As we approach August 1, we will preview what each team is projected to do in advance of the non-waiver trade deadline. For a complete listing of our previews, click here.
Pittsburgh Pirates: 48-46, 3rd in the NL Central
The Pirates are in much of the same boat as the Cardinals, with a winning ballclub and talented roster that remains eight games in the Central due to the Cubs’ torrid start. Sitting just three games behind the Marlins for the second wild card spot, the Bucs are a definite contender and are expected to behaving like one over the next ten days.
Pittsburgh struggled to a miserable 9-19 mark in June, but came out hot in July, winning seven in a row and 9 out of 10 from June 29 to July 9. That surge put the club back into contention, switching them from potential deadline sellers to expected buyers.
Rumors arose earlier in the season about a rebuild in Pittsburgh, with Mark Melancon, Tony Watson and Francisco Liriano among the names reported to be in consideration for a sale. Those rumors are long gone, as the Pirates prepare to make creative moves to make a run at a playoff spot this season.
What moves have they made so far?
Pittsburgh has made only minor changes so far this season, adding Erik Kratz and Eric Fryer as backup catcher options due to injuries to Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart. Cervelli just returned from the disabled list this week, so the Pirates’ carousel of catching options will come to an end soon.
A bit of a youth movement has started in Pittsburgh, with pitching prospects Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow as well as first base prospect Josh Bell all appearing in the majors for the first time. Taillon and Glasnow figure to factor into the major-league rotation for the rest of the year, though there is obvious concern about Taillon’s shoulder fatigue that could lead to the club making a trade for starting pitching.
Are they buyers or sellers?
The Pirates are buyers, as general manager Neal Huntington told Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Star-Tribune around the All-Star break.
The team’s main goal will be to add to a rotation mix that includes young guns Taillon and Glasnow alongside Gerrit Cole, Liriano, Jeff Locke and rehabbing righty Ryan Vogelsong. Pittsburgh is known to be exploring many options on the starting pitching market, and recently moved Jon Niese to the bullpen.
The Pirates could also be in the market for some left-side infield depth if a police investigation into a sexual assault claim against third baseman Jung-ho Kang results in a suspension. The club has David Freese as an option at third base, but still may look to improve that area if it is expected that Kang will miss significant time.
Interestingly, the Pirates also appear to be willing to sell from their major-league roster this month, and are shopping some surplus pieces in an effort to improve.
What moves could they make?
With a weak market for starting pitching and two rookies ready to help the major-league club, it would appear that a rental option may work best for the Pirates in their pitching search. The club has scouted Athletics left-hander Rich Hill, who is the best rental available on this year’s trade market.
Pittsburgh is also taking a look at controllable starters, and has had discussions with the Yankees about a trade for right-hander Nathan Eovaldi. New York’s recent winning streak does make them less likely to sell, but Pittsburgh appears to be strongly interested in Eovaldi and will likely keep discussions going right up to the August 1 deadline. Eovaldi is under control for next season as well.
Another potential option for the Pirates is Rays southpaw Matt Moore, who is considered a likely candidate to be dealt before the deadline. Pittsburgh is one of many teams with interest in Moore.
The Pirates are shopping two of their own struggling lefties, with Jon Niese and Jeff Locke said to be on the block with about 10 days left before the deadline. Teams like the Marlins, Mets and Orioles may have interest in the southpaws, who have struggled all season and no longer seem to be fits for the Pirates’ rotation.
Pittsburgh could also look to deal from its surplus by moving some low-cost veterans; David Freese and Matt Joyce would likely draw interest if the Pirates wanted to improve a different area of the club.
The Pirates are in a weird spot, as a definite contender that is looking to add but also has some pieces that may be more valuable than ever in trade talks. The club’s open willingness to shop Niese and Locke shows that a rotation overhaul is likely, though it’s unclear how much value those two lefties could net.
With virtually every contender looking for pitching and the market being outrageous due to the return from the Red Sox to the Padres for Drew Pomeranz, the Pirates may be able to get something of value for Niese, Locke, Freese or Joyce and use that as a way of getting a pitcher like Hill or Moore. Pittsburgh is expected to be creative at this year’s deadline, just a year after making five complementary additions (J.A. Happ, Mike Morse, Joakim Soria, Joe Blanton and Aramis Ramirez) for the stretch run.