Last night, I took part in the latest Pro Sports Blogging podcast to discuss the amazing turnaround of the Pittsburgh Pirates so far this year. We spent time trying to figure out how the Pirates have succeeded this year, examining the key players, the past 18 years and what moves the Pirates may make as the July 31st trade deadline quickly approaches. As I told Adrian, this is something totally new to me and the city of Pittsburgh. We are used to sitting around and discussing which salaries the Pirates will dump and which washed up veteran they will bring in. But this year is different…
This is the year that the Pirates are assuming the role of buyers instead of sellers. Outside of the clubhouse, even the most optimistic fan couldn’t actually believe the Pirates would be tied for first place in their division on July 21st. Believe it or not, the Pirates are actually contenders.
There have been names thrown around for the past few weeks about who the Pirates need to add. Some are a reach, some are questionable and some are a reality. Let’s take a look at the names thrown around and who the Pirates should look to add.
Carlos Beltran: Beltran has been the big name thrown around Pittsburgh as of late and the city wants him. The Mets have made it known that they are going to get rid of their all-star slugger, but there are quite a few teams that want him. Beltran is hitting .293 with 15 HR, 61 RBI and 30 Doubles on pace to finish with the best OPS (.917) of his career. Beltran is owed around $6 million and the Mets said they will pick up the rest of his salary, but need a top-tier prospect and others in return. As I said on the podcast, I’m on the fence with Beltran. He would first need to waive his no-trade clause to even come to Pittsburgh and if he does, it would be as a rental player only. Would you want the Pirates to give up Starling Marte, Brad Lincoln, Alex Presley or Bryan Morris for a player that isn’t guaranteed to win the division? If the Pirates are able to pick up the rest of his contract and only give up two prospects, I would be ok with that. If not, there’s no way I touch Beltran.
Hunter Pence – Pence to the Pirates is wishful thinking, but still a possibility. Every team in the league however wants Pence and the price to get him is quite high. The Houston Astros are in a rebuilding phase and are selling every player on the team, but for the right price. Unlike Beltran, Pence is under contract until 2013 and is someone I would give up anyone outside of Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez to get Pence. The rumors I hear are that it will take a major league ready player and 3 prospects for Pence. Would I move Jose Tabata, Marte, Lincoln and Tony Sanchez for Pence? While Sanchez is the only real prayer the Pirates have for the catcher of the future (selected him fourth overall in the 2009 draft), I would still pull the trigger on the deal. While it isn’t likely, Pence (.316, 11 HR, 61 RBI) is the one player I’m all in on.
Carlos Pena – First base has been a major letdown for the Pirates. The team inked Lyle Overbay to a $5 million 1-year deal this offseason for him to hit doubles and play stellar defense, neither of which has happened. It’s time to cut their losses with Overbay, but who will fill the void? Fans want Pena, but I’m not on the bandwagon. Sure he’s heated up the past month and now has 20 HR, but still has 98 strikeouts and a .227 average. Pena is batting .262 against right-handers, but a horrid .127 against lefties. If the Pirates acquired Pena, he would provide a defensive upgrade, but would also be in a platoon role with Steve Pearce. As of the beginning of the week, the Pirates didn’t seem to be interested in Pena and I’m with them.
The Pirates offense does need to get going and while Pedro Alvarez (who is tearing the cover off of the ball in Triple-A rehab), Ronny Cedeno, Pearce, Tabata and Ryan Doumit still to return from their respective disabled list stints, an extra bat could help boost the lineup. While the fans want the big names, the Pirates don’t need to ruin the farm system they have built up. This year wasn’t expected for the Pirates and the team wasn’t built to win now. They need to keep the plan in place which is to win in 2013.
Adding a bat such as Josh Willingham from Oakland (.214, 12 HR, 47 RBI) who plays in a horrible hitters park could give the offense a boost and not cost to much in return. Ryan Ludwick is another player that is on the market who plays in a horrible park in San Diego. Ludwick is hitting 36 points better in away stadiums, has six Home Runs on the road and 15 more RBI than playing at Petco Park. Another player that would fix the problem at first base for the Pirates and wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg, is Chris Davis. Davis was the starting first baseman for the Texas Rangers to begin last season, but was sent down to Triple-A Round Rock after struggling. Davis is currently hitting .359 with 22 Home Runs and 60 RBI in the minors and would benefit from a change of scenery. Texas has a logjam at first base with Mitch Moreland, Mike Napoli and Michael Young and could use pitching prospects in their system for Davis.
Most of the attention has been the Pirates offense that needs a boost, but the main focus the Pirates need is a late inning pitcher. Evan Meek, last year’s all-star representative for the Pirates, has been hurt for the majority of the season and when he has pitched, he hasn’t been the same. The Pirates just signed Jason Grilli and announced they are moving Meek to the 60-day disabled list, more than likely ending his year. Grilli is a hard-throwing veteran, but is not going to get the job done for the Pirates. Joel Hanrahan has been just about perfect saving 28 games in 29 chances, but it’s the 7th and 8th inning where the Pirates are shaky.
Jose Veras has been up and down all season and can’t be relied on in the 8th inning. Chris Resop and Daniel McCutchen have both pitched well, but the Pirates are lacking that true set up guy. The Pirates need to go after either Koji Uehara (1-1, 1.84 ERA, .150 opponents average, .70 WHIP) of the Orioles, Grant Balfour (4-1, 2.21 ERA, .180 opponents average) of the A’s or Mike Adams (3-1, 1.23 ERA, .149 opponents average, .73 WHIP) of the Padres to help solidify the bullpen down the stretch.
The Pirates management are in a no-win situation. If they acquire a bat and end up missing the playoffs, then they will receive the backlash from the fans for sacrificing the future for a rental player and setting the team back again. If they stand pat and don’t make a trade, they will be ripped for not going out for a big player. The Pirates have had the feel good story of the year so far in baseball, but I just don’t see them winning the division, especially with their next 10 games against the Cardinals, Braves and Phillies. To begin the day, four teams were within four games of each other and the Brewers and Cardinals are the favorites in my opinion. The Brewers have too much talent on that roster and are built to win for this year and the Cardinals have some guy named Albert Pujols that you may have heard of.
The Pirates are six games behind their total wins last year and no matter what happens, this has been a successful season. While I don’t think the Pirates should acquire the big bat, I won’t be upset if they do go out. This is where general manager Neal Huntington is going to earn his money and probable extension. If only he had the Penguins general manager Ray Shero around to help him find the ideal deadline player.
About the Author
Written by Michael Waterloo
I'm currently pursuing my Master's degree in Communication and Journalism from Clarion University. I currently work for Ohio Valley Athletics where I serve as the West Virginia Football Beat Writer and cover West Virginia Men's Basketball as well. I'm a big Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pitt Panthers and Oregon Ducks fan. Follow me on Twitter at @MichaelWaterloo or visit www.ovathletics.com