Rumors of trading their star players are commonplace for the payroll-conscious Pirates, whose front office has been forced into tough decisions for budgetary reasons on numerous occasions in the past. This year, there have already been rumors of teams with interest in standout closer Felipe Vazquez — understandably so, given his excellence — but general manager Neal Huntington strongly downplayed the possibility of moving Vazquez in a radio appearance with Greg Brown on 93.7 FM The Fan this weekend.
“We will continue to look for ways to improve this organization,” said Huntington. “Felipe Vazquez is, in our minds, one of the best, if not the best young left-handed reliever in the game. He has the potential to contribute to us for this and four more years. Our expectation and anticipation is that Felipe will be closing out playoff games, be it this year or in the future with us.”
That’s the second time in the past month that Huntington has expressed a focus on adding to the club rather than trading contributors for longer-term assets. Huntington also points out within the interview that the Bucs are facing a critical stretch wherein they’ll play 20 of 23 games against divisional foes. The other three in that span are against the Phillies, whom Pittsburgh is chasing in the NL Wild Card race. Certainly, one can imagine that in the event of a nosedive in those 23 games, the Pirates could adopt a longer-term approach to this year’s trade deadline. That said, Huntington’s comments regarding Vazquez seem to indicate that even if the team were to sell off some pieces this summer, the lefty wouldn’t be among them.
Vazquez, 28 on Friday, signed an extremely club-friendly contract extension in January 2018, agreeing to a four-year deal worth a guaranteed $22MM plus a pair of $10MM club options for a fifth and potentially sixth season. He’s earning just $4MM in 2019 (with about $1.98MM of that still to be paid out) and will earn guaranteed salaries of $5.25MM and $7.25MM in 2020-21. There’s no looming free agency or imminent hike in salary that would serve as motivation for the Pirates to deal the lefty even if they fall further back than their current five-game deficit in the NL Central.
Vazquez himself is the product of a trade that was made under more conventional conditions. Back in 2016, with Mark Melancon just months from free agency, the Pirates shipped him to the Nationals in exchange for Vazquez and Taylor Hearn (later traded to the Rangers in the Keone Kela deal). Since being acquired by Pittsburgh, Vazquez has pitched to a 2.25 ERA with 80 saves and 11.7 K/9 against 3.1 BB/9 in 207 2/3 innings of work. He’s saved 19 games so far in 2019 while recording a minuscule 1.80 ERA and notching a career-best 14.1 K/9.