The Pirates have a new general manager in Ben Cherington, whom they officially introduced as Neal Huntington’s replacement Monday. Pirates owner Bob Nutting indicated then that the Pirates, a few weeks removed from a 69-win season and their fourth straight year without a playoff berth, don’t regard anyone on their roster as untouchable. Even before Nutting made that revelation, many considered high-profile Pirates such as Starling Marte, Chris Archer and Keone Kela as trade candidates. But in the wake of Nutting’s comments, there’s an even bigger name in the mix: first baseman Josh Bell.
Would the Cherington-led Pirates dare shop Bell, who has arguably emerged as their first franchise player since the Andrew McCutchen era came to an end after the 2017 season? Bell, like McCutchen, is a homegrown Pirate made good. A second-round pick of the Pirates in 2011, Bell debuted in 2016 and posted mediocre numbers (relative to his offense-driven position) during the first three years of his career. But the switch-hitting Bell broke out this year during an All-Star season in which he slashed .277/.367/.569 with 37 home runs and 116 runs batted in – an impressive amount even if you regard RBI as an antiquated statistic.
So what’s the problem for Pittsburgh, which seems to have a real building block on its hands at first? As is often the case, it’s about the money. The 27-year-old Bell’s projected to make an affordable $5.9MM via arbitration in 2020, though he has just two more seasons of arbitration control thereafter. And considering their current state, it may be unrealistic on the Pirates’ part to expect they’ll turn back into contenders during Bell’s remaining arb years.
The Pirates could extend Bell in that time span and retain him for the long haul, though as of July, super-agent Scott Boras didn’t sound optimistic about a new deal coming together. Boras took aim at the Pirates for not showing a willingness “to go out and invest in a great young player for a long time,” also criticizing the team for a payroll that has barely climbed (relative to its profits) across the past two decades.
It’s hard to argue with the opinionated Boras regarding the Pirates, especially considering they still haven’t signed anyone for more than the $60MM extension they gave former star catcher Jason Kendall back in November 2000. Bell would likely rake in more on his next pact, but should Pittsburgh make an aggressive push to lock him up at this point? Should the team simply keep Bell and continue going year to year with him? Or maybe now is the time to trade Bell, who’s more appealing than all free-agent first basemen on the open market.
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