The Pittsburgh Pirates have traded arguably the most dynamic player on their roster, Josh Bell, to the Washington Nationals. In return, the Pirates will be receiving two pitching prospects from the Nationals.
Why Bell was Traded
The rebuild of the Pittsburgh Pirates roster continued in full swing on Christmas Eve with the trading of Josh Bell to the Washington Nationals. Bell was arguably the most valuable trade piece that the Pirates had on their current roster.
While he only slashed .226/.305/.364 in 2020, Bell’s 2019 numbers were extraordinary as he slashed .277/.367/.569 on the season and .390/.442/.797 in the month of May. Bell’s month of May in 2019 is in and of itself one of the main reasons why Bell was one of the more coveted first basemen that were rumored to be on the trade block. Any MLB player can have good months, but only players with true top end talent can have a historic month like Bell did in May 2019.
Outside of a few solid months though Bell has been a replacement level player for most of his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Since 2016, Bell has only provided the Pittsburgh Pirates with +3.5 WAR – mostly due to poor defensive play and an inconsistent offensive profile.
In addition to inconsistent play, Bell’s contract will expire at the end of the 2022 season. With the first overall pick in the 2021 MLB Draft, the state of the current Pirate farm system, and younger prospects that Cherington acquired in the Starling Marte trade, the Pirates will not be serious competitors before Bell would have moved on from Pittsburgh. With all of this in mind, it isn’t surprising that Cherington decided to move Bell.
Who did the Pittsburgh Pirates get in Return?
In this trade, the Pirates are receiving two right-hand pitching prospects. 25-year-old Wil Crowe and 18-year-old Eddy Yean. While the Nationals have one of the weaker farm systems in the league, both of these prospects are very clearly organizational top 10 prospects for the Nationals.
Crowe is the better known of the two prospects and is projected to be back-end of the rotation pitcher. FanGraphs states that “Crowe has above-average stuff, his fastball and pair of breaking balls are all capable of missing bats…[but] has imprecise control of everything, and instead just tries to bully hitters with a pretty even mix of the repertoire in competitive locations.” They back this up by giving him 55/55 fastball and change up ratings, slider and curveball ratings of 50+, and a control rating of 45/50.
Crowe made his MLB debut last season, but struggled over his limited appearances. In three starts, Crowe pitched 8.1 innings and gave up 11 earned runs. Crowe also struggled in Triple-A the previous season pitching to an ERA of 6.17 over 10 starts. Prior to reaching Triple-A though, Crowe has shown great promise with an ERA of 4.36 in Double-A and sub-3 ERAs in High-A and rookie ball.
Yean may be the more highly regarded of the two prospects as he has higher upside than Crowe, but is obviously much further away from the Majors. Yean has a fastball that hits the high-90s, decent off-speed pitches, and a frame that will allow him to develop into a power pitcher. It is pretty clear that Yean is the main player that Cherington is targeting in the Pirate rebuild. Cherington has made it pretty clear that the Pittsburgh Pirates are targeting a season 2-3 years out as the first truly competitive season for the franchise. Yean fits into this time frame. Yean has two years of rookie ball under his belt with mixed results, pitching to an ERA of 4.7, but showed considerable improvement from 2018 to 2019.
Who “won” the trade?
It is far to early to answer this question, however, by the end of 2021 and I believe the answer will be quite clear. Bell has Tyler Glasnow level potential, and if the Nationals are able to fix some of Bell’s offensive inconsistencies then Bell will be the most recent player, on a long list of players, that the Pirates failed to help develop. If Bell repeats his 2020 performance, the Pirates will have made a fantastic move. A franchise in the midst of a rebuild has no need for a defensive-ailed first baseman that hits a replacement level. Any prospect return for a player of that profile is far more valuable.
Regardless of how 2021 plays out, Bell will be sorely missed in Pittsburgh. A dynamic player who had a knack for making memorable moments, it will be many years until the Pirates have another first basemen with his level of talent.