The Pittsburgh Pirates have traded both Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen this offseason. These trade ideas could help the Bucs expedite the rebuild.
Gerrit Cole has been an essential member of the Pittsburgh Pirates staff since making his debut during the 2013 season with the Bucs.
That year, the then-rookie notched a 2.5 fWAR in just 117.1 innings (19 starts) in helping the Pirates to a 94-win season.
Since then, the former first-overall pick incurred a 15.9 fWAR that ranked first among all Pittsburgh hurlers since the start of 2013.
In fact, no other pitcher broke the 10.0 fWAR mark other than Cole since the ex-UCLA standout debuted.
Now, the team will move forward without the former All-Star and fourth-place finisher in the voting for the 2015 Cy Young.
The move certainly makes the defending World Champions stronger, but it also signals what could be the beginning of a rebuild for the Pirates.
While trading Cole certainly diminishes the club’s chances of contending in the near future, they aren’t staring at the lengthiest of rebuilds.
In fact, Pittsburgh’s turnaround could be a relatively quick one.
Foundation already in place
The roster is peppered with plenty of players who were 25 or younger last season, including outfielder Gregory Polanco and first baseman Josh Bell, as well as standout closer Felipe Rivero and the bulk of the team’s rotation candidates in Tyler Glasnow, Chad Kuhl, Jameson Taillon, Trevor Williams and Steven Brault.
Elsewhere, Starling Marte is only 28, while a number of top prospects are close to breaking into the Majors.
Keller finished 2017 at the Double-A level, while Newman and Meadows reached the minors’ highest level last season.
Both Keller and Meadows ranked highly in MLB.com’s MLB Pipeline’s ranking of the top prospects in the sport.
Meadows checked in at 17th on the list, while Keller finished not far behind at 19th.
Pittsburgh also traded another extremely-valuable player recently, sending face of the franchise Andrew McCutchen to the San Francisco Giants for reliever Kyle Crick and Advanced-A outfield prospect Bryan Reynolds.
Taking into account that the likes of Moran, Feliz, Musgrove and Crick should all contribute at the Major League level and Pittsburgh has a very real chance of turning this thing around sooner rather than later.
That being said, it may be prudent to deal away some other older veterans to hasten the rebuild.
Here are some trade ideas for the Pirates involving the aforementioned Pirates.
Trade Idea #1: Pittsburgh helps fill New York’s infield needs
New York Yankees receive: infielders Josh Harrison and David Freese
Pittsburgh Pirates receive: reliever Jonathan Holder, outfielder Billy McKinney, infielder Tyler Wade and catching prospect Donny Sands
The fit between the New York Yankees and the Pittsburgh Pirates with Harrison is rather obvious considering the Bronx Bombers’ new-found hole at second base.
Ronald Torreyes and Wade represent quality enough options, but for a team looking to surpass the Astros for a World Series berth, New York needs to address the situation at the keystone.
Somewhat less pressing is the need at third base.
While still technically somewhat of a need, the Yankees do have prospect Miguel Andujar ready to take over.
The promising third baseman spent 2017 split between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. While there, he notched respective wRC+ numbers of 126 and 139 at the two stops.
He also added four hits, two doubles, a stolen base and a walk in eight plate appearances spread across a five-game cup of coffee with the Yankees last season.
While the 22-year-old could very well hit the ground running in 2018, having an insurance policy certainly wouldn’t hurt.
Corner infield insurance
Adding Freese to the deal would be a win-win for both parties.
The 34-year-old, who contributed a 1.6 fWAR, 10 home runs, an 11.5% walk rate and a .326 wOBA last season, would give the Yankees some insurance not only at third base, but also at first, where some combination of the unproven Greg Bird, Tyler Austin and Andujar are set to play in 2018.
Freese, per Spotrac, will make $4.25 million in 2018 and has a clip option of $6 million (with a $500,000 buyout) for the 2019 season.
Removing Freese’s deal from the books also helps the Pirates save even more salary after dealing Cole and McCutchen.
The acquisition of Moran and Bell’s presence at first base make Freese a luxury.
While it’s possible he could provide insurance behind the youngsters, Pittsburgh would probably be better suited letting Moran and Bell go through any growing pains while the club goes through the earlier stages of their rebuild.
This hypothetical trade would shave $14.5 million off the Pirates’ payroll for next season, considering Harrison is slated to make $10.5 million (according to Spotrac) in 2018.
However, this isn’t purely a salary dump.
Pittsburgh’s hypothetical haul
The Pirates would receive three young, Major League ready players in McKinney (23), Wade (23) and Holder (24).
McKinney, a former first-round pick in 2013, has already been part of two blockbuster trades in his career.
McKinney has shown well at the dish in the upper minors.
He’d give the Pittsburgh Pirates a stop-gap option to play ahead of Austin Meadows while the top prospect develops at Triple-A.
Long-term, the ex A’s and Cubs farmhand could play alongside Meadows in the outfield. He’d also give the Bucs another option at first base to occasionally spell Josh Bell.
Another former first-round pick, Wade didn’t exactly tear the cover off the ball in his first taste of Major League baseball.
The left-handed swinging infielder registered just a 17 wRC+, .203 wOBA, and a .222 on-base percentage in 63 plate appearances.
He was, however, much more productive at the Triple-A level, notching a 136 wRC+, a .376 wOBA and a .382 on-base percentage for the Yankees’ top minor league affiliate.
Wade has played second base, shortstop and third base last season, but is blocked by the likes of Torreyes, Andujar and Didi Gregorius.
In Pittsburgh, Wade could step in as Harrison’s replacement at second base, or eventually shift to shortstop where Jordy Mercer is playing on an expiring deal.
Overall, he’d bring some much-needed depth to a Pittsburgh Pirates infield that could lose Harrison and Mercer in the near future and is still without Jung Ho Kang.
The last Major League piece in the hypothetical trade is Jonathan Holder.
Holder mixes in a curve and a cutter to go along with his fastball. In 39.1 frames for the American League East franchise last season, he posted a 0.5 fWAR and 9.15 strikeouts per nine innings, a 42% ground ball rate, a 3.47 SIERA and a 1.35 WHIP.
He also turned in a 12.9% swinging strike percentage.
Long-term, he’d provide the Pirates with another bullpen option to pair with Felipe Rivero.
As it stands, George Kontos and Daniel Hudson will reach free agency in the next two seasons.
What’s more, Pittsburgh has seen a bullpen’s worth of relievers depart in the past year, with Tony Watson, Johnny Barbato, Jhan Marinez, Juan Nicasio, Joaquin Benoit and Wade LeBlanc all leaving town.
Rounding out the deal is Sands.
While he’s by no means a finished product behind the dish, the 21-year-old has shown well at the plate. At the very least, he could be a bat-first regular at catcher.
MLB.com’s MLB Pipeline ranked him as the organization’s 23rd-best prospect in 2017, and he’d give Pittsburgh a catching option for the future, seeing as there isn’t an obvious replacement for the 31-year-old Cervelli in the system.
Trade Idea #2: Pittsburgh sheds salary and addresses lack of future catching depth
Washington Nationals receive: starting pitcher Ivan Nova
Pittsburgh Pirates receive: catcher Raudy Read and pitcher A.J. Cole
If the Pirates are attempting to shed more salary, one conceivable trade candidate is starter Ivan Nova.
The ex-Yankee is owed $9.16 million in each of the next two seasons according to per Spotrac. What’s more, Pittsburgh would be dealing from a position of strength if the team decided to move the 31-year-old.
Even with Cole in Houston, the Pirates still have Jameson Taillon, Kuhl, Trevor Williams, Steven Brault and Tyler Glasnow to head up the rotation.
This is all without mentioning Joe Musgrove, who arrived in the Cole trade. There’s also Mitch Keller, who isn’t far away at Double-A.
Nova has been dependable in a Pirates uniform, but he’s an expensive luxury at this point. He might not be on the next great Pittsburgh team.
Dealing him to the Nationals for Read and Cole makes sense for a number of reasons.
First, the team gets a catcher option to evaluate in the 24-year-old Read.
MLB.com’s MLB Pipeline wrote the following about the backstop, who checked in at 14th on the publication’s ranking of the top Nationals prospects in 2017:
“Read stands out most for his mature approach and natural hitting ability. He knows how to control the strike zone to his advantage and shows good discipline, while his quick right-handed swing produces loud contact to all fields. He’s still learning to tap into his above-average raw power, which he shows to all fields, and scouts believe he’ll start to clear more fences as he moves up the ladder. … He has above-average arm strength and solid catch-and-throw skills, and the combination makes him effective at controlling the run game. While Read’s overall defense requires further refinement, scouts are increasingly confident that he’ll be able to remain behind the plate.”
Adding a younger, Major League-ready option like Read to the mix would certainly help hasten the rebuild.
Second, the organization would net another rotation option in Cole.
The 26-year-old has yet to establish himself at the Major League level.
However, he owns a lifetime 4.58 SIERA, a 9.7% swinging strike percentage and 8.31 strikeouts per nine frames in 99.2 innings (22 total appearances, 17 starts) with the Nationals since 2015.
Additionally, per Spotrac, the right-hander comes with five years of controllability remaining, including two seasons before he reaches arbitration.
With a full rotation, Cole would make for a useful, controllable depth piece to stash at the Triple-A level.
As the offseason and regular season progress, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Pittsburgh Pirates trade away more pieces.
Certainly—in addition to some of the aforementioned players Francisco Cervelli, Daniel Hudson, Sean Rodriguez and Jordy Mercer could all make sense for contending teams, especially considering the latter trio are on expiring deals.
What’s more, trading away the players won’t significantly impact Pittsburgh’s young core, headlined by Gregory Polanco, Felipe Rivero and a promising rotation.