The Pirates future is now, embrace it

Does Hunter Pence make sense in Pittsburgh? (AP/Gene J. Puskar)

I wrote last week that the Pirates should only make a trade if it’s the right move. I insinuated that they should be highly guarded in their actions and try not to gamble the future for right now. What I failed to realize is that the future is right now.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have constantly been talking about the future since 1992. Every five-year rebuilding project we’ve been through has been about the future and how we need to build for it — first by trading for names like Brian Giles or Jason Bay, and more recently by building and developing the farm system. But without realizing it, the team has suddenly found itself in the middle of a pennant race, and in the midst of the future we’ve talked about for so long . Right now is the time to contend, and it would be an ill move to not go out and make a deal for a player than can put them over the top.

Pennant races don’t come along very often, especially for a team that hasn’t been in one since 1992 (yes, I’m discounting the 1997 “freak show,” a team that was in the race until the last week of the season but vastly overachieved). That’s why it’s all the more pressing that GM Neal Huntington go out and make a move, sooner than later. The team is in the midst of as challenging a 13 game stretch as any NL team will go through this season; St. Louis comes into town next, and then the team goes on the road for four games in Atlanta and three in Philadelphia. By the time this stretch is over, we’ll know for sure what the team is made of.

The trade deadline, coincidentally, is on the last day of this stretch, and I hope and pray that Huntington isn’t taking a “wait and see” approach and making sure this team keeps delivering before a move to improve is made. Hopefully, the team is being aggressive and looking to acquire a bat to get them through this stretch. We’re beyond the point this season where you’re going to overpay to get players, so if team management is worried about getting lifted for a rental player, it likely won’t happen.

Now, let me reiterate that when I say the team needs to make a move, I mean it. The city deserves it, and the players on the team deserve it for all of the hard work they’ve put in this season. But let me also reiterate that you can’t just sell the farm for a two-month rental. You build your minor league system first to develop the major league team, and then to make contention trades once the big club is on the right track. Our farm system has three and a half pitchers that I think most teams would take as the centerpiece in a deal — Jameson Taillon, Stetson Allie, Luis Heredia, and Gerritt Cole (I say three and a half because the team only has Cole on paper, not yet under contract). All have the talent to one day be front-of-the-rotation starters, and honestly, I’m open to trading one if the return is right or overwhelming, in the case of Taillon, who is rated No. 18 on MLB’s top-50 prospect list.

I don’t want to see any one of those prospects traded for two months of over-the-hill Carlos Beltran. If you’re going to acquire Beltran, take on his salary and give up a middling prospect or two. But would I be open to seeing one traded for Hunter Pence, a five-tool player whom the team would control for two seasons after this? Yes, that’s an acquisition I would encourage. The idea of Pence coming to Pittsburgh is an interesting one. It came out of nowhere while the team was in Houston over the weekend, and it caught fire fast. Even Pence seems to be open to the idea, telling the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Rob Biertempfel that “everyone’s been talking about the Pirates,” in an optimistic tone. It’s an idea that could make a lot of sense. He’s not a power hitter in the sense that he’ll hit 35-40 homeruns, but he will give you 40-50 doubles and drive in a lot of runs, and the team could use that just as badly.

Why not a package that centers around Allie and Sterling Marte, a double-A centerfielder who played in last week’s Futures Game, but is blocked by Andrew McCutchen for years to come? Or if Houston is looking for someone more MLB-ready, perhaps 2006 first-round pick Brad Lincoln, a triple-A starter who is a local boy and a University of Houston alumni. These players could all be intruiging to the Astros as possible pieces of a future contender.

Neal Huntington might contend that the team can’t sacrifice the future for right now, but right now is the future. If you want to bring a bat in, you’re going to have to pay for it, and in three-to-five years, you’ll likely come out of the deal as the loser. Unfortunately, that’s the harsh reality of making contention trades in baseball. But by showing aggressiveness, you can open to door to more free-agents wanting to sign in the future, and help to make yourself more well known on the international market. The long-term impact in that regard makes a trade worth it.

And if you make the right move? You might just win a pennant in the process, and to the city of Pittsburgh, that’s a satisfaction worth sacrificing for.

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