In the last week of July, the Pirates attempted to improve their 2012 ballclub via 4 deadline deals:
— SP Wandy Rodriguez from the Astros for three minor leaguers (Robbie Grossman, Colton Cain, and Rudy Owens)
— OF Travis Snider from the Blue Jays for RP Brad Lincoln
— 1B Gaby Sanchez and minor leaguer Kyle Kaminska from the Marlins for Gorkys Hernandez and their competitive balance lottery 1st round draft pick
– RP Chad Qualls from the Yankees for Casey McGehee

Wandy Rodriguez replaced #5 starter Kevin Correia in the rotation. Since joining the Pirates at the beginning of the 2011 season, Correia has a 4.88 FIP, 1.354 WHIP, and 78 ERA+. Rodriguez (4.00 FIP, 1.306 WHIP, 107 ERA+ during that same span) will clearly be an upgrade to their rotation, effectively slotting in as their 3rd best starter.

The rest of the team’s moves were designed to help the offense. The primary contributions at each position for the Pirates this season:

C Rod Barajas 244 0.203 0.279 0.355 0.634 76
1B Casey McGehee 293 0.230 0.297 0.377 0.674 87
2B Neil Walker# 423 0.291 0.358 0.444 0.802 123
SS Clint Barmes 318 0.208 0.237 0.295 0.532 48
3B Pedro Alvarez* 360 0.235 0.306 0.480 0.786 115
LF Alex Presley* 281 0.231 0.270 0.379 0.649 79
CF Andrew McCutchen 421 0.373 0.432 0.632 1.064 193
RF Jose Tabata 280 0.230 0.295 0.341 0.636 78
1B/RF Garrett Jones* 291 0.272 0.299 0.518 0.817 123

The Pirates are expecting the trades for outfielder Travis Snider and first basemen Gaby Sanchez, along with the promotion of prospect Starling Marte, to upgrade the production at 1B, LF, and RF without breaking the bank for a big-name, marquee rental player. McGehee has been traded to the Yankees, Tabata has been sent to the minors, and Presley has been pushed to the bench.

Starling Marte has only played 7 games in the majors, but has done no worse than Presley in left field. In the past two minor leagues seasons (AA & AAA) he has a .860 OPS in just over 1000 at-bats.

Travis Snider is a 2006 first round draft pick with a .976 OPS in 797 AAA plate appearances. With inconsistent playing time in Toronto, Snider posted a .735 OPS in a little over 900 plate appearances. If the left-handed batter gets the majority of the playing time in right field, those numbers are still better than what the Pirates have gotten from right field so far this season.

Gaby Sanchez has had a terrible year (.202/.250/.306), so it was surprising to see the Pirates trade their 1st round draft pick for him. The Pirates are clearly hoping the old “change of scenery” trick turns him into the hitter he was from 2010-2011 (.269/.346/.437).

The Pirates made most of these upgrades without touching their current major league roster. The exception was a downgrade in one bullpen arm. Brad Lincoln (2.73 ERA, 1.096 WHIP, 9.1 K/9) was moved to the Blue Jays in the Snider deal and replaced with Yankees Chad Qualls (4.89 ERA, 1.578 WHIP, 4.9 K/9.)

On the surface, none of these deals catapult the Pirates into World Series favorites, but these deals will help prevent the second half collapse the Pirates faced last season. The Pirates are now a better team overall, shoring up some offensive weaknesses and making them a tougher opponent down the stretch in the battle for the NL Central crown.