Over the past six seasons during their latest resurgence, the Pirates have been far from their all out selling days of a decade ago at the July 31st trade deadline. Though they have not sold the farm to get over the hump, Neal Huntington has tried a calculated approach to the deadline. In 2011, he traded for veterans Ryan Ludwick and Derrek Lee, and though the team would fall down the stretch (as they would again in 2012), it showed that Huntington would add to this club if they were in contention late in the season.
Last season was a bit of a quagmire at the deadline. Huntington would trade for Ivan Nova, but also send Mark Melancon and Francisco Liriano (along with two highly regarded prospects Reese McGuire and Harold Ramirez) out of town. Many folks were cursing the Pirates general manager up and down Federal Street when the Melancon trade happened, but that was before they saw witnessed the awesome that is Felipe Rivero, who is now either the first or second best reliever in the National League, depending on how you feel about Kenley Jansen. And with how bad the Washington Nationals bullpen has been in 2017, this trade looks more and more as one the biggest train robbery trades in not only Pirates history, but in recent major league baseball history. With the club 4.5 games behind the now surging first place Cubs, the question is should Huntington even do anything at this year ?s deadline?
This is a loaded question in my opinion, especially with the Cubs playing like one of the best teams in baseball again. Honestly, who didn ?t think the Cubbies weren’t going to figure it out eventually? We know (at least we think) Huntington isn’t going to sell off any big pieces like Andrew McCutchen, Gerrit Cole or Josh Harrison. This is hopefully reassuring. But if the Pirates aren ?t going to sell, should they buy? It ?s not going to be a big buy if they do, let ?s just get that out of the way first. With the Cubs resurgence it would be moronic to go all out at this point on any player, well maybe not Yu Darvish but the Pirates are on his no-trade list. There is one very obvious thing Huntington needs to improve in order to make it look like this team could stay in the hunt — adding to their pitiful bench.
Last season, the Pirates had one of the best benches in baseball, at the very least the most productive. The combination of Sean Rodriguez, David Freese, Matt Joyce and eventually Adam Frazier always seemed to come up big when asked to fill in the lineup or come up big in a clutch pinch hitting situation. This season thanks to suspensions and crazy drunk drivers not being allowed in America, the Pirates’ bench has looked more like the island of misfit toys than an actual major league bench. With Freese and Frazier pushed into the regular lineup, the club was forced to call up multiple rookies from Indianapolis for their first taste of the majors. And though guys like Jose Osuna, Elias Diaz and Gift Ngoepe have showed promise, it can not be said for the rest of the bench. Alen Hanson, Max Moroff and Phil Gosselin hit under .200 in their stints with the Pirates. Hanson is a Chicago White Sox now and is finally hitting above the Mendoza line (.237). Outside of his walkoff hit and home run a few weeks back, Max Moroff has done relatively nothing in his short big league career. Gosselin isn’t a rookie by any stretch but he plays like someone who is. Plus, John Jaso hasn’t had a hit since the day after Independence Day. Putting all this in perspective, there is even a bigger reason why Huntington has to get someone: the health of Gregory Polanco.
Polanco went down with a hamstring injury during Friday night ?s win at Coors Field over the Colorado Rockies. The Dominican outfielder had played better as of late before the injury, but was still showing sluggishness at times, especially in the outfield in the previous day ?s game vs the Brewers. During the 4th inning, Brett Phillips hit a double in the right field corner that Polanco lazily chased after. Sitting on the foul sit of the right field foul pole, I, as a vocal fan, voiced my disapproval of the effort, even going as far as saying my 81 year old oxygen-using grandmother moved faster than the right fielder. Not saying he heard me or got the message, but in his next at-bat in the bottom half of the inning, Polanco smashed his 9th home run of the year. Guess he just needed some motivation. Getting back on track, with his health in check, Huntington needs to add another corner outfielder that would at least serve as a great bench piece once he returns.
Now, there are a lot of different guys the Pirates could go after. Melky Cabrera has been a name thrown out there, but the White Sox would have to pick up some of the contract. He can play both corner spots, which could give them flexibility if McCutchen needs a day off down the stretch. Another guy is Jay Bruce. The former Cincinnati Red now New York Met is hitting .262 with 26 home runs and 70 RBIs. The hit for Bruce would only be about $4 million for a 2 month rental, but you would think the Mets would want a little more for him than what they got for Lucas Duda from Tampa Bay. One team the Pirates may be able to strike an affordable deal with is the Miami Marlins. Rumors are swirling that the Marlins want to sell off Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna to add to their depleted farm system. Though those guys are probably out of their price range, one guy Huntington could grab from Miami is Ichiro. Yes, I know he is 43 and the Marlins would be crazy to part with him since he is still a draw for fans, but with Huntington ?s dealings with their front office before, he could be able to entice them to part with the Japanese superstar. And believe it or not, Ichiro has hit pretty well over the past two months, hitting .273 in June and .348 in July and would put a hot bat on a bench that definitely needs one. Though I would hope the Pirates add a power bat as well, adding a guy like Ichiro would help the team immediately.
It’s entirely possible that the Pirates just stand pat and neither buy nor sell, too.