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Further Pierre Thoughts
by Derek Smart
Having shaken some cobwebs from my noggin, I can now take a closer look at last night's deal.
An admitted weakness of mine is the minor leagues (let's try to restrain ourselves from listing the rest of said weaknesses in comments, shall we?). I often simply haven't the patience to keep fully abreast of goings on and current opinions of specific players, much as I might try. Luckily, there are folks like Bryan Smith of Baseball Analysts, Cub fan and minor league expert extraordinaire, to help me along. Here's a snippet from his take:
This new haul of Marlins minor leaguers is their weakest yet, but also their deepest. None of these players would grade above a straight B, but none would be lower than a B-. Pinto and Nolasco both pitched well in AA, however, it was their second time around. Pinto has control problems, and has stalled in now two attempts at AAA. I've compared him to a young Arthur Rhodes before, and like Rhodes, I think Pinto will thrive when moving to the bullpen.
The same could be true with Nolasco, though he has a bit more chance of succeeding in a starting role. Nolasco's groundball numbers were done last season while his strikeout numbers were up, oftentimes indicating an advancement in stuff. Like Pinto, Nolasco needs to prove it in AAA, but is on a similar timetable to Josh Johnson, the rich man's Nolasco. Mitre is not likely to be a starter for long with the Marlins, but he will begin in that role. Mitre will join Dontrelle Willis and Jason Vargas as the only certainties for such a spot.
None of these players would break the Marlins top ten, which after trading Paul Lo Duca, Carlos Delgado, Luis Castillo, Mike Lowell, Josh Beckett, and now Pierre, is among the most loaded in the game. Give Larry Beinfest credit...the man knows how to blow things up.
That makes me feel a bit better. I was never concerned about the inclusion of Mitre, who while he may have evinced hints of sparks of brilliantishness, has never shown anything close to a consistent ability to get Major League hitters out. Either he has his sinker working exactly as he wants it and can work guys over, or he's deeply, deeply, hosed. I honestly don't need that kind of flakiness around.
My main issue was with the inclusion of both Pinto and Nolasco, and while I'd still read the inclusion of both players as overpayment, the fact that they are both a bit flawed makes it more palatable. The other thing that makes the deal easier for me to stomach is that it is a heretofore rare example of Jim Hendry dealing from strength in an attempt to bolster weakness.
One of the traits that serves as both a positive and a negative for Hendry is his relative caution when trading from his minor league system. On the good side, it generally keeps him from making deals that end up burning him, but on the bad side, he also winds up hanging onto prospects - particularly on the pitching side - until they have little to no value left. There seems to be a skill gap in the Cubs' ability to evaluate their own minor league talent and get a handle on when players have hit their peak value, a knack that has kept the Braves afloat for much of their run.
So, argue if you will about whether Nolasco or Pinto were the right men to ship out, of if, indeed, Pierre was the type of player you ship them out for, but at the very least, the idea is the right one. The Cubs have been too precious with some of their young'ins in the past, so the fact that they're willing to be more aggressive with using them as trading chits is a positive.
That said, in order to get close to the value the Cubs desire from Pierre he will have to hit at least .300, and substantially above that in order to really "solve" the club's leadoff issue. His complete lack of power, inability to walk, and marginal defense demand it. Yes, he's done it before, but doing it previously is no guarantee of doing it again, particularly after the rough year he had in 2005.
Still, the Cubs have adopted a solid approach with this deal. Your minor league system is there to funnel talent to your Major League squad, either directly or through trade, and in using the type of players they have in surplus to address an issue, they have attempted to do just that.
Pierre is far from perfect, and to my mind including the quantity of talent the Cubs did in this deal was overkill, but he does address a need better than the other available options, at least while staying realistic (rail all you like about the superiority of non-prototypical lead-off alternatives, the fact is, with Dusty at the helm, all attempts to go down that road lead to Neifi! getting 700 at bats at the top of the order).
This is not a great deal, this is not a terrible deal. It is, instead, a trade that makes something livable out of a potentially unlivable situation, and while that may not be a thrilling result, it has its value.