MLBTR is launching a new summer series entitled Taking Inventory, in which we’ll preview the potential trade chips that could become available on a number of likely and borderline selling clubs throughout the league.
Heading into the 2017 season, the Pirates looked like a potential contender, as it wasn’t hard to imagine scenarios in which Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole bounced back, Jameson Taillon built on a strong rookie season, Josh Bell and Tyler Glasnow emerged as solid contributors and an offensive core built around McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco gave pitchers fits. Not much of that has happened, though, and the Bucs have also dealt with Jung Ho Kang’s visa limbo, Taillon’s unexpected testicular cancer diagnosis and Marte’s PED suspension. They’re now 26-35. While there might still be an outside shot they’ll contend, since no other club has yet run away with the NL Central, it looks increasingly likely they’ll consider selling as the summer progresses. If they do, here’s what they’ll have to offer.
Tony Watson, LHP (reliever) | Salary: $5.6MM
Watson at one point might have been a good trade chip, but the Pirates recently bumped him from the closer role, and he’s posted a 6.00 ERA since the start of May. Watson is still left-handed, can touch the mid-90s, and has a good overall track record, however, so there’s still a chance a team could part with a real prospect to get him, particularly if he can reemerge over the next six weeks. He did pitch a scoreless inning yesterday against the Marlins, which is perhaps a good sign.
Juan Nicasio, RHP (reliever) | Salary: $3.65MM
The hard-throwing Nicasio appears to have finally settled in as a key contributor to the Pirates’ bullpen this season, posting a 1.35 ERA, 8.4 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9. That low ERA probably unsustainable, but he’s a good bet to continue to be successful. A team could also conceivably use him as a starter, but since he’s almost completely scrapped his changeup and tends to fare better as a reliever, it’s likely teams will pursue him as a bullpen asset. He could further boost his stock by pitching well in any save chances he gets in the wake of Watson’s demotion from the closer role.
Antonio Bastardo, LHP (reliever) | Salary: $6.5MM
Bastardo is currently on the DL with a quad strain (though he’s close to a return) and pitched miserably in April (allowing 12 runs and six walks in 6 2/3 innings). One team, the Mets, has already essentially dumped his contract when they shipped him to Pittsburgh for Jon Niese at last August’s non-waiver deadline. It’s unlikely Bastardo will have much value this summer, although he’s perhaps worth watching as a possible addition to the lefty reliever trade market if he returns and pitches reasonably before then.
John Jaso, 1B/OF | Salary: $4MM
Jaso boasts a good eye at the plate and has gamely attempted to be versatile in the field. Unfortunately, his abilities to hit for contact and power seem to be fading (he’s batting just .236 this season and has only three homers in 140 plate appearances), and he isn’t really an outfielder. He might attract limited interest from a team interested in a veteran left-handed bat off the bench.
Controlled Through 2018
Andrew McCutchen, OF | Salary: $14MM
McCutchen has a team option for 2018 worth $14.5MM, with a $1M buyout. The former MVP once appeared to be a significant trade asset, of course; even after a down 2017 season, the Pirates appeared last winter to be on the verge of trading him to the Nationals for a package that included Lucas Giolito and Dane Dunning. McCutchen’s even worse hitting performance in 2017 (.237/.319/.411), though, makes his mediocre 2016 season look like less of an anomaly, leading to questions about whether the Pirates would even exercise his option if they were to keep him beyond this summer. McCutchen seems to have gotten back on the right track in the past few weeks, batting .350/.449/.525 over the past 14 days. Another month or so of that kind of hitting would go a long way toward solidifying his market.
Daniel Hudson, RHP (reliever) | Salary: $5.5MM
Hudson is also under contract for 2018 at $5.5MM. He has not pitched well in 2017 (5.33 ERA, 8.2 K/9, 3.9 BB/9, although he’s fared decently since a five-run blowup against Miami in late April), and the Pirates, who believe in their ability to boost the stock of struggling pitchers, might be inclined to keep him and hope he benefits from their coaching.
Wade LeBlanc, LHP (reliever) | Salary: $750K
LeBlanc has a $1.25MM option or a $50K buyout for 2018. He has fared reasonably well this year (3.89 ERA, 7.5 K/9, 1.7 BB/9 over 37 innings), although he wouldn’t be an exciting pickup, given his modest pedigree and limited velocity. He could still attract interest from a team in need of a reliever capable of pitching multiple-inning stretches, although he would continue to be useful for the Pirates thanks to that ability, particularly if they were to trade other pitchers.
Jordy Mercer, SS | Salary: $4.325MM
Mercer has been a steady but unspectacular regular shortstop throughout his career and would have only modest trade value despite a solid .347 OBP this season. Particularly with Kang still on the restricted list, the Pirates don’t yet have an obvious replacement for Mercer. They might therefore be inclined to keep him.
Chris Stewart, C | Salary: $1.4MM
Stewart also has a $1.5MM option or a $250K buyout for 2018. The backup is currently on the DL and would have very limited trade value even if he were healthy.
Righty Gerrit Cole is controllable through 2019 through the arbitration process. Connor Byrne recently examined Cole’s trade candidacy, noting that the problem with Cole as a trade asset is that he hasn’t pitched well recently — he’s given up a total of 23 runs over his last four starts. The Astros have reportedly had interest in Cole, and they’d surely join a long list of teams making calls about Cole should be the Bucs make him available (which they reportedly haven’t). The Pirates, though, might be reluctant to part with him given the years of control they have remaining and the possibility that they could be selling low. Of course, teams might be willing to pay high prices for him anyway, given his stuff, solid peripherals (7.8 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 45.7 GB%) and unsustainably high home-run rate. Cole could be an interesting player to watch as the summer unfolds.
Other longer-term assets who could potentially come up in trade discussions include Ivan Nova (controllable through 2019), Francisco Cervelli (2019), David Freese (2019) and Josh Harrison (2020). None of those players seem terribly likely to be traded, although it’s possible to imagine Cervelli or Freese heading elsewhere under certain circumstances. Cervelli is currently on the 7-day concussion DL, and youngster Elias Diaz has hit well in limited opportunities. Perhaps Cervelli could be dealt should the Pirates choose to rebuild more aggressively than it currently appears they will. Freese has batted .273/.376/.432 this season and would undoubtedly be an attractive trade candidate, although with Kang out, the Bucs can certainly still use him.