Christmas Eve isn’t a time to expect blockbuster moves to take place in Major League Baseball, but the Nationals and Pirates came together on a significant trade Thursday. The deal left the Nationals with a new first baseman in Josh Bell, whom they acquired from the Pirates for young right-handers Wil Crowe and Eddy Yean.
Bell is a potentially huge acquisition for Washington, as he was a 37-home run-hitting All-Star as recently as 2019. Otherwise, the switch-hitting 28-year-old has been closer to average than great as a hitter since he debuted in 2016. Last season was tough sledding for Bell, who hit a disappointing .226/.305/.364 with eight home runs and a career-worst 26.5 percent strikeout rate in 223 plate appearances. Bell still has two years of team control left (he’ll make a projected $5.1MM to $7.2MM in 2021), but the Pirates decided to sell low on him. If he returns to his previous form, Bell shouldn’t have issues improving on the Nationals’ 2020 first base trio of Eric Thames, Asdrubal Cabrera and the now-retired Howie Kendrick. Nats first basemen finished the year 29th in fWAR (minus-0.7 fWAR) and batted .233/.305/.397.
The Pirates, who have little to no chance of competing in the near future, found Crowe and Yean enticing enough to part with Bell. Crowe is already their 17th-ranked prospect at MLB.com, which writes that he could turn into a No. 4/5 starter if he is able to refine his breaking ball and pitch usage. The 26-year-old made a brief major league debut last season, throwing 8 1/3 innings, and has notched a 4.03 ERA with 7.5 K/9 against 3.1 BB/9 in 290 minor league frames.
By MLB.com’s standards, Yean is a much more impressive prospect than Crowe, as it places the hard-throwing Yean seventh in the Pirates’ system. He’s just 19 years old, but combining “his stuff, size and delivery, Yean looks every bit the part of a future big league starter,” per MLB.com. Yean amassed 46 1/3 innings between the rookie and low-A levels in 2019 and put up a 3.50 ERA with 8.4 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 in 46 1/3 frames.