With roughly two and a half weeks to go until Major League Baseball’s July 31st non-waiver trade deadline, teams are going to have to decide if they are going to be buyers or sellers. The Pittsburgh Pirates could move some veterans to benefit players who can help in 2019 and beyond.
If the Pittsburgh Pirates are going to move back into the playoff discussion, the team needs to end the first half of the 2018 campaign on a strong note and come out of the gate hot after the All-Star break. With a record of 45-49 and 9.5 games behind the division leading Milwaukee Brewers and eight games back in the Wild Card standings, the team certainly has a huge mountain to climb. Not impossible, but also not very likely.
At some point reality will set in and management is going to have to make a decision regarding the status of the club for the remainder of 2018. Adding a player or two at the deadline with the outside shot of making the postseason is probably not the best mentality given that this group of players, for the most part, have under performed all season.
The best and most practical approach to the upcoming trade deadline is to move players (if offered the right package in return, obviously) who will not be on the team next year or in 2020 and see what the prospects who are close to being ready can do on the big stage. this is not to say that the team should necessarily give up on 2018, but the truth is that if this team is not going to make the postseason, then there is really no difference if they end the season with 70 win or 75 wins. Well, except they could put themselves in position to have a better pick in next summer’s amateur draft, but that’s a topic for another day.
Veterans such as Francisco Cervelli (signed through 2019), Josh Harrison (two team options for 2019 and 2020) David Freese (2019 team option), Corey Dickerson (arbitration eligible), Ivan Nova (signed through 2019) and Jordy Mercer (free agent) make the most to be the top players the Pirates should try to move. Since relievers are always in high demand, there could also be a situation where Felipe Vazquez (signed through 2021 with two team options) could be a player that the team would move.
So which players would benefit the most if any of the veterans listed above are traded? The answers probably will not surprise you!
If Cervelli goes…
Elias Diaz would assume the role of the starting catcher and with his play so far this year, it appears that he is ready for the job. Diaz is slashing .280/.329/.473 with a wRC+ of 116 and has been a 1.2 WAR player in 2018. He has also shown some pop in his bat as he has clubbed seven home runs in 164 at-bats this year. He’s improved at the plate in other ways as well, he’s walking more (6.7 percent compared to 5.5 percent last year) and striking out less (12.8 percent compared to 19.0 percent last year). He has caught roughly 26 percent of would be base stealers, and while that number is a little below that Cervelli has done (32 percent) it is not a huge drop off, and throughout his career Diaz has excelled behind the plate. There is no reason to think that he cannot handle the duties of being the full time catcher for the Pirates, and this might happen sooner rather than later.
If Harrison and/or Mercer go…
Kevin Newman and Kevin Kramer could be in line for a promotion as both of them are nearly ready to join the Pirates anyway. Newman, who the team selected in the first round of the 2015 draft, is slashing .307/.355/.393 with two home runs in 313 at-bats, has played both second (21 games) and shortstop (53 games) this season. He’s swiped 21 bases this year, so he would be a nice threat on the basepaths to add to the roster as the season winds down. Newman also has quite the eye at the plate, only registering 37 strikeouts in his 313 at-bats this year.
Kramer, selected in the second round of the same draft, is hitting .277/.340/.477 with Indianapolis this year. Kramer has more power than Newman, as his 11 home runs leads the Indians. Like Newman, Kramer can play around the infield, logging games at second base (41), shortstop (15) and third base (13). These two could make a formidable offensive duo in the middle of the infield and the rest of the season could be used as a time to get them some experience.
If Dickerson goes…
The Pirates have quite the logjam in the outfield and dealing one of the outfielders, most likely Dickerson, would free up some space. A trade of Dickerson would allow the Pirates to move Austin Meadows into a full time role, as he has been losing playing time over the last few weeks. Another player that could benefit from a trade would be the recently promoted Jordan Luplow. Luplow was penciled in to see more innings in the outfield before the team acquired Dickerson, and it makes sense that management would like to give him an opportunity to show what he can do. His numbers with Indianapolis this year (.297/.382/.487 with eight home runs in 273 at-bats) show that the team should not give up on him. Dealing Dickerson would allow the Pirates to give more innings to both Meadows and Luplow, players that should be ready to take on more important roles in 2019.
If Freese goes…
While he is still nursing an injury which has delayed his return to Pittsburgh, a healthy Jung Ho Kang could easily take the place of Freese if a contender is interested in the veteran third baseman. Kang was tearing the cover off the ball while with Bradenton (.417/.531/.875 with three home runs in 24 at-bats) but cooled over considerably once he was moved to Indianapolis (.235/.308/.265 with no home runs in 34 at-bats). The Pirates hold a $5.5 million team option on Kang for 2019, so if he performs well he could represent a fairly cheap internal infield option for next year.
If Nova goes…
Nick Kingham or Clay Holmes would be the most obvious pitchers to be inserted into the rotation in the event that Nova is dealt. While both have limited experience at the MLB level, Kingham has been pitching fairly well lately. In his last two starts he pitched a total of 12.1 innings and allowed four runs on nine hits and two walks. While he has struck out 14 in those innings, he is still giving up too many home runs as he gave up one on July 8th and two on July 13th. In his first start in July when the Dodgers smacked him around he surrendered three longballs.
Holmes has appeared in just three games this season and started one on July 4th. He’s tossed 6.1 innings with the Pirates and in that small sample size he has a 7.11 ERA. His numbers with Indianapolis however, are much better. In 66.1 innings, he has struck out 71 and has an ERA of 3.39. More impressively, he’s allowed just one home run in those innings.
If other teams are looking for players to supplement their rosters heading into the postseason, the Pirates have some players that teams might be interested in for the right price. Fortunately for the Pirates, they have players knocking on the door that could step in, get comfortable during the rest of 2018 and then prepare for larger roles in 2019.