The Pittsburgh Pirates went 2-4 this week. The Bucs dropped all four games to the Diamondbacks, but did win a series against the struggling Mets. With a record of 38-42 on the season, the Pirates are showing signs of an inevitable fire-sell of veteran players.
Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo. The good, the bad, and the ugly for the Pittsburgh Pirates. That’s the theme of this series – shout out to the Italian man himself, Francisco Cervelli, for the inspiration. Let’s jump into the week that was!
The good and the bad sections will be self-explanatory, looking at both the good and the bad of the week. The ugly will simply be a section that covers all of the other random notes of importance from the week.
This might have been the week that broke the camel’s back. The Pirates dropped all four games to the Diamondbacks, being swept for the third time in a four-game series this season. Right now, the Pirates just do not look competitive against quality Big League teams. In fact, the Pirates are even having trouble beating some of the worst teams in the league. If it was not for some 9th inning heroics on Wednesday, the Pirates would have dropped a series to the New York Mets. The Mets have gone 4-19 in the month of June – everyone is beating the Mets.
The reality is harsh for Pirates’ fans. Right now the team is having trouble finding consistency and power from the offense. The starters and bullpen have shown glimpses of greatness, but the reality is that these were just glimpses. Right now the Pirates are a young team that will not receive support from Neal Huntington and Bob Nutting at the trade deadline. Barring a minor miracle, the team will fall short of a playoff run in 2018.
I would encourage those fans who are still holding on to some hope to take a gander at the National League standings.
Four games below .500 may not seem like too large of a hurdle, but the reality is that the Pirates would have to pass five other teams to even qualify for a wildcard spot. The National League on a whole is surprisingly deep this season, and many teams will be looking to buy at the trade deadline. I do think the Pirates will have a good second half of the season, but it will not be enough to surpass many NL powerhouses like the Dodgers, Giants, Cubs, Cardinals, and Nationals. All of these clubs have money and prospects to spend and will spend both in an attempt to lock down a wild-card spot.
Take heart though Pirates’ fans. Because the NL is so competitive this year, the Pirates may be able to capitalize on high prospect returns for their veteran players. Trust me, I know this is not what we want to hear, but I’m looking for the good in the Pirates’ current predicament.
The Bad (Or Good depending on how you feel)
Here is the good news: the Pirates will trade some of the best players available at the trade deadline this year. And trading is ALL about relative value. How good is a player compared to our next best option? In fact, I think three trade-able Pirates’ players could be viewed as the best player available at their respective positions: Corey Dickerson, Francisco Cervelli, and Josh Harrison. I also believe that Jordy Mercer, David Freese, and Ivan Nova will be moved. Let’s take a look at why all of these players are great trade candidates and should demand some high returns for the Pirates.
Josh Harrison has been my favorite Pirates’ player since his very first call-up in 2011. In no way, shape, or form do I want him to be traded, but there is a good chance he will be. Harrison is in the final year of his $27 million contract, and the Pirates will most certainly look to gain some prospects before he hits free agency. According to mlbtraderumors top 50 trade deadline candidates list, the best second basemen on the market are Scooter Gennett and Starlin Castro. If the Reds decide to hold onto Gennett for his arbitration year in 2019 (I bet they will), Harrison will be the best second baseman on the trading block, surpassing Castro. With a .280/.320/.411/.731 career line, above average defense metrics, and an attitude that lights up the clubhouse, Harrison will be highly valued by contending teams.
Corey Dickerson does not have a contract that expires at the end of the season, but with a back-logged outfield, I would not be surprised if the Pittsburgh Pirates are eager to move Dickerson. Adding to the probability of Dickerson being traded is his current performance metrics (two thumbs up) and his relative worth compared to other outfielders on this year’s market. Again referencing the top 50 list, Nicholas Castellanos is projected to be the most valuable outfielder on the trading block. However, Dickerson will provide more value to a contending team when he hits the market. Dickerson has a +9 DRS (defensive runs saved) compared to Castellanos’ -19 DRS. In addition, Dickerson has an extra year of arbitration compared to Castellano whose contract is expiring.
Francisco Cervelli will be the Pirates’ most interesting trade candidate. Even if the Rays look to trade Wilson Ramos, Cervelli could easily be seen as the best catcher available at the trade deadline this year. There are many factors on both sides of the equation for Cervelli. On one hand, he provides superb defense, pitch framing, and fantastic on-base statistics. On the other hand, Cervelli has been injury-prone and normally does not bring much power to the plate. A .273/.362/.384/.745 line plus a 2019 arbitration year will be attractive to many teams though – especially with the extra power Cervelli has shown this year.
When the Manny Machado blockbuster trade dust settles, Jordy Mercer will be arguably the best shortstop option on the market for contending teams. There is a lot to like about Mercer if you are a contending team. Mercer has average to above-average defensive metrics, one of the most consistent bats in the league, and veteran experience. Jordy’s .256/.316/.384/.700 career line may not raise eyebrows on its own, but it is an above-average offensive line at shortstop these days.
Ivan Nova and David Freese
Nova and Freese are in similar positions with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Neither have eye-popping metrics, but both could be valued by a contending team. Neither player really has a future with Pirates. With Jung Ho Kang returning soon, the Pirates will have too many third basemen and the Pirates also have a plethora of young arms that could be valuable starters. I am sure that the Pirates will try to move both Nova and Freese, but they may not get much in return.
Hopefully, that wasn’t too depressing for all of the Pirates’ fans reading this article. Here is the thing. The Pirates do have a lot of young, exciting, and talented players that will take the place of those players that are traded away. The Steven Brault, Trevor Williams, Joe Musgrove, Tyler Glasnow, Jameson Taillon, and Chad Kuhl bromance will still be intact and will lead the Pirates into the 2019 season. Seriously though, how cool is that? How many teams have a set of pitchers who all made it to the Big League club together and are close friends?
The Pirates made two big promotions to AAA-Indy this week. Top prospect Mitch Keller was promoted after his 14th start in AA-Altoona where he is holding batters to a .208 average and owns a 2.72 ERA. Over his last four starts, that ERA sits at 1.11.
Perhaps a larger story, Jason Martin was also promoted to AAA-Indy. Martin was recently acquired in the Gerrit Cole trade with the Houston Astros and is the Pirates’ 21st best prospect. However, as Nicholas Caporoso recently pointed out, Martin is starting to play more like a top-ten prospect. Martin is hitting an astounding .325/.392/.522/.913 on the season and is driving in RBIs with power very consistently.
A piece that I found interesting this week was an article written by Bill Brink in the Post-Gazette. While the Pirates were in New York this week, some of the Pirates’ coaches and staff visited the MLB’s replay center. This piece sheds some light on the black-box that determines the MLB’s closest plays. I thought it was pretty cool.
That’s all for this week. Let’s go Bucs!
The Pittsburgh Pirates week ahead:
June 29th – Pirates @ the Padres 10:10
June 30th – Pirates @ the Padres 10:10
Day Game July 1st – Pirates @ the Padres 4:10
July 2nd – Pirates @ the Dodgers 10:10
July 3rd – Pirates @ the Dodgers 10:10
Independence Day – Pirates @ the Dodgers 8:10