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2018 MLB Trade Deadline: Are the Pittsburgh Pirates going to be buyers or sellers?

The Pirates are in a somewhat tricky position as they aren’t an awful team, but their playoff chances are still slim.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Chicago Cubs Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

As we approach July 31, 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 (37-42), Fourth in the NL Central

The Pirates are in a somewhat difficult position. They started the year off strong and were right in the in the thick of the NL Central race, but they have since cooled off and have fallen to fourth place in a division that appears to have two very serious playoff contenders in the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs. Combining those two teams with the St. Louis Cardinals who always seem to find a way to hang around and you have a tough divisional landscape for Pittsburgh.

Complicating things is that that Pittsburgh has been the definition of a middling team this year as they are right in the middle of team offense as well as pitching this year (ranking 17th in fWAR in both). This is a team that certainly isn’t terrible, but also has several areas that would require significant improvement for a playoff run to be feasible.

What moves have they made so far?

The biggest moves they made were in the offseason in letting Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole out of town, which seem to be indicators that some more selling may be on the horizon. Cole was dealt to the Houston Astros in exchange for Joe Musgrove, Colin Moran, Michael Feliz, and Jason Martin. Cole has been among the best pitchers in baseball this season so the Astros should be quite happy with how that deal has turned out.

McCutchen, meanwhile, was traded to the Giants for Kyle Crick, Bryan Reynolds, and some international bonus pool money. McCutchen struggled to start the season, but has since rebounded to post a .777 OPS on the season so far.

Both trades got mixed reviews at best on the Pirates end as many thought the return was light for both players. However, it did also seem to indicate that Pittsburgh was looking to sell off assets which would seemingly indicate that more of the same could continue this year.

Who could they trade away?

The Pirates don’t have no-brainer candidates to be traded away because they don’t really have guys that are at the end of their deals really. However, things get more interesting when you start looking at players with a bit more team control attached to them.

Corey Dickerson hasn’t been going wild like he was earlier in the season, but the guy can hit and as a guy that is still in the arbitration phase of his career, he could be appealing as a cheapish bat with some upside for a contender. Pitcher Ivan Nova always seems to be mentioned in trade rumors, although he has struggled to stay healthy and his production has been inconsistent at best.

Catcher Francisco Cervelli has been outstanding for the Pirates this year and is under contract through next season as well, but he also was just put on the DL due to a concussion which could complicate trying to deal him. There are other appealing players like Starling Marte, Jameson Taillon, and Felipe Vasquez, but Pittsburgh has not shown any indication that they are will to deal those three guys unless they were absolutely blown away by an offer as they would prefer to get back to contention with those guys still in the fold.

Predictions

Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington has said that they are looking to be buyers at the deadline rather than sellers, but that seems disingenuous. The Pirates are already 9.5 games back in the division, so their best shot is a wild car slot which has half a dozen teams (including two in their division) that are more likely to get those slots than they are. Being buyers at the trade deadline in 2018 after dealing away Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen just doesn’t make a ton of sense.

It feels like reason will win out and the Pirates will continue to reinforce their minor league ranks. They are unlikely to go into a full-on rebuild where they trade away everyone because they have some good young pieces that are cheap and controllable for several seasons. However, guys like Nova and Dickerson both will have suitors and should net a useful return for a team in need of a retooling.

That isn’t to say they won’t look at controllable pieces for the future, but the smart money would be that they will check in on such players to see if they can get a perceived bargain, but otherwise they are more likely to be on the sellers’ side of things this trade season.