By Jared Lankes
It’s July in the MLB; the time of the year where every team across the league’s landscape has to begin making a decision about how they figure their season will end. For some, they think of themselves as bonafide contenders. While some, on the other hand, will see the season as a loss and prepare for the next season. Some, however, will be stuck in the middle. These thoughts lead every team in their decision-making as the July 31 MLB Non-Waiver trade deadline approaches closer as each day passes.
For today, I will look at some of the players that the Pirates would trade away if they figure this season is a lost cause and find themselves as sellers. I think the current state of the team and the standings dictate they should sell, even if it’s a very soft sell of just players who are approaching free agency soon or guys that will be replaced by a top young talent before long.
RP Juan Nicasio (Free Agent after 2017)
Bullpen arms project to be at a premium price at the trade deadline this year again as there never seems to be enough out there and every contending team needs them. Juan Nicasio, despite a minor rough patch for two outings in late June, would still represent a very nice late-inning relief option for any team in need and can instantly make any bullpen more formidable. Nicasio will be a commodity that many teams would desire, and the Pirates would be able to get a nice haul for him this month instead of losing him for nothing in free agency in a few months.
Possible suitors: Basically every contender
RP Tony Watson (Free Agent after 2017):
Watson has had a rough season for the Pirates, but he has been a bit better since being removed from the closer’s role, which could make buyers at least intrigued again. Watson, at worst, would provide a bullpen a nice option to strengthen their bullpen by deepening it, which has become ever important down the stretch and in the postseason. Watson is still capable of getting outs in the MLB, and with the way teams need bullpen arms, the left arm of Tony Watson is good enough still to warrant the Pirates receiving a nice bit of interest and likely at least a semi-decent return.
Possible suitors: Nationals, Astros, Red Sox, Diamondbacks, Rays, Dodgers, Twins, Yankees
RP Antonio Bastardo (Free Agent after 2017):
At first glance, it would appear Bastardo has zero value, and you’d be almost correct. First, the fact that he is a lefty will at least bring some value. Secondly, since the Mets are paying some of his salary this year and the Pirates have been reported to be willing to take on some of his salary in a trade back in the offseason (and likely would still do that), a team can get him a relatively cheap rate in terms of what it’d take to acquire him and how much money the team would be on the hook for. Also, if he pitches at least decently in July, a potential buyer may see it as a turnaround for him and may take the low-risk/high-reward chance of adding him into their bullpen.
Possible suitors: Nationals, Diamondbacks, Rays, Rangers
RP Wade LeBlanc (Free Agent after 2017 at earliest with team option for 2018):
Wade LeBlanc was pitching out of his mind for the better part of two months before he fell back to earth in June. Still though, he is a decent middle to long reliever and has his uses in almost any bullpen. Combined that with the fact that he’s a lefty will make interest in him at least decent. The Pirates, however, can keep him if they want, as his salary for next year is very low and he can still contribute. That low salary and at least his average effectiveness, however, could make him a fallback option to some teams that don’t want to spend big on a reliever acquisition cost-wise or money-wise.
Possible suitors: Nationals, Astros, Rangers, Twins, Yankees
RP Daniel Hudson (Free Agent after 2018):
It’s fair to say that the signing of Daniel Hudson hasn’t quite worked out as envisioned, but he’s been better than many people think. Additionally, Daniel Hudson generated interest from over half the league as a free agent last offseason, and maybe some teams still see him as a reliable guy. Pirates may be better off keeping him though and seeing if the investment in him can pay off further rather than trading him for a dud return.
Possible suitors: Nationals, Indians, Diamondbacks, Rays, Rangers, Twins, Mariners
1B/OF John Jaso (Free Agent after 2017):
Jaso has enjoyed a renaissance in his career by putting up what could possibly be his best offensive season in years, or possibly his whole career. He’s had to step up with injuries and other things and has done a terrific job doing so. He has also brought defensive versatility to the table as he can play 1st base and both corner outfield spots. That, combined with the increase in offensive output, could make him a good target for teams in need of a versatile bench bat. Pirates wouldn’t get a major return for two months of a bench bat, but probably could get more in return than anyone could have imagined.
Possible suitors: Yankees
IF/OF Josh Harrison (Free Agent after 2018 at earliest with team options for 2019 & 2020):
Josh Harrison has enjoyed his best season since 2014, especially with the bat. But that is only part of his game. He also brings great defensive skills at mainly second and third base but can also play outfield at least decently. In addition, he is just an exciting player and has that personality about him that can help a clubhouse pick themselves up when they’re down. All this stirred together leads to a guy the Pirates would want a lot in return for, which is unimaginable considering Pirates were ready to just dump him this past offseason. His versatility and great defense are his main pluses but the bat is something he can bring to the table as well. I don’t envision the Pirates trading him, but if someone gives them a great offer, it could happen.
Possible suitors: Dodgers, Red Sox, Yankees
3B/1B David Freese (Free Agent after 2018 at earliest with 2019 team option):
David Freese was never meant to start this much for the Pirates, but Jung Ho Kang’s issue have thrust him into action more often than expected, and the results have shown. While he hasn’t been terrible by any stretch, he hasn’t been great either. However, he can still help teams at third and first base and/or on the bench while providing a good veteran clubhouse presence. Pirates may not trade him though with the uncertainty of Kang even though they can move Harrison to third and Frazier to second or use other young guys at those spots like Gift Ngoepe, Max Moroff, and even Eric Wood. It might just depend on if they see an offer they really like for Freese.
Possible suitors: Yankees, Red Sox
SPs Gerrit Cole and Ivan Nova (Free Agents after 2019):
I put these two together because they are both free agents after 2019, and the reasons for trading them or not are very similar. Firstly, trading either of them, in my opinion, would represent a rebuild has started, and for a team that hopes to contend in 2018, I don’t think that happens. Adding on to that, if Pirates want to contend in 2018, having Cole and Nova with Taillon at the top of that rotation is a must because that’s a very solid top 3.
However, the reasons to trade them are very similar as well, and that’s if they receive an offer they can’t refuse in a million years for them. If a team offers them a combo quality young major leagues and elite prospects, then a consideration of a deal should occur. But, if teams just try to come with “expected” offers for these guys, there’s little chance the Pirates would trade them, and shouldn’t, considering they have their eye on 2018 contention.
Possible suitors: Yankees, Astros, Red Sox, Rockies, Braves, Rangers, Mariners
Andrew McCutchen (Free agent after 2017 at earliest with 2018 team option):
With top prospect Austin Meadows on the horizon and McCutchen aging and approaching free agency sooner rather than later, it makes sense for the Pirates to continue exploring trades for Andrew McCutchen. The fact that he had a historic June helps drive this forward as well, whether we like it or not. The value for McCutchen in a trade will be super high this month given his June where he made baseball look easier than breathing. Pirates, like many teams in a similar situation, won’t pass up on the opportunity to trade an aging player at the peak value that McCutchen will have this month. Given his recent stretch, a handful of teams will come calling the Pirates to grab a guy that can significantly improve their chances of making a deep playoff run.
Possible suitors: Dodgers, Rangers, Nationals
I don’t envision all these guys being traded this month, but it is almost a sure bet that all the pending free agents will likely be dawning new uniforms by 4:00 PM EST on July 31st. Anything besides that is almost not guaranteed, though it seems likely McCutchen will be dealt and a trade of Freese or Harrison will have a 50/50 chance of occurring. I can’t see a concrete reason to trade Cole or Nova, but it could happen under the right circumstance. No matter what happens, I think the Pirates will be very active in July as they have some trade chips that many teams would like to have. Expect the team to look pretty different come August 1st.