Vogelbach trade signals start of Bucs' restructure

July 23rd, 2022

PITTSBURGH -- Let the deals begin.

The Pirates made their first significant trade of the Deadline season prior to their 8-1 loss to the Marlins on Friday at PNC Park, dealing designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach to the Mets for right-handed pitcher . It’s a move that, given where Pittsburgh stands, isn’t shocking. It’s also a move that may serve as a precursor for what’s to come. 

“I personally really appreciate everything that [Vogelbach] brought every day because he was a wonderful teammate,” said manager Derek Shelton.

In trading Vogelbach, who was originally in Friday's starting lineup, the Pirates lose the second-best hitter on their team, a slugger who blended power with patience. In 75 games this season, Vogelbach hit .228/.338/.430 with 12 home runs and 34 RBIs. Vogelbach’s 118 wRC+, if it holds, would be the best of his career. He did so while swinging just 31.9 percent of the time, the lowest mark in baseball by a wide margin (min. 250 plate appearances). His departure isn’t insignificant for an offense that has been one of baseball’s least productive.

But Vogelbach’s impact extended beyond the dirt and grass. He was a clubhouse leader. Zach Thompson, who found out Vogelbach had been traded just prior to first pitch, lauded Vogelbach for how used his voice and how he constantly rallied the troops. When Shelton, general manager Ben Cherington and Ben Gamel were asked about Vogelbach’s lasting influence on the team’s youth, they instinctively cited one trait: preparation.

“He prepares really well,” Shelton said. “You don't do the DH thing without preparing really well, especially if you're doing it at a high level. I'm hoping that the guys got something out of that."

Added Gamel: “Whether it was a late-inning at-bat, or he was getting four or five at-bats a game, he was the same guy, and you could count on him to give you as good an at-bat as anyone.”

That leadership, that aptitude, that studiousness isn’t easily replaceable. With Vogelbach gone, the Pirates, who are already missing Bryan Reynolds -- on the injured list with an oblique injury -- will have to find a way to conjure up an offense that is serviceable.

For now, Yoshi Tsutsugo, who is hitting .173, stands to slide into the designated hitter role and take the bulk of plate appearances. Gamel, Micheal Chavis, Cal Mitchell and Jack Suwinski -- who hit two home runs for Triple-A Indianapolis on Friday -- have seen time at DH as well. Cherington said the team will use a combination of players who are already in the organization, adding that the team is open to acquiring another position player.

The offense will take a hit, yes, but the acquisition of Holderman beefs up a bullpen that’s in need of reinforcement. Since June, Pittsburgh’s bullpen has a 5.36 ERA, the second-highest mark in baseball during that stretch. Pittsburgh requires depth on both sides of the ball, and Holderman addresses an area of necessity.

Holderman has pitched well for the Mets in a limited run. Across 17 2/3 innings, Holderman, a sinkerballer, has posted a 2.04 ERA and 2.26 FIP. The rookie isn’t merely a rental, either, but someone who could serve as a fixture in the bullpen going forward.

“He’s got really good stuff,” Cherington said. “He’s a pitcher who has the ability to get ground balls and strikeouts. Some guys can do one or the other; he has the ability to do both.”

Holderman likely won’t be the only new kid in town. This trade is, in all likelihood, one of many that will unfold in the coming weeks.

With Friday's loss, the Pirates are 16 games below .500. The playoffs are not in their sights this season. They have the makeup of a seller, and they have a parcel of players prime for the trade market.

José Quintana is in the midst of a resurgence. Gamel can play all across the outfield and is a sturdy bat. Kevin Newman has hit well since returning from the injured list. Jake Marisnick provides speed and defense. Some bullpen arms might attract attention as well. Come Aug. 3, the day following the Trade Deadline, Pittsburgh’s roster will have likely undergone more transformations.

“We’re just going to continue to learn as much as we can about what’s out there and where the opportunities are,” Cherington said. “If we see something that we feel confident has a chance to make us better quickly, then we’ll try to pursue that.”

“I've been traded a few times,” Gamel said. “I don't think it's anything I can control, so I try to eliminate the noise and just go out and play.”

Until the Deadline officially passes, giving way to the summer’s dog days, the noise that Gamel describes only stands to grow. More mores are likely on the horizon. The question isn’t whether more trades will unfold. The question is the quantity.