Pittsburgh Pirates: Examining How The Josh Bell Trade Impacts 2021


After the Pittsburgh Pirates traded Josh Bell to the Washington Nationals on Thursday afternoon it’s time to examine how the trade could impact the team in 2021

The Pittsburgh Pirates were expected to be busy on the trade market this offseason. Among the players expected to be traded, first baseman Josh Bell was on the list, but not at the top. Despite this, the 2019 National League All-Star was traded to the Washington Nationals on Thursday afternoon in the first major trade of the offseason for the Pirates.

In return for Bell, the Pittsburgh Pirates received two right-handed pitching prospects. Now that the Bell trade has occurred we can examine how this trade might impact the Pirates in the 2021 season.

First and foremost, the big question becomes who will be at first base? Well, that seems like an easy answer. After having the best offensive season of his career in 2020, Colin Moran is now slated to start at first base.

Prior to the Bell trade, it appeared Moran could be in a tough spot. Ke’Bryan Hayes had emerged as a budding superstar at third base and Bell, despite his defensive shortcomings and offensive inconsistencies, was likely to get the bulk of the starts at first base. So, without the universal DH remaining in place for 2021 there may not have been the amount of at bats available for Moran as he had earned. This will no longer be an issue.

Moran hit for a .247/.325/.472 slash line to go with a .225 isolated power (ISO), 114 wRC+, and an 11.2% extra base hit rate in 2020. His slugging percentage, ISO, wRC+, and extra base hit rates were all career highs. So was his 9.5% walk rate.

His 91.9 MPH exit velocity ranked in the 89th percentile of baseball, while his 13.4% barrel rate was in the 87th percentile and his 47.2% hard hit rate in the 86th percenitle. All of these were also career bests for Moran.

After the 2020 season he had Moran will be entrenched at first base against right-handed pitching. Against left-handed pitching, however, the Pittsburgh Pirates may have a question to answer. Moran owns just a .235/.279/.357 slash line and a 70 wRC+ against left-handed pitching in his career.

Will the Pittsburgh Pirates give Moran the bulk of the starts against LHP to see if he can improve agaisnt southpaws? After all, he has just 208 plate appearances against MLB LHPs and in 2021 he posted a career best 78 wRC+ against LHPs.

Most likely, the Pirates will look for someone to platoon with Moran at first base. That could be an internal option in Phillip Evans. In fact, one could argue that Evans might be one of the biggest winners of players currently on the roster in this trade. Not only does this open the door for Evans to start at first base against LHP, but if the National League does keep the DH for 2021 then there is a good shot that between first base and DH that Evans could earn playing time on a near daily basis.

The Pirates could also look to the free agent market. Right-handed hitters Asdrubel Cabrera and C.J. Cron are two we have previously identified as potential free agent targets for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Free agents such as these two who could start at first base against LHP could become legitimate options for the Bucs.

Who the Pirates acquired in the trade could also be an indicator of some things to come in 2021. There have been trade rumors swirling around starting pitchers Joe Musgrove and Steven Brault this offseason. In fact, it would be a surprise if Musgrove is not traded.

Wil Crowe, one of the two pitchers the Pirates acquired in the Bell trade, made his MLB debut in 2020 starting three games for the Nationals. Due to this, he is a pitcher who could slide into the starting rotation for the Pirates in 2021.

Could Crowe being included in the trade be a sign of a trade involving a starting pitcher or two being on the horizon? It certainly seems possible. Additionally, general manager Ben Cherington’s comments after the Bell trade indicate that the Bucs are not done yet on trade market.

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Odds are high that the Pittsburgh Pirates will see more roster turnover between now and the start of the 2021 season. However, now that Bell has been traded you can start to see some changes that will occur to the roster for 2021.