Well, the Pirates did exactly what I hoped they would do when I wrote last week’s trade deadline primer. The boys of summer went out and swept the Milwaukee Brewers and then took one of three from the Colorado Rockies. That leaves the Bucs currently only three games back of the Brewers and the Chicago Cubs, who are both tied for first in the division. Now with two series against the San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres, two of the worst teams in the MLB, many have hope that Pittsburgh could top the division by the trade deadline or at least keep in close contention with the two top teams. With that mindset, the Pirates look to be buyers at some level during the trade deadline.
Before delving into who the Pirates could target this trade deadline, I caution Pirates fans to not get too excited about the prospect of being buyers. While the Pirates will likely make at least one addition, I do expect them to sell some players, mainly David Freese and Tony Watson. I imagine this deadline looking something like last year where the Pirates moved Francisco Liriano but added Ivan Nova. I also wouldn’t expect the Pirates to add someone like Yu Darvish. The players they add will be mostly underwhelming when it comes to the name but could be serviceable in a playoff run. With that in mind, here are some names that could be on the Pirates radar.
Kendrick is the top player that I hope the Pirates will consider in the coming weeks. While he built his career on being a second baseman for both of the Los Angeles squads, Kendrick has played multiple positions while in Philadelphia this year, including second base, the outfield and some reps at third base on rehab assignments. This versatility should be intriguing to the Pirates because he can play in right field while Gregory Polanco recovers from his recent hamstring injury but also step in at second or third once Polanco returns, moving Josh Harrison to the other spot. And if the Pirates do end up making it to the postseason, Kendrick can replace Starling Marte in left field as he is ineligible for the postseason roster. Kendrick is also a rental that is due about $4 million the rest of the season, meaning he would come cheap. The Pirates could likely swing the deal for a player like Cole Tucker, who is blocked in the system by Jordy Mercer and Kevin Newman, and a player to be named later or two mid-level prospects. That would be a good deal for a player of Kendrick’s versatility that is hitting .353/.404/.471 on the season.
Update: Philadelphia traded Kendrick and cash considerations to Washington for minor league pitcher McKenzie Mills; starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson was sent to Baltimore; Philadelphia received outfielder Hyun Soo Kim and LH Garrett Cleavinger from Baltimore.
Young isn’t the typical trade target as he is currently a member of another contender in Boston. While he is with a contender, Young could be available in a deal that benefits both teams, since he is merely a bench bat that plays against lefties. The Red Sox are looking for a corner infielder to fill their void at third base. They recently called up their top prospect, Rafael Devers, but if he doesn’t live up to expectations, they may want some insurance. Plus, it is always good to have a veteran presence and bench bat to help the rookie learn. Enter David Freese. If the Pirates could do a one for one trade, getting Young for Freese, it fills each team’s need. Young can play for Polanco and Marte like Kendrick would then become a bench bat that can platoon with Polanco against lefties since he is a known lefty masher. Young is also a rental that is hitting only .249/.333/.391 but would be a nice piece to add to a Pirates bench that is lefty heavy and a capable fourth outfielder that can replace Marte if the Bucs enter the postseason.
Granderson is by far the highest priced player on the list. Still owed a little less than $8 million on the season, he would normally be out of the Pirates price range especially when he is hitting .220/.322//448. The Mets, however, have a huge logjam in the outfield and are reportedly willing to eat some money to move one. So if the Mets were willing to pay half of that money, the Grandy man comes into play. The Pirates would really love Curtis for his power. He’s hit 13 homers this year and had 30 last season. The Pirates have little power bats on the team and adding to the fact that Granderson could utilize the short porch in right field, he could really have a good second half in PNC Park. He would be the fourth outfielder in Pittsburgh but could also replace Marte in the playoffs. Plus, if he’s swinging a hotter bat, he could give Hurdle a reliable option to give another outfielder a break. His price won’t be too big since the Mets are desperate but if they are going to eat some money, they could probably get a mid-level prospect like second base prospect Kevin Kramer.
Outside of an outfielder, which the Pirates have been looking for, the number one area of concern is the bullpen. Many of the top relievers will cost the Pirates too much to acquire so I have to assume that they will look for more underrated arms that won’t cost nearly as much. Dustin McGowan is the first guy that fits the bill here. Spending the past two years in Miami, McGowan has been rock solid out of the pen with an ERA of 2.84 since 2016 with a batting average against just above the .200 mark. These are great, consistent numbers that would boost a lackluster Pirates pen. He also would cost nothing more than a low-level prospect to acquire as a rental. The only concern is that advanced stats expect McGowan to regress a bit in the second half but even if he does regress, McGowan is still a much better option than what the Pirates have now.
Another relief option the Pirates could look at is a familiar face in Hunter Strickland. The Bucs let Strickland go a few years ago before he got an extended look in the majors but he has thrived since in San Francisco. This year, Strickland has hit some control issues and the Giants are listening on him after acquiring Sam Dyson a few months ago. He still has a lot of strikeouts and a 2.45 ERA with several years of control left, making him a valuable asset. The problem is that he has walked twice as many batters this year and has a BAA of .250. These are key signs that he is simply getting lucky. A change of scenery and coming back to pitching guru Ray Searage could help him recapture dominant form, however, as a late inning reliever. Strickland will cost more than any other reliever on the list because of his track record and years of control but a prospect close to the MLB with solid potential, like Nick Kingham, could get the Giants attention with another prospect or two included.
Norris is another name that fans may remember. A former starter, the Pirates have been linked to Norris in previous years as a trade target. Norris is now a back end relief pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Angels have had Norris for the past two years but have used him more as a long reliever in the past. Now that he is focusing on shutting the door out of the pen in the absence of Houston Street, Norris has found himself. He is striking out guys at a career high rate and has a 2.23 ERA that is backed up by advanced stats, especially his sparkling .193 BAA. Norris also has 15 saves to his credit this season, making him a prime set-up man option for Felipe Rivero, or a closer when Rivero would be better utilized earlier in a game. Norris is also a rental player that is under the radar compared to other late inning relievers on the market so the Pirates could get a steal, acquiring him for simply a mid-level pitching prospect like Yeudy Garcia and a low-level prospect like Chris Bostick.
Chacin would be a rental and could be targeted if the Pirates want to upgrade their starting rotation. Chacin is having a great year, posting a 4.26 ERA that is backed up by advanced stats He is a heavy groundball pitcher with solid control. Chacin would be an affordable option by giving up a little potential like Luis Escobar to get the ball rolling.
Happ is another familiar face for Pirates fans, as he was the forgotten trade acquisition two years ago at the deadline that ended up being the most productive. Happ turned that into an affordable three year deal with the Blue Jays. With the Jays out of contention, some believe they will listen on the lefty who isn’t necessarily a part of their future. Happ is struggling a little more this year but is still having a good year with a 4.13 ERA that’s backed by advanced stats. Heading back to Pittsburgh could make those numbers sparkle a little more, however, because he would be getting a better park advantage and would be out of the AL East. The Pirates would have to clear some salary, however, like Tony Watson’s $5.6 million tag in order to swing this. The Blue Jays may also be willing to kick in money for his $10 million salary next season as well but that will make the prospect cost heavier. Adding Happ, however, would give the Pirates a formidable rotation heading into 2018 and could even allow them to trade Gerrit Cole over the winter if the right offer came their way. To make this deal happen, however, the Pirates probably have to include one of Cole Tucker or Will Craig along with a good potential pitcher like Gage Hinsz, plus another mid to low-level prospect.
Overall, I would be happy to see the Pirates acquire a versatile player that can play the outfield and infield as well as a bullpen piece. For me, that would be paying the price for Howie Kendrick since he would be a perfect fit for this Pirates team along with Bud Norris. Those acquisitions won’t cost the farm and will help the Pirates in 2017 while not jeopardizing 2018 or blocking other prospects from joining the 2018 squad. If the Pirates are able to get a starting pitcher at a reasonable price, I’d be all for that as well. But for now, the rotation is passable and if there is an injury or Chad Kuhl/Trevor Williams aren’t pitching well, Tyler Glasnow makes for an interesting addition with his solid Triple-A numbers.
While the Pirates haven’t been linked specifically to any of these players, they are all good fits and at the team’s price point. Plus, the Pirates often acquire players they were never linked to. Maybe there are better players for the Pirates to go after and maybe it’s the year that they make that big splash, acquiring a superstar. Based on the past, however, these are the types of players you can expect to be targeted by Neal Huntington and the rest of the front office.