he's 22 years old and he's doing this in single A. Most 22 year olds are playing in AA with the cream of the crop playing in AAA, so it's fair to say that Harrison is behind the curve of the elite.
Still, it's only his second year of pro ball, as he was drafted last year out of college. He may become a starting second baseman for the Pirates some day, and I think he can be at least an infield utility player.
Cubs fans I've talked to seem to have liked this trade until Harrison was thrown in, so who knows—maybe the Pirates have something here. If this deal ends up being a coup, it will likely be because of Harrison rather than because of either of the pitchers.
At any rate, it's nice to have Harrison on board when one considers the stunning lack of depth the Pirates have had all year at the middle infield positions.
I give this trade to the Pirates in a very slight advantage for three reasons.
1. I think Gorzelanny is damaged goods. I doubt he'll ever be the pitcher Pirates fans hoped for.
2. This isn't a very impressive haul by any means, but unless the player in question is Mariano Rivera or Jonathan Papelbon, nobody is going to get much for ANY reliever.
This is probably better than the draft picks the Pirates would have gotten if Grabow left in free agency and signed somewhere else. There's always the chance he'd have accepted arbitration and the Pirates would have just had another year of Grabow as well.
Considering the relativity aspect as well as the fact that I don't think anyone would give up a first-round pick to sign John Grabow as a free agent, this was a good haul.
3. At worst this is a wash for the Pirates. If Hart or Ascanio stick as a starting pitcher, it's a win, because the pitcher they gave up was a reliever and that's inherently less valuable. If not, one of them will probably be able to replace John Grabow's production in the bullpen.
At best, one of the pitchers sticks as a starter, one replaces Grabow's production in the bullpen, and Harrison becomes a second baseman with a good bat.