The Pirates at the All Star Break

 

Greetings from the All Star break.

Sitting in 4th place in a throughly disappointing division the Pirates currently have a 42-47 record.  What started as a promising season was quickly derailed through injury, suspension, and visa issues with the Korean government.  Now the Buccos must look to shape their roster for the future, with the goal of getting a head start on competing in the 2018 season.

Their first opportunity will be the upcoming trade deadline.

At the heart of the trade discussion is face of the franchise Andrew McCutchen, in his 9th major league season, heating up after a harsh start to 2017.

The truth is it is impossible to say whether or not trading Cutch is a good or bad decision without knowing who the Pirates would get in return, making the definite opinions of fellow Pirates fans be it pro or con fairly ridiculous.

To keep McCutchen is to have your veteran leader in tact for the 2018 run, it is to keep a wary fan base appeased, it is to finally shed the small market malaise and commit to paying an icon.

The Pirates can pick up McCutchen’s $14.75 million option and have him in place for the upcoming season, allowing them the time to secure Cutch for the remainder of his career on a team friendly contract.  While his best years are behind him, he still provides value. His WAR his plateaued to 2+ and while that is nowhere near the 7+ level he enjoyed in the five-year span in which he was an all-star and the 4 years in which he was a top 5 vote getter for the NL MVP it is still a solid output.

While I am not one who believes the Pirates should pay for either sentimentalism nor past performance if there ever was a scenario in which it was appropriate I would have to believe this to be it.

The counterpoint to keeping Cutch is much more based on performance and efficiency.  The fact is that he is past his prime and the Pirates cannot be weighed down by his contract as they try to shape a second run to the World Series in the Huntington era.  In short it makes total sense to trade McCutchen.  Except this one little thing… there is really no one to trade him to.

The team most often mentioned is the Washington Nationals who showed strong interest in McCutchen over the past winter meetings.  However, in trading for Adam Eaton the Nats sent most of their valuable assets to the White Sox.  They also mostly eliminated their long-term need in center field.

So instead lets look at the Dodgers, the ever spending fountain of cash and prospects that currently reside atop the ultra competitive NL West.  During the winter meetings the Dodgers were reported to be willing to include prospects Cody Bellinger or Jose de Leon in a package for McCutchen.  Looking back having Bellinger on the team would give the Pirates a power bat in the outfield for the upcoming decade.  Given his early career success it is all too likely that Bellinger is a no go in any deal for McCutchen.

However McCutchen’s ability to improve on the Dodgers main offensive weakness, their inability to hit lefties, makes him valuable.  If the Pirates could land some pitching prospects and a bench outfielder maybe this would be worth looking at.

As for other teams the Yankees seem like a fit, but what would they be willing to give away being that they are technically in a rebuilding year?

The Rangers showed interest but said on the record that the Pirate asking price was far too high.

So where should we look?  Perhaps the best fit is the Seattle Mariners.  Fighting for a wild card spot perhaps Seattle would be willing to lose some prospects for a chance to go at it this year and deepen their outfield greatly with McCutchen.

Lets just say they were to offer RHP Andrew Moore (#4 ranked prospect), Millersville product Brandon Miller RHP (#16 ranked prospect), and Outfielder Boog Powell (4th outfielder).  Would that do it?

So what would I do with Cutch in the end?  

If you can’t find a package of pitchers than I would highly suggest keeping him for next year.  Of course seeing him go for nothing brings back memories of the Barry Bonds departure that shipwrecked the Buccos for two decades.  However times have changed, and making a solid run in 2018 may be worth the possibility that Cutch walks for nothing.

What about Gerrit Cole?

I’ll make it short, the Pirates aren’t going to trade Cole in season.  Expect that move to come in December.

So if the Buccos are to keep Cutch what should they do at the deadline?

First off:  David Freese, Juan Nicasio, and Tony Watson all have value and no place in our future.  All three should go for pieces that can be of value next season.

David Freese to the Red Sox has been widely reported and makes total sense.  If the Sox strike out on a top tier third baseman (Todd Frazier) Freese is a quality get.  While some seem to believe this trade should net an undervalued prospect I feel as if this should bring back a piece for next year’s bench.

Also, if any team would give you anything for Jaso send him.  He may be the best bass player from a third wave ska band to play in the majors, but he is simply in the way.  Also removing him from the equation means that ol’ Clint Hurdle will start going with young guys at the end of the game to give them experience rather than letting old dread juice eat up valuable late game at bats.

 

What the Pirates need in return:

A leadoff hitter, an outfielder, PITCHING.

They may not be able to get what the need with what they are willing to give, but clearing the way and getting rid of dead weight could go far towards being successful next season.

Some thoughts from my dad:

Charlie B thinks that the Pirates should use the Arizona Fall League and Spring Training to turn Jose Osuna into a third baseman.

I think that Osuna is definitely a pretty solid weapon off the bench, however his defense is less than ass.  Also, I feel as if he may be completely unable to slide.  This makes me think that he cannot bend over to be a real third baseman.

However, if he can field the position at least near average it would give Osuna even more value.  It seems clear that Osuna has earned himself a spot on the Buccos, just not at first, his real position.  Maybe third base is a step in the correct decision.

Is anyone untouchable?

In reality anyone can be traded if the price is right.  Looking at the current roster it seems that there are very few people who can be labeled “untouchable.”  McCutchen is being actively shopped.  Marte is perhaps our best position player, but has seen his value drop dramatically due to his PED suspension.  Cole is never going to resign long-term given his agent and as good as Taillon is his injury past would make it hard to turn down a solid package.

That leaves just one player:  Josh Bell

bell

Switch hitting power bats don’t come along as often as one would think and the Pirates have seemed to land their first baseman of the future.  This is a team that may not have had a real first baseman since Willie Stargell.  Three decades of the Adam LaRoches, Brad Eldreds, and Daryle Wards of the world.

It is entirely possible that Kevin Young’s steroid years where the best by a Pirate at first base since pops left.  It has most definitely been a problematic position.

So why would you trade the first real deal in a lifetime?  Once again there is a price for everyone.  I just feel as if it would have to be ridiculously high to get the Buccos to part ways with Bell.

 

 

 

{SPORTS} The Pirates Trades Should Be Viewed As Nothing But A Succes

By Chaz Bolte (originally for Steel Nation Magazine)

The trade deadline has come and gone and Pirates fans should be happy with the results. “No Deal Neal” kept his word and refused to trade away major prospects in exchange for instant success. Rumors around the blogosphere said that the Astros wanted a package built around 2010 number two overall pick Jameson Taillon in exchange for Hunter Pence. The 19 year old Taillon is a premier prospect (9th overall according to mlb.com) and trading him away for an above average outfielder with hopes that he can lead the team to an above .500 record would have been a disaster for the Pirates future. There are players I would have loved to see the Pirates land such as Alex Gordon, but there was no way the Pirates could make that move right now (and the Royals would have had to be beyond wowed to let him go). Their future is too bright. It is more likely that a blockbuster, instant pennant contender type of trade will be made in the offseason. However, Buccos fans should see the moves made this past week as nothing but positive, specifically because they lost no one of major importance in the deals.

Who we got

Derrek Lee – Derrek Lee pulled a Shawon Dunston and homered twice in his Buccos debut. He is an upgrade at First Base where Lyle Overbay has been showing why he’s been a DH the past few seasons. He is past his prime, but can provide some veteran leadership in the clubhouse and will hit a few dingers along the way. The Pirates gave up First Baseman Aaron Baker in exchange. The 23 year old was hitting for power at high A Bradenton with 15 Home Runs and 73 RBI this season, but was not a major player in the Pirates future plans. Getting a few months out of Derrek Lee for a mid-grade prospect is almost a steal for Neal Huntington. Unfortunately for the Pirates Lee does not project as a ranked free agent, which would mean the Pirates would receive a compensatory pick in next seasons draft if they could not resign him, but that’s probably the only reason the Orioles let him go for next to nothing.

Ryan Ludwick — In my last Steel Nation Magazine post I said that I thought Ludwick would not be a good fit for the Buccos. In some ways I still believe that. I bought into the mlbtraderumors.com hype that the Buccos were eyeing one of the A’s outfielders, who I had hoped would be David Dejesus, and therefore saw Ludwick as a “lesser than” option. Ludwick had struggled with the Padres so far this season hitting .238 with 11 Home Runs and 64 RBI, but a change of scenery may do him some good. Besides that the Pirates currently have some depth issues in their outfield and receiving a Major league caliber player for a PTBNL or more likely cash helps plug the hole. Ludwick likely won’t help the Pirates that much, but more importantly I don’t see how he hurts them. Steven Pearce and Xavier Paul are simply not MLB level talents and are only on the big club because there is no one else. Ludwick at least gives them a viable option that can become a solid platoon/bench option when Tabata and Presley return.

The Trade I Wanted to See

According to Mlbtraderumors.com the Pirates were close to making a deal that would have brought catcher Francisco Cervelli from the Yankees in exchange for Brad Lincoln. The 25 year old backup catcher is stuck between starter Russell Martin and prospect Jesus Montero on the Yankees depth chart and would have been a welcome addition to the injury plagued Bucs.

Ryan Doumit is behind the plate at AAA Indianapolis on a rehab stint but will return Wednesday. The organization has hinted that he is likely to see time in right field and first base when he returns to the majors. Doumit has become too much of a defensive liability and has proven to be too frail to play catcher. 11 runners have attempted to steal on him in AAA and all have reached safely. He was once thought to be the cornerstone of a rebuilding franchise with Jason Bay and Nate McLouth. Now he doesn’t really have a place on the team. Perhaps that is the biggest sign of the Bucs improvement in the Huntington era.

Michael McKenry has earned his spot on the time by coming through in a time of dire need for the organization. I would have rather seen it as Cervelli’s backup though. If they are unwilling to trade Lincoln because they believe in him that is one case. He was the 4th pick overall in the 2006 draft and did show promise in his one start with the Buccos this season, but at 26 he is no longer a prospect. If a pitcher gets injured down the stretch and Lincoln fills in and earns his spot with the team than Huntington looks like a genius. However I just can’t bear to think that I will have to see Ryan Doumit try to throw runners out for the Pirates again.

Who I’m happy is still with the team

Matt Diaz – There was little chance someone wanted to pick up Diaz but he could have been lumped in on some trade or even released if the Pirates picked up a Pence level Outfielder. Diaz is playing below average so far this season, but if the Pirates make a run at the playoffs he is exactly the kind of guy you want to have on your bench.

Paul Maholm – By not trading him the Pirates look like they will be spending some money to pick up the $9.75 Million team option on Maholm’s contract. I think this would be a great call by Huntington. Maholm has finally come into his own after seasons of horrible defensive support. The poor defense and Doumit’s arm are what inflated his numbers the past few years and the Pirates aren’t going to be able to land a better pitcher for a similar price in next year’s free agent market.

Starling Marte – If the Pirates were going to make a blockbuster deal without including Jameson Taillon than it would almost have to had included outfielder Starling Marte. The 22 year old is hitting .315/7 HR/35 RBI/17 SB at AA Altoona this season and has a mindbottling 231 putouts so far this season. His glove and speed put him on the fast track to the bigs. However, I wonder where he will fit in at PNC Park with Andrew McCutchen patrolling center. I wouldn’t be surprised if he became the centerpiece of a trade in the offseason. Maybe he could land a permanent answer to the problems the Pirates have at first base.

5 points to leave you with

 (1) Derrek Lee is a solid pickup if only because it means Lyle Overbay is off the team. Lee should provide some pop in the Buccos attempt to win more games than they lose for the first time in 18 seasons.

(2) Just because the Pirates have a chance to break .500 doesn’t mean that real Buccos fans should forgive the Nutting family for their neglectful and downright deceiving decade of mediocre ownership. They have nothing to do with the Pirates recent success. Most of it can be attributed to solid decisions by Neal Huntington.

(3) I really like Guy Junker because when I was in college I worked at a gas station for beer money and he would always come in and be super nice to me. When I told him my father was a huge “Stan n’ Guy” fan he went out of his way to bring me in an awesome T shirt for him and my dad thought it was the coolest thing in the world. He has a great back story of starting as a concession vendor at Three Rivers Stadium and building his way up the Pittsburgh sports scene. I think he deserves more respect.

(4) @Yinzers is possibly the funniest man on Twitter (in Pittsburgh sports). You should go follow him. I love his snarky yet fact based banter and I respect that he isn’t willing to give sports reporters a free pass. I think he might have made a Doug from The State reference to me and that might be the coolest thing ever. However, the John Perroto feud is getting slightly verbose. I want to skip to the end. It’s like a long drama that I simply don’t want to sit through anymore. There is more to this story. I just can’t put my finger on it. I sit in anticipation waiting for 7:05.

(5) I am disappointed that the Pirates didn’t pick up a solid reliever at the deadline. I think, even with the help of Jason Grilli, that the bullpen will soon hit a wall. Maybe the price was just too steep, but I think it was the Buccos main need and they failed to address it.

 

Unscientifically based completely made up prediction

The Pirates will go 80-82, simply because it would break my heart and that’s all they’ve done since I was 10.

Chaz Bolte is a writer who lives in Brooklyn, NY. He grew up in Pittsburgh and attended Slippery Rock University. He currently also contributes to Football Nation, WePartyPatriots, Secret Party Room, and AFCNorthTalk.com. His favorite Pirate of all time is Jeff King. You can follow him on Twitter @chazbolte