Looking at the Pittsburgh Pirates roster, this does not appear to be a playoff team. It would make a lot of sense for the Pirates organization to say, “let’s not be too aggressive; we have more top-level talent on the way, and we’ll wait for the right time to jump into division contention.” They can probably squeeze some mid-level prospects for veterans Erik Bedard and A.J. Burnett, who’s pitched very well this year, and maybe even something for Rod Barajas. That would be a steady, conservative and smart way to go about this.
Prudent, yes. But, I would go the other way.
The Pirates have gone through unbelievable futility over the last 20 years, and the fans have probably heard a half dozen times to be patient and that young talent is on the way. Last year, they were in first place late in the year and collapsed. They can’t let that dictate what they do this year. They are in a mediocre division which could probably be won with 86 to 88 wins. The big question: How bold do you want to be? I think they caught an excellent break this year when Mark Appel fell to them at number eight in the draft. A polished pitcher who shouldn’t spend too much time in the minors. Gerrit Cole is off the table no matter what. So that leaves two big chips in Jameson Taillon and Starling Marte.
The Pirates pitching has been very good this year, with a dominant season from James McDonald, good contributions from the veterans Bedard and Burnett, and an excellent bullpen led by Joel Hanrahan and Jason Grilli. The offense has been bad, but I would expect Jose Tabata, Neil Walker and Garret Jones all to hit better as the season progresses. If you’re going to make your move, do you go pitching with the thought process that your pitching has been much better than expected, so now get a proven front-of-the-rotation guy who can carry you home, or do you get a player to jump start your offense?
Of the top offensive players most likely to be available (Alfonso Soriano, Jeff Francoeur, Carlos Quentin, Justin Morneau, Josh Willingham), none have the “put you over the hump” ability. The Rockies are in such dissaray right now and need so much help that rumors have surfaced of Troy Tulowitzki potentially being on the block. I don’t disagree with that thinking, and it’s definitely worth a phone call even with his substantial contract, but I can’t see him getting moved. The guy I’d be looking at is Hanley Ramirez. This might be the time to move him. Although I don’t expect the Marlins to concede anything at this point, too many things are not firing for them to expect them to get back in the race. Although Hanley comes with some baggage, he is a difference-making offensive player who would fill a black hole at shortstop for the Pirates and is under contract for a couple of more years at reasonable money.
On the pitching end, there’s not a ton to get excited about. Ryan Dempster and Wandy Rodriguez are solid but not worth top-level prospects. Being in contention, the White Sox will most likely not put Jake Peavy on the block. The only top-level pitcher to be had will probably be Zack Greinke. Although he is a free agent after the year, Pittsburgh could be a good landing spot for Greinke, who is looking to play in a small market.
For those top-level guys, I would trade Marte and even Taillon, as well. Prospects are great but it’s time for Pirates ownership to throw their fans the bone that could lead to a division title.