By Jason Shetler
Matt Joyce broke into the Majors with the Detroit Tigers in 2008 and had himself a productive rookie year. Prior to the 2009 season, he was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays in a swap for Edwin Jackson. In six seasons with the Rays, Joyce was a vital part of their offense, posting a .777 OPS along with a 118 OPS+ and was named an All-Star in 2011. He was on the move before the 2015 season, getting dealt to the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for reliever Kevin Jepsen. Unfortunately for the Angels, Joyce had his worst season, as he batted just .174 with an OPS of .564.
The Pirates were in a search of a fourth outfielder this past offseason. In February, they signed Joyce to a minor league deal to compete for a reserve outfield spot. He had a good showing in Spring Training, especially in the last two weeks, and made the Pirates Opening Day roster as a reserve. From having his worst year last season, Joyce is enjoying his best season in 2016 with a .955 OPS. Even more impressive is how extremely productive he’s been as a pinch-hitter, as he’s hitting .308 with a 1.112 OPS in that role. The Pirates still find themselves in the NL Wild Card hunt. During the trade deadline last week, they were buyers and sellers. There was some speculation if Joyce would be a trade candidate at the deadline. The question becomes would the Pirates still consider selling high on him?
Joyce becomes a free agent after the season and likely won’t be tagged with a qualifying offer, which means the Pirates wouldn’t get draft pick compensation, even if he signs elsewhere. His trade value will probably never be higher than it is right now, so that definitely makes it intriguing. Based on the return the Pirates got for Travis Snider from the Baltimore Orioles prior to 2015, there’s no reason to think that Joyce can’t get them back a significant return. Also, and this is only pure speculation on my part, but trading Joyce would allow the Pirates to recall Josh Bell. It’s certainly a tough decision for GM Neal Huntington, as to whether he wants to deal Joyce for a solid return package or keep him for the playoff race and risk losing him for nothing in the offseason.