Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Will the suddenly hot Pittsburgh Pirates be trade deadline buyers or sellers?

Pirates could contend with Cutch, or deal him
On Monday night, the Pittsburgh Pirates rallied from behind for a 4-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
With that win, the Bucs drew to within three games of the .500 mark on the season. 
They also pulled within six games in the NL Central standings of the first place Brew Crew, and within eight of the second NL Wildcard spot.
The Pirates are suddenly hot, winners now in eight of their last 10 games. They are also about to get star left fielder Starling Marte back in the lineup. He has missed the first 80 games of the season due to a PED suspension. As the MLB trade deadline approaches, they appear to be a team on the bubble.
It’s difficult to get a read on exactly where the Pirates are right now, as far as their overall organizational status and ability to contend. Are they buyers or sellers here in July? That is the decision GM Neal Huntingdon and the rest of management will need to make in the coming weeks.
After earning an National League Wildcard playoff spot for three straight years, Pittsburgh regressed last season. The Pirates finished five games below the .500 mark in 2016, and were 8.5 games out of that Wildcard position.

BUCS BIGGEST TRADE CHIP

Playing a large part in that regression was an atypical poor season from star center fielder Andrew McCutchen. For five straight years from 2011-15, ‘Cutch’ had been clutch. An NL All-Star each of those years, he was awarded Silver Sluggers each season from 2012-15. He was also a top five finisher in the NL MVP race each of those last four seasons, capturing the honors in 2013.
Now, McCutchen has returned to that star-level production. In 380 plate appearances the now 30-year old has hit for a .294/.382/.518 slash line. His 57 runs scored and 38 extra-base hits lead the ball club. And with seven stolen bases, McCutchen has already swiped one more bag than he did all of last season.
The Pirates have a $14.75 million team option on his contract for next season, after which he would become an absolute free agent. They could also buy him out for $1 million, but that’s not going to happen now.
Though he is again, he is not yet old. His return to production has to be encouraging for any potential trade partner. So does the fact that you can have him for at least one more season beyond this at a reasonable price.
McCutchen is not the only potential trade chip for Pittsburgh. Third baseman David Freese is now 34-years old. He is signed through next season to an extremely affordable deal. Freese carries a .371 on-base percentage, and has a wealth of postseason experience.

MORE PIECES COULD ALSO BE MOVED

The Pirates also have a pair of experienced, serviceable lefty relievers in Tony Watson and Wade LeBlanc. Southpaws are always in demand at this time of year as team’s with postseason aspirations try to improve their bullpens.
Right-handed starter Ivan Nova is now 30 years old. He is signed for two more seasons at just over $9 million per. With a 9-6 record, 3.21 ERA, 1.094 WHIP he could be an attractive piece for anyone looking to shore up their pitching rotation.
Which way will Huntingdon choose to go? Much may hinge on whether the Pirates can extend their recent winning ways out another week or so. If they begin to cool again, they will have made their general manager’s decision much easier.

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