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):
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.