Valuing the trade chips: Pittsburgh Pirates



After a surprising three-year stretch from 2013-15 during which the team averaged more than 93 wins, the Pittsburgh Pirates seem to have fallen back into mediocrity. Their three consecutive NL Wild Card appearances left some thinking they were ready to take the next step forward in the competitive NL Central, but in the three seasons since they have not been able to distance themselves from the .500 mark. Their 2019 season has not gone as planned, as they currently sit at the bottom of their division.

Last summer, the Pirates made arguably the biggest splash of the trade season, acquiring starting pitcher Chris Archer from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for outfielder Austin Meadows and righties Tyler Glasnow and Shane Baz. While seen as a savvy move at the time, it has not worked out for Pittsburgh. Archer hasn’t pitched well as a Pirate, and Glasnow and Meadows both look like potential stars for the Rays.

Given their struggles this season and the apparent failure of the Archer trade, it is very unlikely that the Pirates will be buyers again this summer. But as sellers, they have plenty of options, and could restock their entire farm system if they choose to undergo a full rebuild.

Here’s a breakdown of the team’s top trade pieces (values in $Ms):

Archer: 49.8
Vazquez: 47.9
Marte: 21.7
Bell: 21.7
Dickerson: 7.1
Lyles: 7.1
Cabrera: 1.8
Liriano: 0.1
Shuck: -0.8
Cervelli: -2.1

If the Pirates do choose to blow it up, they could control the entire pitching market with Archer (49.8) and left-handed reliever Felipe Vazquez (47.9). Archer hasn’t been great, but has a lengthy track record and is on an extremely affordable contract, owed roughly $25.1 million through 2021. Vazquez, on the other hand, has been his usual dominant self, and teams are always looking to add impact relief arms at the deadline. He is under team control through 2023 for just $36.5 million.

However, it is unlikely that the Pirates will move either player. In recent years, they have done their best to avoid the huge tear-down, instead opting to rebuild on the fly. Additionally, they likely aren’t looking to give up on Archer quite yet, especially for a significantly lesser return than they sacrificed to acquire him. Of the two, it is more likely that they will move Vazquez. A potential fit could be the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have had bullpen issues this season. A package of righty Dustin May (34.1), outfielder DJ Peters (6.0) and catcher Diego Cartaya (8.0) could make sense for both sides.

It is much more likely that the team will part ways with outfielder Starling Marte (21.7). The 30-year-old is a consistent power-speed threat and comes with two additional years of affordable team control. Pittsburgh is also surprisingly deep in the outfield, making a Marte trade plausible. If they remain in the race, the Cleveland Indians should be very interested. They could package righty Luis Oviedo (9.7), shortstop Yu Chang (9.1) and infielder Junior Sanquintin (3.0).

The Pirates don’t have much incentive to move slugging first baseman Josh Bell (21.7). The former top prospect is in the midst of a breakout season and looks like a piece to build around. The market will likely weigh the disappointing start to his career more heavily than the Pirates will. Additionally, few (if any) contenders need help at first base, making a deal unlikely.

In outfielder Corey Dickerson (7.1) and righty Jordan Lyles (7.1) the Pirates have a pair of interesting veterans. Dickerson’s season started late due to a preseason shoulder injury, but the contact hitter is back in Pittsburgh’s lineup and has a little more than a month to prove his value. Lyles, somehow only 28, is in the midst of the best season of his career. He is currently on the Injured List with a hamstring issue but should return in the near future. Contenders could see both of these players as sneaky, low-cost upgrades.

While considerably lower in value, teams will also have interest in outfielder Melky Cabrera (1.8). Originally signed to a minor league deal, Cabrera has been fantastic at the plate for Pittsburgh, posting a 116 wRC+ through his first 201 plate appearances. While his defense leaves much to be desired, the switch-hitting veteran has notable value as a bench bat.

Lefty Francisco Liriano (0.1) has bounced around the league in recent seasons, and it looks like he could be on the move again this summer. The veteran is no longer a starting pitching option, but he has settled in nicely as a reliever. His run prevention this season has significantly exceeded his peripherals, but someone will certainly take a chance on Liriano on the cheap.

The Pirates usually do a good job of avoiding negative-value players and contracts, but find themselves with a pair in outfielder J.B. Shuck (-0.8) and catcher Francisco Cervelli (-2.1). Shuck is currently hitting very well in Triple-A, but has never been more than a fourth or fifth outfielder at the major league level. Cervelli, on the other hand, was once one of the league’s best catchers. But concussions have left his future behind the plate uncertain. He is currently on the IL and is untradeable at this time. Even if he comes back healthy before the end of July, the Pirates will likely have to eat a portion of the $7.7 million remaining on Cervelli’s contract.

The Pirates are one of the most unpredictable teams in baseball, and they have enough high-value chips to shake up the entire market. But it is significantly more likely that they will hang onto their biggest pieces and instead deal from their outfield depth, hoping to restock for another run in 2020.

About the Author

Joshua Iversen

Joshua Iversen

Associate Editor of
  1. James Kim

    I think Pirates also need a catcher, so instead of a Mays-headlined trade it may be Ruiz as the headliner

    • Joshua Iversen

      That’s a better fit for the Pirates, sure, but the values don’t line up. Ruiz (55.2) is actually higher than Vazquez (49.8 after our most recent update). Pittsburgh would probably have to add there, which is certainly possible, but probably not too likely.

  2. Donovan Boyle

    Great article, Joshua! As a Pirate’s fan, I am curious what we are going to do. We are only 5.0 GB in the NL Central, but it seems like an off year (probably due to all the injuries and that we are under .500). I’m surprised Polanco isn’t in the top trading values. The team should 100% trade at least one of our outfielders (Polanco, Dickerson, Cabrera, Marte) since they are currently running a 5 man rotation in the outfield. I also can foresee Vazquez being traded (I just wrote an article about the Dodger’s hypothetical) and potentially Archer. The only thing with Archer – he has not been healthy nor consistent so will teams be willing to risk a trade for him at this time? I am excited about him, but is Musgrove out of the equation to be traded since he’s been healthy and good (from the Pirates perspective, they can cling to the fact that next year they will have Lyles, Taillon, and Williams healthy – hopefully). Just some thoughts! I’d love to discuss further!

    • Joshua Iversen

      Thank you! They’re definitely one of the teams to watch this month. Unless they get really hot after the break, I’m not sure they have what it takes to pass three other solid teams, especially when the Cubs have been significantly underperforming their Pythag/BaseRuns records. I think they definitely make at least one move in the outfield to make room for Reynolds to play every day, he’s earned it. Dickerson/Melky are probably the most likely to go since they’re free agents after the year, but they could get real value in return for Marte. Polanco’s at 5.4, which isn’t bad, but his contract and injury history pull his value down a bit. He’s never quite lived up to his minor league track record, and teams just don’t value corner outfield sluggers the way they used to.

      As for pitchers, I’d say Lyles is the most likely to be moved, since his success is pretty unprecedented and he’s a free agent after the season as well. The relief market isn’t great this year, so I could see a team like the Dodgers or Phillies paying up for Vazquez, although I could also see the Pirates hanging onto him since he’s on such a great contract. Archer is tough on both sides – the Pirates probably don’t want to give up on him so soon after everything they gave up, and they especially don’t want to sell low, and buyers are hesitant since they have no idea what they’re getting. I think Musgrove is probably staying put. He has plenty of value, but the Pirates are way closer to competing than a team like the Tigers, so it makes more sense for them to hang onto a controllable arm than it does for the Tigers to keep Matthew Boyd.

  3. Daryl ick

    As a pirates fan I think it’s time to go all in on rebuilding. I suggested a package deal to the Rays a week ago when the Rays were 5 games back I believe. The package included us giving up Bell and Vazquez. Wish I would have known this site existed last week. Also glad to know my offer and what I thought would be a fair return was not too far off. Great site!!

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