By Jason Shetler
After being nine games above .500 at one point in May, the Pittsburgh Pirates have been on quite a free fall since then, as they currently find themselves six games under. A few weeks ago, General Manager Neal Huntington mentioned on his Sunday radio show that the club would be looking to add, despite the team going through a lengthy skid.
Based on the Pirates recent play, they are clearly a seller now. David Freese, Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison should be traded, since Freese and Mercer are both free agents after this season, while Harrison has a 2019 club option for $10.5 million, which likely won’t be exercised. Corey Dickerson, Francisco Cervelli and Ivan Nova are also candidates. All three are under team control for next season, although it’s possible that each could get dealt in an effort to make the team younger with more controllable players. Another name that interestingly isn’t getting mentioned much is Felipe Vazquez.
Vazquez, formerly known as Rivero, has been with the Pirates since late July of 2016, this after being acquired from the Washington Nationals in a deal for Mark Melancon, which has become one of Huntington’s better trades. Despite emerging as a very dominant relief ace last year, he was inexplicably not on the 2017 NL All-Star squad.
During Pirates Fest this past offseason, Vazquez expressed interest in signing a long term deal to stay in Pittsburgh. He had fired super agent Scott Boras, making an agreement become even more realistic. In mid-January, the Pirates and Vazquez came to terms on a four-year extension worth $22 million, including a pair of club options for 2022 and 2023.
Although Vazquez went through a bit of a rough stretch last month, he’s been pitching like his dominant self again recently. Even with those struggles, he still has a strong FIP of 2.14 this season, while his 11.7 K/9 is on pace to be a career best, and is tied for fourth highest among lefty relievers in the NL.
Normally, a team has a sense of direction of whether they are contending or rebuilding. The Pirates right now find themselves lost in the woods. Management insisted that even with the trades of Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole that they were “retooling” as opposed to rebuilding. Unfortunately, the 2018 version of the Bucs are in the same shape now as they were the last two seasons. Contenders will always look to add to their bullpen at the trade deadline. There’s no reason to think that those clubs won’t at least show some level of interest in Vazquez, especially with him having three years of control after this season, plus options, as well as reasonable dollars for an elite southpaw reliever. If the Pirates are going to shift focus on a full rebuild, which is the path they should go, then trading Vazquez at the deadline for a massive overhaul is something that needs to done.