The Pirates are “believed” to be making right-hander Jordan Lyles available to rival organizations in trade talks, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network (via Twitter). The report also cites corner outfielders Corey Dickerson and Melky Cabrera as potential trade pieces, but suggests that there is not yet reason to believe the organization intends to move its more valuable and controllable assets.
In some regards, it’s obvious that Lyles would feature as a trade candidate. Indeed, he placed among the top 15 such players on this summer’s market in MLBTR’s initial ranking. We dropped him from the most recent list, however, when the club pulled to within 2.5 games of the division pace at the All-Star break. Unfortunately for the Bucs, they’ve already stumbled back to a 6.5-game deficit in the past week.
All that being said, there are some elements that would suggest the Pittsburgh organization probably isn’t (or shouldn’t be) ready to move Lyles just quite yet. For one thing, it’s eminently possible that another quick swing could put the team right back into solid position in the division. Cashing in Lyles for what’s likely to be a marginal return wouldn’t seem to make a ton of sense unless the club is pretty well buried — which it may soon be — or if it also has intentions of pursuing trades of other, more significant players as part of a broader roster re-shaping.
Unfortunately, it’s also not opportune timing for extracting value out of Lyles. He’s owed only $2.05MM this year, which will hold plenty of appeal to certain contenders. But he has also been shelled in each of his past two outings, allowing a stunning 14 earned runs while recording only 14 outs.
Those ugly showings shouldn’t completely override the otherwise solid showing this year from Lyles. He was never going to keep up his early pace, but he entered the month of July with a sturdy 3.71 ERA. Through 75 total innings, he has racked up eighty strikeouts against 31 walks while matching last year’s bump up to a 10.3% swinging-strike rate. That said, he has shown some less-than-ideal changes in terms of contact — particularly, allowing opposing hitters to record a 42.5% hard-contact rate and 89.4 mph average exit velocity (both career-worst numbers for Lyles).
Dickerson and Cabrera have long been possible trade candidates, though the reason why is shifting. With Gregory Polanco now seemingly sidelined indefinitely, there isn’t as much roster pressure to move one of those rental players. But the dive in the standings is creating a new basis for a swap.
The most interesting question remains whether the Pirates will explore deals for some of their best trade assets. It seems likely that, if rentals are moved, the team will at least entertain proposals on players such as closer Felipe Vazquez and outfielder Starling Marte. There’s no reason that the organization can’t hold tight and look to build around those stars and others entering 2020, though one wonders whether a more decisive strategy will at some point be necessary for an organization that has not cracked the postseason since 2015.