The Pirates and the Trade Deadline: Does Bryan Reynolds and David Bednar Go?

What will the period leading up to the trade deadline look like for the Pirates? In the spring, owner Bob Nutting said it was finally time to focus on the major league team, as opposed to building up the system. General manager Ben Cherington said recently the Pirates don’t necessarily have to make any moves at all. Furthermore, the Pirates don’t seem to have much the contending teams would want.

So I don’t expect a blockbuster like the 2018 deadline deal where Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows and Shane Baz were traded to the Tampa Bay Rays for Chris Archer. Nor would I expect a shocker like the 1973 deal where Yankees pitchers Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich traded wives. (Wonder if they had to clear waivers first?)

The Pirates may have made a deal or two by the time you read this. With that in caveat, here are my own thoughts on a few trade candidates, presented in the order of most to least likely to be dealt as I see it.

Jose Quintana

On a relatively cheap one-year, $2 million contract, Quintana was clearly signed in the hopes he’d pitch well, mentor the youngsters and be traded for prospects at the deadline. After two subpar seasons, the veteran lefty has reverted back to something resembling his old self. As I write this, he is 3-5 with a 3.70 ERA. Coincidentally, his 1.284 WHIP for 2021 is the same as his career WHIP. He pitched seven shutout innings against the Miami Marlins on July 23. It was only the second time in 19 starts he’d pitched more than six innings. Rather than an indictment of Quintana, however, that has more to do with manager Derek Shelton‘s philosophy on how far his starters should go.

Even at his best, Quintana has never been a number one starter. But a contender looking for a reliable back-of-the-rotation arm couldn’t go wrong with Quintana. The New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox are said to be interested. A trade seems likely.

Ben Gamel

If I were listing the players in the order of who should be traded, Gamel would be much further down the page. He’s been in the regular lineup in left or right field most of the year. However, with his .245/.336/.375 slash line, he profiles as a fourth outfielder. He also gets big hits (as evidenced by his career 1.9 WPA), plays hard and plays good defense in the corner outfield spots. He can also step in and play first base when needed and not embarrass himself. Gamel would be a good pick-up for a contender looking for a guy who could spell a regular for a day or play for an injured player. I would venture to guess there’s at least a little interest there.

Tyler Beede

Picked up on a waiver claim on May 12, Beede is just the kind of player Cherington has looked to acquire, a once-highly regarded guy whose skills had yet to translate at the major league level. Beede was a number one draft pick twice, by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2011 and the San Francisco Giants in 2014. As a Giant, he pitched to a 5.39 ERA and a 1.567 WHIP over parts of four years as a starter and reliever.

Beede has flourished as a Pirate, pitching to a 2.93 ERA and 1.193 WHIP in 16 relief appearances. The big mystery is why the Pirates acquired him. He hasn’t been given an opportunity to start and generally isn’t used in high leverage situations out of the bullpen. It’s hard to tell whether the Pirates acquired him to be a part of their future or as trade bait. My guess is he can be had for a good prospect or two.

Kevin Newman

Most ball players aren’t as good as their best season or as bad as their worst season. The truth always lies somewhere in between. So who is the real Newman? Is he the guy who hit .308 as a rookie in 2019? Or is he the guy who hit .226 in 2021? Once again, the real truth is somewhere in between. So far in 2022, Newman is having his “somewhere in between” year, batting .252.

Newman can’t leave town fast enough to suit some Pirates fans. But Shelton seems to value his elite glove work and ability to make contact with the bat. Since returning from the IL, Newman has seen a lot of action at second base. It isn’t too far-fetched to think he could be the favorite to be the regular there next year and beyond, until 2020 number one draft pick Nick Gonzales is ready.

Who else would it be? Gonzales is striking out at an alarming rate in double-A and may be further away than initially hoped. Shelton clearly believes Michael Chavis is more of a corner infielder than a middle infielder. Youngsters Diego Castillo, Hoy Park, Rodolfo Castro and Tucupita Marcano look more like utility infielders and organizational depth guys than regulars. Oneil Cruz at shortstop continues to struggle against major league pitching and may eventually be returned to the minors, as the Pirates did recently with Jack Suwinski. Newman would be a nice insurance policy at either middle infield position. Of course, that could also make him attractive to a contender.

Josh VanMeter

The April 1 acquisition of the versatile infielder VanMeter was a head-scratcher. The Pirates already had a glut of utility infielders in their system. It can’t be denied the guy is a gamer. He’s even pitched and served as an emergency catcher in 2021. He’s easy to root for. Still, the playing time VanMeter has been getting, especially at first base, which is normally a position for a power hitter, is baffling.

He doesn’t give much value to a team with his current batting line of .186/.255/.303, 3 HR, 12 RBIs. He looks more like a DFA candidate than a trade candidate. This relationship isn’t benefiting either the Pirates or the player. One has to wonder how much longer the Pirates will allow it to go on, trade or no trade.

Yoshi Tsutsugo

Reread the preceding paragraph and substitute .173/.254/.235, 2 HR, 18 RBIs for the batting line.

Bryan Reynolds

Reynolds, a starter in the 2021 All-Star Game, is the Pirates’ best player. He’s been the subject of trade rumors because, well, the Pirates always trade their best player eventually. If the rumors can be believed, the Pirates don’t want to move Reynolds, but are listening to offers and making outrageous demands in return.

I would think it would take two major league-ready players to land Reynolds. I’m more inclined to think he’s staying in Pittsburgh, at least for now. He’s signed through next year at $6.75 million. It’s been reported the Pirates are trying to sign him to a long-term contract. The earliest he can become a free agent is 2026. If it’s true that it’s time to focus on the major league club, keeping Reynolds would be a positive step. Fan interest is at a low right now. Attendance is poor. For nothing more than appearances’ sake, the Pirates can’t give the impression they’re kicking the contention can down the road yet again.

David Bednar

Bednar, the All-Star relief pitcher, doesn’t become arbitration-eligible until 2024 and becomes a free agent in 2027. Some hard-thinking media types think he should be traded, reasoning  that a bad team doesn’t need a closer. For that matter, a bad team doesn’t need a shortstop or a catcher or anything else either. That kind of thinking led to Branch Rickey famously telling Ralph Kiner, “We finished last with you. We can finish last without you.” Less famous is Kiner’s retort, something to the effect of, you’re penalizing me because you failed to put a good team together? (Go ahead, tell me who played left field for the Pirates after Kiner was traded in 1953. I mean without looking it up.)

In today’s baseball, I couldn’t be surprised by anybody being traded, so I’ll not make any predictions here. But I will say trading Bednar would be the height of idiocy.

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