Now that baseball has moved past the All-Star Break, everyone’s attention is now on the trade deadline that is coming up at the end of the month. The Pirates, who are still unsure on how they will approach the July 31st deadline, start a four-game series with the Milwaukee Brewers on Monday and the result of that series will likely determine if they will be buyers or sellers. Barring a sweep of Milwaukee, which would put the Bucs three games back in the division, the expectation is that the Pirates will sell. With that idea in mind and the possibility of a trade happening any second, it seems like a good time to take stock of what the Pirates could offer other teams and what they could get in return.
Players Likely on the Move:
McCutchen is a case that I outlined in great detail last week and I believe that he should be traded. As anyone who has watched the Bucs in recent months knows, Cutch is hot. And because he is hot, his value is sky high, the complete opposite of what it was when most fans wanted to trade him in the offseason. Simple economics tells you that you always sell high and never sell low. Well, with McCutchen’s value the highest it will ever be, that basic saying tells us it’s time to part with the former NL MVP. Now, if the Pirates do sweep the Brewers or take three out of four, Cutch may become untouchable or have an unbelievable price tag. If the Pirates do continue to lag behind in the NL Central race, however, they should target the Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers as trade destinations.
The Twins could look to compete for the first time in years and may have given up on former top prospect Byron Buxton. If the Pirates could get Buxton and two other top prospects from Minnesota, that’d be a great return. As for the Rangers, Cutch could be reunited with former bench coach Jeff Banister and the Pirates could receive a package built around another former top prospect on the trade block, SS Jurickson Profar, and toolsy outfielder Leody Tavares, who is remarkably similar to Victor Robles, the player the Pirates targeted from the Nationals in the offseason. One other possibility that is pure speculation on my part is the Arizona Diamondbacks. Over the years, the Dbacks have had a knack for making big trades and this year, experts have them targeting J.D. Martinez as an addition. Could they consider Cutch as well? If so, a package would have to start with an MLB player being that their farm system is so weak. Could a package of say, Ketel Marte, their top prospect, lefty Anthony Banda and outfielder Socrates Brito get the deal done?
Watson’s name has appeared in trade rumors a lot over the past couple of days. In a year where he was supposed to be a premier closer and be the next stud that the Pirates traded for a big package, Watson has disappointed and been removed from the closer role. Still, he is a left-handed pitcher with a great track record. Plus, Watson has performed a bit better recently. Expensive bullpen pieces are never something the Pirates hold on to so I would expect Tony to be traded regardless of the Bucs’ position in the standings. The team most linked to Watson to this point has been the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays are scouring the relief pitching market and if they decide on Watson, the Pirates could get a boom or bust prospect, like Adrian Rondon. Rondon is the Rays’ 13th best prospect playing shortstop in the low minors. Rondon is a strikeout prone player but has big power potential. And while he plays shortstop, many believe his future position is third base, a position the Pirates are lacking in organizational depth. If the Rays don’t go for Watson, other options could be the Nationals and the Dodgers.
Freese, like Watson, seems like he will be traded regardless of where the Pirates sit in the standings at the end of July. Jung-Ho Kang will hopefully return for the 2018 season to take the starting role and the Pirates could always move Josh Harrison to third and move Adam Frazier to second base, something I believe they will do once Starling Marte returns to his spot in left field. Plus, Jose Osuna has been working out at third base lately and the Pirates believe that could be a long-term position for him. There has also been a great interest in Freese in league circles with teams like the Red Sox and Yankees being interested in the veteran to man third base this year and be a valuable bench piece next year. The Red Sox have the most immediate need and I believe he is their plan B if they fail to land Todd Frazier. In that case, the Pirates could get a young prospect with high potential, like speedy outfielder Lorenzo Cedrola along with pitching depth. If Frazier does go to Boston, however, the Yankees also could use a player that can play at first or third, putting them in the Freese market. From the Yanks, the Pirates could get a former top pitching prospect who has had injury problems like Ian Clarkin along with a very young, toolsy project outfielder like Estevan Florial.
Nicasio is off to another strong year with the Pirates as a late inning reliever but he has gone a bit under the radar on a stacked relief pitcher market. Still, his solid track record and a strong showing this year should certainly grab teams’ attention. Two teams in particular that look like a good fit for Nicasio are the Nationals and his former team, the Dodgers. If Nicasio is moved as a rental, he likely won’t bring in a huge haul of prospects, likely just a fringe MLB prospect along with a player to be named later or cash considerations. On the Dodgers, an undersized pitcher who could be anywhere from a starter to a closer in the majors like Jordan Sheffield fits the bill. If the Pirates decide to dive back into the Nationals system, a raw catching prospect, like Jakson Reetz, could help build up the organization’s depth at the position.
His name hasn’t been brought up for being linked to many teams, but Jaso has been mentioned by some in the media as a possible bench upgrade for a team. He plays a variety of positions and hits well from the left side of the plate. Because he is simply a bench player, however, the only thing the Pirates could conceivably get for him would be a player to be named later or cash.
Players Unlikely to be Traded but Still Could Move:
The Pirates most recent All-Star representative, the second baseman had his name thrown around a good bit this past offseason as a trade candidate. Since the season started, however, Harrison hasn’t been shopped or mentioned until a report came out that the Red Sox were scouting him. With Harrison in a cold stretch right now, along with the affordable contract he has as a top infielder in the national league, I just don’t see the Pirates trading him unless they get a haul for him, for example, two top ten prospects and an MLB player.
The Pirates would be insane to trade Rivero at this point, as they have multiple years of control on him as well as his extremely affordable price tag. Still, there has been talk, with Bob Nightendale today hypothesizing a trade in which Rivero would go to the Dodgers for an MLB top 5o outfielder prospect, Alex Verdugo. If that were on the table, it’s something the Pirates would have to at least consider. I just don’t see that offer coming Neal Huntington’s way or the Pirates taking it.
Nova’s name hasn’t popped up once during the trade chatter and he is also on a great contract for the Pirates but the starting pitching market has been pretty soft this year. With teams always prepared to overpay for starting pitching, if a team were to come at the Pirates with a package built around a top five prospect in their system, the Pirates would have to listen. Unlikely, but still could happen.
Trading Cervelli makes all the sense in the world to me even though he hasn’t been mentioned. He is signed to a sizeable extension and was only offered the contract because Elias Diaz wasn’t looking like the prospect he was supposed to be. Now, with Diaz playing great and being blocked in the majors, finding financial flexibility and going younger at catcher would be great for the Pirates. With Cervelli gone, the Bucs could let Diaz start the rest of the season and build a rapport with the pitchers he would catch full-time next season. The only problem with this is that the catching market is virtually non-existent. So if this were to come to fruition, an injury would have to plague someone or a surprise team would have to make a move. While unlikely, Cervelli is the one player I would aggressively shop if I were Neal Huntington.
Gerrit Cole is the ultimate wild card for the Pirates this deadline. I believe they should hold on to him because it would be selling low but on the other hand, there are no true aces on the trade market outside of Sonny Gray and Justin Verlander after Jose Quintana was traded to the Cubs. And personally, I believe Cole has the better track record and potential than Gray. With a bidding war going for Gray, the Pirates could offer up Cole as an alternative. They entertained an offer from the Cubs but the price was apparently too steep. The three teams that are looking at Gray are the Astros, Yankees and Braves. Any deal for Cole would have to revolve around two of each team’s top three prospects. For the Astros, I would ask for pitcher Frances Martes and outfielder Kyle Tucker, two top 30 prospects in baseball. For the Yankees, an equivalent would be outfielder Clint Frazier and infielder Jorge Mateo. And for the Braves, that’s infielder Ozzie Albies and lefty pitcher Kolby Allard. Obviously, another piece or two would be required at the minimum but without one of these deals, there’s no reason to trade Cole…yet.
While this is a preliminary list of trade candidates that the Pirates could sell at the deadline, I much prefer to write about possible additions. Hopefully, the Pirates are able to take this four game series with the Brewers and we can start to talk about the Pirates jumping into the buying side of the trade deadline. But until that happens, this is a reality fans should be prepared for.