Will the Pittsburgh Pirates Sell at the 2017 Trade Deadline?

Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s inevitable, the discussion needs to be had. No matter how good or bad you believe the Pittsburgh Pirates are this year, there are two facts that cannot be ignored. The Pirates are currently third in the NL Central with a losing record of 36-42, and the trade deadline is July 31st – only 31 days and 27 games away.

Any other season would already be marked down as a loss in the books, but incredibly the Pirates are only four games out of first place. There is still hope to be had for a postseason appearance. Neil Huntington will need to decide whether he wants to be a buyer or seller at the trade deadline sooner rather than later. With only a handful of teams looking like World Series competitors, the market for selling large commodities will most likely be limited – rewarding sellers who jump on the market quickly. So what is the best move for the Neil and the Pirates?

Two Reasons to keep Living on a Prayer

1)      The outfield bats

The Pirates as a whole have hit better during the month of June, swinging the lumber at a modest .258 clip (better than May at .231 and April at .243). However, it is the outfield that holds the most promise. Andrew McCutchen leads the way by doing what he does best in his historically favorite hitting month, June. Cutch is boasting a .376/.465/1.124 line so far in June with 6 home runs and 22 RBIs. Opposing pitchers look terrified when Cutch walks up to the plate and best of all Cutch is acting like the Cutch of 2015 – he has regained his confidence.

In addition to McCutchen, Starling Marte will return to the Pirates lineup in just a couple of weeks. My guess is that he will come back with a chip on his shoulder and will have an all-star caliber second half of the season. His combination of power and speed could be just what it takes to propel the Pirates into the postseason.

Finally, Jose Osuna gets me excited. Like I stated in an earlier article, this guy needed to be on the roster from game one. Osuna is sporting a .259/.306/.798 line with some great power. He has also been heating up and is hitting .321 in June. Even though Osuna’s numbers don’t pop like Cutch’s, he puts together one professional at bat after another. He is also hitting .250 with runners in scoring position (this is in stark contrast to Gregory Polanco hitting .204 with runners in scoring position).

2) Just make the playoffs – the NL Central stinks

An argument can be made that the Pirates are only one or two pieces away from making the post-season, especially if the NL Central continues to flop as a whole. As we learned in 2014, even wild card teams can make, and win, the World Series. If the Pirates locked down a division title, a few hot bats and pitchers can be all the team needs to bring home some hardware.

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If the Pirates went this route, they would have to look to add to their bullpen, starting rotation and traditional power positions (3B, 1B, Outfield).  The additions can be made internally – think Jung-Ho Kang comes back or Tyler Glasnow learns how to pitch to Major League hitters. They can also be made externally through trades. As usual, the Pirates have the available funds and the farm system to make these moves, as well as some talent that could solve these problems internally. Only time will tell if the Pirates go this route.

Two Reasons to Sell

1) Pitching has been well….generally sub-par

Even though there have been some stellar individual performances so far this season, the Pirates pitching staff as a whole is sporting a 4.56 ERA. By some miracle, this is actually good for the 13th best ERA in MLB, but it is far too high for the Pirates to be taken as a serious post-season contender.

The problem is twofold, residing with both starters and relievers. For the starters, it is hard to admit, but the majority of the pitching talent has just failed to develop. Tyler Glasnow, Trevor Williams, Chad KuhlNick Kingham and Steven Brault have all shown flashes of potential, but none have developed into more than a fifth starter at best. However, I believe this long list of young talent will not stay stagnant. Too many of the players, especially Glasnow, Kuhl, and Kingham have outstanding stuff – they just may not be ready for a postseason quite yet.

The bullpen is the second half of the problem and has almost developed into a complete disaster. Daniel Hudson owns a 4.91 ERA and the Pirates still owe him over $5 million for his service. Former stable players like Tony Watson, Juan Nicasio, and Wade LeBlanc, have all shown signs of weakness or disaster. With Felipe Rivero anchoring the back of the bullpen, I do believe the “Shark Tank” of old might be able to find stability in the future, but so far they have drastically under-performed.

To summarize the pitching woes, there is potential, but there hasn’t been consistent performance. The consistency very well may come by the end of the season, but one has to ask if it will be too little too late or if consistency is even possible without the acquisition of additional talent.

2) Maximizing your contracts and window of opportunity

Sadly, this may be the biggest and strongest argument come the trade deadline. Both a curse and a blessing, the Pirates have a large amount of young and talented players locked in for the foreseeable future, which makes it very tempting to build for a run next year.

At the end of the 2017 season, the Pirates really don’t lose anyone. Rivero returns to the bullpen. Gerrit Cole, Ivan Nova and Jameson Taillon will still be there to lock down the top three spots in the rotation. Kuhl, Williams, Glasnow, Kingham, Brault and Mitch Keller will all have the chance to develop into top-tier MLB players. Josh Harrison, Kang, David Freese, Marte, Polanco, Josh Bell, Adam Frazier, Jordy Mercer, and even McCutchen can return to the team (if the Pirates pick up Cutch’s pick up all of the options).

Of course, if the Pirates go this route, some of these pieces will be moved at the trade deadline, but the overarching point still remains. If the Pirates believe they can win with this core set of players, they still have time and can make an even stronger bid next year if they are sellers at this deadline.

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Without a doubt, the next few weeks will play a large part in determining what the Pirates do at the trade deadline. Hey, I hope they go 27-0 for what it is worth. Don’t give up on this team yet Pirates fans. Let’s go Bucs!