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Ask Bucs Dugout: Trades, veteran pitchers, Josh Harrison

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Here's the next round of answers to your questions. Here's round one.

Battlingbucs: Say in the next two-plus months the Pirates manage to claw their way back to around two to three games above .500, how do you see them handling the trade deadline, and if different, how do you think they should handle the trade deadline?

Much depends, obviously, on how the NL playoff picture looks. If the Pirates somehow wind up in contention, a starting pitcher will likely be a priority. If they don't, they ought to consider trading impending free agents like Russell Martin, Francisco Liriano and Jason Grilli. I don't see them trading Pedro Alvarez or Neil Walker, since they control those players through 2016, and the Pirates can certainly still be competitive in that time frame.

McCutchenIsTheTruth: Obviously, the Pirates are trying to be successful in 2014 as well as 2015 and 2016 and so. I was impressed with the model both the Nationals and Reds followed a few years back. Both traded very good prospect packages for young, very good players with several years of control. The Reds got Mat Latos and the Nationals got Gio Gonzalez.

The Pirates tried to make a similar move in acquiring Giancarlo Stanton, but that ship may have passed, simply because even if they acquire him in July, he’s only under contract through 2016. The Pirates would be better served to target a guy under control through 2017 or 2018 or beyond. 2017 may be ideal because it may be soon enough to cause teams to sell while they can still get a huge return, while teams may choose to just wait on guys under team control through 2018 or 2019, etc.

The tricky part is finding a player who’s good, on a team willing to move him, and who fits in where the Pirates have holes. Ideally, the Pirates would acquire a starter, a shortstop, or a first baseman. Specific candidates this coming offseason (or at the deadline) could include:

Madison Bumgarner
Brandon Belt
Chris Sale
Paul Goldschmidt
Manny Machado
Nathan Eovaldi
Anthony Rizzo
Starlin Castro

A vast majority of this list may just be "unacquirable." I’d like for your general thoughts on the idea and perhaps specific candidates that come to mind or your thoughts on the list provided.

I don't have a great answer here, but I'd like to draw attention to the question, because a Latos-type trade would be a great way for the Pirates to make sure they get the most out of the next few seasons. I think you're right, though, that a lot of these players won't be on the market. I have a very hard time seeing Bumgarner, Goldschmidt, Machado, Rizzo or Castro being traded this season. The increasing number of pre-free-agency extensions may get in the way of these kinds of trades. Many players who might ordinarily be candidates, like Rizzo, Castro or Jose Quintana, are now under team control for a very long time. That wasn't the case with Latos, Gonzalez or Stanton. There may be lower-tier options, though -- Dallas Keuchel (who got some love at Fangraphs today) comes to mind, and Eovaldi is another interesting possibility. This might be a good question to address again in July. There aren't many teams that are currently out of the race.

Redduppen: Are the Pirates a below average team or have they been unlucky?

I don't see much evidence that they've been that unlucky, at least not in the way that term is typically used. Their third-order win percentage is .460, which is better than their current winning percentage, but still bad. They're 10th in the NL in runs scored and 11th in runs allowed. They simply haven't played very well. That doesn't mean they can't play better the rest of the season, but that will largely depend on veteran pitchers like Edinson Volquez, Francisco Liriano, Wandy Rodriguez and Jason Grilli contributing more. Liriano probably truly has been a little unlucky, and Rodriguez's 26.5% HR/FB rate is completely unsustainable, but other than Liriano, I'm not sure any of those four are actually good pitchers right now. Before this season, we'd gotten used to thinking that Ray Searage is a miracle worker. He isn't. He's just a very good coach.

Theatrain: Whose leg does Josh Harrison have to hump to get some respect around here?

That doesn't seem like the best way to go about getting respect, does it? Anyway, I don't want to overreact to Harrison's 58 plate appearances so far this season, but this is worth discussing. Right now, Harrison has 633 career plate appearances -- about a full season's worth -- and is 1.8 wins above replacement. That's not nothing. He's also hit well in about a season's worth of at bats at Triple-A. He's clearly worth his roster spot, and unless he falls apart this season, he's worth taking to arbitration when he becomes eligible this winter. The problem is how to use him, since he has an awkward skill set. This weekend's catch notwithstanding, he's a bad defensive outfielder, and the Pirates already have starters at both the infield positions he can really play. If he were a halfway-reasonable defensive shortstop, he would be a big-league regular. Unfortunately, he's not. But the Pirates should probably start going out of their way to find him at bats against lefties, particularly given that hitting lefties isn't a strength for either Alvarez or Walker.