The trade deadline is looming just beyond the horizon. So let’s talk about a trade proposal involving the most valuable trade piece the Pittsburgh Pirates have – Josh Bell.
Josh Bell is the most valuable trade piece the Pittsburgh Pirates currently have. However, the switch hitting slugger has struggled so far in 2020. Through his first 74 plate appearances, Bell has 14 hits, three walks, two home runs, and a 50 wRC+. A slow start to 2020 isn’t anything new and his wRC+ fits right in with some of 2019’s best batters like Cody Bellinger, Nolan Areando, Gleyber Torres, and Miguel Sano.
But his slow start doesn’t completely negate his fantastic 2019 season with the bat. Through 613 plate appearances, Bell put up a .277/.367/.569 line with 37 long balls, a 142 OPS+ and 135 wRC+. This made him a top 20 batter in all of baseball last season. His wRC+ ranked 22nd in MLB, and 4th among all first basemen. His home run total tied him with Josh Donaldson and Franmil Reyes, placing 16th overall. Bell had a .378 wOBA which was the 25th best in baseball.
Bell did suffer a summer slump, but part of that was some bad batted ball luck. In the first half of 2019, he had a .309 batting average on balls in play, but ]that fell to .241 in the second half. Plus, most of his struggles came from June and July. In August and September, Bell saw his hard hit rate spike back above 40% to 41.3%, while batting .258/.377/.516 with 10 long balls. Even if Bell continues to be a .260/.380/.520 hitter like he was in the final months of 2019, that’s still a really productive hitter. Overall, he was in the top 10 percent of all batters in exit velo, xSLG and xWOBA, showing that he can be a top 10 offensive force.
Though he does have outstanding hitting numbers, there is concern about his glove. Since his first full MLB season in 2017, Bell has ranked last among first basemen in DRS (-25), UZR (-15.4) and third to last in range runs above average (-5.7). However, the universal DH will likely be implemented by 2022, so he can split his time there, which would lessen the impact his defense makes.
But combined with this two years of arbitration left, and he has some decent value, one that could bring back some really notable prospects. One team with a fairly deep farm system still and on the verge of competing is the San Diego Padres.
The current first base situation for the Padres is definitely interesting. Eric Hosmer was the team’s first baseman to start the year, and he had five hits, including two extra base hits in his first 12 plate appearances of 2020, but then he got injured. Since returning from the IL, he’s slumped to just two hits over his next 16 plate appearances.
Additionally, in his first two years with San Diego, he only hit .259/.316/.412 with a 97 OPS+ and 93 wRC+. He was the third worst offensive first baseman in baseball, only passing Albert Pujols and Ian Desmond. He also hasn’t been that great of a defender either ranking next to last in range runs (-5.6) and third to last in UZR (-3.2). All told, he had a -0.5 fWAR. If the Padres are serious about competing, they can’t continue to start Hosmer.
When Hosmer got hurt, Jake Cronenworth took over at first. Cronenworth is currently the team’s 11th best prospect per FanGraphs, and has been outstanding in the 41 plate appearances he has gotten. So far, he’s had 13 hits including four doubles, two triples and two home runs. While Cronenworth is a good first baseman, he would be more valuable at second base. Currently, the Padres don’t have a long term answer at second base and Cronenworth was developed as a middle infielder. Obviously, they’re not going to move Fernando Tatis Jr. off of shortstop, so the clear choice is placing him at second where Jurickson Profar has been. After all, Cronenworth is the most MLB ready middle infielder the Padres have.
Now, sure, they could keep trying former top 100 prospect Josh Naylor until he improves, but if the Padres are serious about competing in a division that houses the Los Angeles Dodgers, and an improving San Francisco Giants, they can’t keep sending out middling bats until they get better. That’s where Bell comes in.
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If the Pittsburgh Pirates and Padres could line-up on a Josh Bell trade, I would definitely ask about the availability of catching prospect Luis Campusano. Campusano ranks as San Diego’s 4th best prospect and the 40th best in baseball. Last year at High-A, the catching prospect absolutely demolished the baseball batting .325/.396/.509 with 15 long balls and 148 wRC+. He posted a solid 10.7% walk rate, but an absolutely amazing strikeout rate of just 11.7%.
FanGraphs gives him a future 60 hit grade. While he only has a future 50 game power, he has a lot of raw power potential. FanGraphs gives that a future 60 grade as well. Defensively, he isn’t the best, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t good. While FanGraphs gives him a 45 future grade, MLB Pipeline gives him a 50. But both sites can agree that he has a cannon of an arm as both give his throwing ability a 60.
The Padres have two young catchers already, that being the switch hitting slugger Francisco Mejia, and former Rule 5 Draft pick, Luis Torrens. Torrens also crushed the ball at Double-A last year, and Mejia looked to be putting it all together last year. They also have a third catcher who flies under the radar, that being Austin Hedges. Hedges is an absolute beast defensively and can provide some pop.
Campusano isn’t the only prospect I’d look into the availability of. The Padres have a ton of young pitching prospects. In a few years, the Padres could have an overabundance of starters. While you always want pitching depth, they’ll be struggling to find spots for guys like Cal Quantrill, Adrian Morejon, and Ryan Weathers with stars like Dinelson Lamet and Chris Paddack already in the Majors, and two of the best pitching prospects in Luis Patino and Mackenzie Gore knocking on the door to MLB.
Patino even already getting a cup of coffee in the Majors. That leaves just one spot left for Morejon, Cal Quantrill, Weathers, Joey Lucchesi, their 2020 1st round pick Cole Wilcox, and possibly 2019-2020 off season acquisition Zach Davies depending on whether or not they are interested in resigning him in the next few seasons.
A package of Campusano and one of Morejon or Weathers for Bell would be an outstanding get for the Pittsburgh Pirates. It gives them their catcher of the future, along with a solid pitcher they could slot into the middle of their rotation in a year or two. But I think the Pirates might be able to get something else out of it. Getting an MLB ready piece would be nice. With two young and talented players already in the package, so obviously it wouldn’t be a big time name. Getting a guy like Ty France, the aforementioned Josh Naylor, or even a pitcher as a throw-in, high-risk/high-reward piece in like Anderson Espinoza would be a nice third piece to the puzzle, but wouldn’t be an absolute need to finish the deal. Even getting some international money would also be useful.
While that is a pretty big package to give up, I could see the Pittsburgh Pirates throwing in Adam Frazier to balance it out. Frazier, although not a great batter, is consistent in his offensive output. You’re pretty much guaranteed a .277/.340/.410 line and a 95-100 OPS/wRC+ with him along with above average defense at second base, and the outfield. Though you wouldn’t want him as your regular shortstop or third baseman, he could play the positions in a pinch. Plus the Padres saw Tatis Jr. and Wil Myers suffer injuries that kept them out for a good chunk of 2019, and also traded Hunter Renfroe in the off season. Having a guy you can really play anywhere you need is really valuable especially when you have a few guys who suffered notable injuries the year prior.
Bell and/or Frazier would be worth the price of Campusano and Morejon/Weathers plus a throw in third piece or international money. This trade gives the Pittsburgh Pirates a catching prospect, a starter who projects to be a solid middle of the rotation guy, and either a piece they can play in the majors now, or money that could be used to sign an international prospect. Meanwhile, the Padres get the big time bat they need, and possibly another piece that would serve as a solid utility.