It’s hard to get a feel for the Pittsburgh Pirates and their chances of competing this year. They move close to .500, then they lose a few games and drop further back. They’re 32-34, and yet they’re only 2.5 games back from the Wild Card race. They lose Francisco Liriano, although that might end up working better for them, since Liriano was struggling and couldn’t be removed from the rotation without an injury.
At this point it’s hard to say whether the Pirates will be buyers or sellers this July. You could argue either way at this point. The “buyers” argument would point to some of the above facts, most notably the fact that they’re only 2.5 games out of the Wild Card race, and just two games below .500. The “sellers” argument says they are only 2.5 games back because no one else is stepping up to run away with the second Wild Card spot. The argument would also question whether this Pirates team, with all of their injuries or struggles, is a team that can play better than .500 ball going forward.
My stance is a hybrid of the two. I don’t think that the Pirates should focus on being buyers for this year only. There shouldn’t be any Marlon Byrd deals, where they give up top prospects for two months of production. I also don’t think they should be sellers with any player under control beyond the 2014 season. So where does that leave the Pirates?
There is still some time to wait and see what happens. Most trades go down in July, so we’ve got about a month before anything serious happens. That month will determine a lot on whether they’re buyers or sellers.
If they’re buyers, I think they should be looking at deals which not only help this year, but help in future years. Getting someone as a two month rental is almost pointless when you consider how the Pirates have played this year. Getting a player for one year and two months (or more) is a better approach. The bigger focus would be on the 2015 season, and the time this year would be a bonus.
The Pirates need starting pitching, both in this year, and in 2015 where the only established starting pitchers under control are Charlie Morton and Gerrit Cole. Adding someone like David Price or Jeff Samardzija would boost the rotation this year, and give them another established guy for next year. They would have to give up top prospects in such a deal. Fortunately, the Pirates have a good farm system, and a situation where they can afford to give up top guys without feeling any impact.
The trade chip that will make the most sense for the Pirates this year is Josh Bell. With an outfield of Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco, the Pirates don’t need an outfielder anytime soon. Austin Meadows would also have value, although his value might be lower than it should be due to his hamstring injury, and the fact that he hasn’t had a chance to improve his value this year. Harold Ramirez is another outfielder who might have some good value, although Bell clearly leads the group.
Losing someone like Bell wouldn’t hurt the Pirates. He’s a top prospect, having a great season in high-A, but with their outfield situation, the Pirates wouldn’t feel the impact of dealing him away. He would be a top five or top three prospect in a good amount of farm systems.
The guys I wouldn’t trade are Reese McGuire, Alen Hanson, Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow, Nick Kingham, or Austin Meadows. To sum those up, you’ve got potential starters at positions where the Pirates have a long-term need (McGuire and Hanson); potential mid-to-top of the rotation guys who are close to the majors at a time when the Pirates need starters (Taillon, Glasnow, and Kingham); and Meadows, who I wouldn’t deal while his value is low.
Now if the Pirates were sellers, it would be different than when they were sellers in the past. They wouldn’t have to blow this team up. They’d just have to deal away guys who wouldn’t play a big role in future years. They should try to extend Russell Martin, and deal him if he doesn’t sign (then try to sign him in the off-season). Edinson Volquez might be a nice trade chip, unless they also try to extend him (which might not sound so crazy at the moment). And if you’ve been reading this site for any amount of time, you know my stance is positive on trading relievers, so no relief pitcher should be safe if the Pirates were selling.
This is a different situation for the Pirates than any previous year. They’re now in the process where they should be looking to try and contend for the long run. If that doesn’t happen in any given year, it doesn’t mean you blow it all up and rebuild. If you are contending, it doesn’t mean you go all in and sell key future pieces. If they play it smart, they could get some value for guys they won’t miss in the future, no matter what situation they’re in.
Links and Notes
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.