The Pittsburgh Pirates have shown interest in Guardians' first baseman Josh Naylor. But what would the Pirates have to give up to acquire him in a trade?
The Pittsburgh Pirates have recently been connected to first baseman Josh Naylor of the Cleveland Guardians. Naylor has been a very productive bat over the last two seasons, but the Guardians may potentially listen to trade offers regarding the slugger. The Pirates also need help at first base, as right now, Connor Joe is the only man at the position. But if the Pirates want Naylor, what would it take to get him?
Naylor is coming off a season where he batted .308/.354/.489 with a .354 wOBA and 128 wRC+. This has been the best year of his career by far. It’s the first time he’s posted an OPS above .800, the first time he’s posted a wOBA above .350, and the first time he’s posted a wRC+ above 120. Naylor’s 6.7% walk rate falls roughly around his career average of 7.1%, but his 13.7% strikeout rate is the best of his career (unless you count the 104 plate appearance sample size from 2020).
Although Naylor didn’t show off much raw power, sitting below average in exit velocity and hard-hit rate and in the 53rd percentile of barrel rate, the underlying numbers still paint a good picture. He had a .290 xBA, .473 xSLG%, and .345 xwOBA. All three are similar to his combined ‘22-’23 numbers of a .282/.336/.471 triple-slash, and .342 wOBA. Sure, they’re not as good as what he put up in ‘23, but you’re not going to find anyone complaining about that kind of production at the plate.
Naylor has also been a sneaky good defensive first baseman. Over the last two seasons, he has combined for +8 outs above average, including +5 last season, which is the second most by any first baseman and the most by any American League 1B. Naylor spent the first three seasons as an OF/1B but has combined for just 38 innings in the outfield grass over the last two seasons. He’s never been too good of a defensive outfielder, with -6 DRS and -8 OAA throughout his career at the position.
One thing to keep in mind that will surely help the Pirates’ case is that Naylor only has two years of control remaining. While that doesn’t bring his value as far down as a one-year rental would, it does limit how much the Guardians will get back for him. That’s also not to say that Naylor will be cheap, as he’s projected to make less than $10 million via arbitration next season, however.
So, what kind of price tag are we looking at here? I think a borderline top-100 prospect trending in the right direction could headline a deal for Naylor. One prospect who falls into that category, almost perfectly, is Thomas Harrington, who is coming off a quality season split at Bradenton and Greensboro. Harrington’s stuff looked decent at both levels and was even among the best pitchers in stuff+ at A-Ball.
Harrington is probably the closest borderline top-100 prospect in the system. He is ranked as the Bucs’ 6th best prospect on MLB Pipeline. Bubba Chandler is the only prospect not on Pipeline’s top 100 list ranked above Harrington. Baseball America views him in a similar light, ranking him as the Pirates’ 7th best prospect, and with just one other prospect ranking above him who isn’t on their top 100 list, that being Quinn Priester. Harrington could easily be on the back-end of some top 100 lists by early next season, if not by mid-2024.
I doubt a one-for-one swap of Harrington for Naylor would fly for the Guardians. They’d probably want another piece or two included in the deal. Harrington as the headliner seems about right; the bigger question will be what else will it take. That’s a little harder to predict.
I could definitely see the Pirates willing to part with Nick Gonzales or Quinn Priester if it meant getting Naylor. Maybe the Pirates add a more middle-tier prospect or two like Hunter Barco, Jackson Wolf, or Po-Yu Chen. The Guardians may also ask about a young high-floor guy such as Estuar Suero, Jhonny Severino, or Tony Blanc Jr. All three are under 20, and while there’s certainly risk among them, they have a lot of potential.
I really hope the Pirates continue to pursue Naylor beyond just interest. He is a big bat who could hold down the line-up for two seasons. He, along with Bryan Reynolds, Jack Suwinski, and Oneil Cruz, could each potentially hit 20+ home runs. If it takes Harrington plus a few mid-tier prospects, then the Pirates should pull the trigger.