Thanks, everyone, for your questions. Feel free to keep asking them.
OzPirate18: Is the time right to trade Mark Melancon? Neftali Feliz or Tony Watson would do fine job closing. With the value of the qualifying offer increasing next season, he could walk for nothing.
Just to be clear, it's highly unlikely that the Pirates will trade Melancon, and there are no real rumors suggesting they will. But since it's a topic fans have discussed recently, here's my answer to the question of whether the Pirates should deal their closer.
I understand the thinking behind these questions, and I think the idea of trading Melancon is kind of smart in a fantasy-baseball sort of way -- lots of pitchers can be successful closers, and the market for elite relievers has gone through the roof lately, with Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel netting their old teams huge returns.
Melancon, though, isn't likely to bring back nearly what Chapman or Kimbrel did. His results are impossible to dispute, but the underlying numbers -- which pretty much any trading partner is going to look at -- aren't close to those of Chapman or Kimbrel. Melancon strikes out about eight batters per nine innings, while Chapman and Kimbrel whiff 12 or 13. Teams aren't likely to perceive Melancon as a dominant reliever in the Chapman or Kimbrel mode, so he isn't likely to return a Gleyber Torres-type player.
Also, this isn't fantasy baseball. The Pirates are deeply flawed, but they're well within reach of a Wild Card spot, and trading their much-loved closer would be perceived as a white-flag move. Maybe there's a deal to be made where they can trade Melancon and make a serious case they didn't downgrade for the rest of this season, but a conventional veteran-for-youngsters type of trade would be disastrous PR, not to mention reducing the still-very-real chance they currently have of making the playoffs. Trading a good, popular veteran when the team is terrible is one thing. Trading that vet when the team is contending is another.
There's probably also a distinction to be made between trading a veteran in the middle of a contending season and trading him over the winter. The latter is less painful, because the team isn't in the midst of a playoff race, and because it's expected that the composition of the team will change significantly.
Crackbaldo: Who is The most likely player to be traded off the major league roster? My guess would be Jeff Locke, because I think he and Jon Niese are redundant and it is unlikely the Bucs would get anything of value for Niese.
Surely it has to be Locke or Niese, the two Pirates we know the Bucs are interested in dealing. It's hard to imagine either of them has much trade value, though. I think Niese actually might be more likely to go, in that his remaining salary (he has around $4 million left, including his 2017 buyout) could offset other salary the Pirates take on elsewhere.
John Jaso also looks like a candidate to be dealt. Clint Hurdle recently said Josh Bell wasn't an upgrade over Jaso defensively, but I wonder if the Pirates might do a magical 180 on whether Bell should be their first baseman if they were able to get something in return for Jaso.
BMcFerren: Is the timing right for an incentive-rich Andrew McCutchen extension?
Both McCutchen and the Pirates would probably give a hearty "no" to that one. There isn't much precedent (at least not that I can think of) for a player of McCutchen's stature signing an incentive-heavy deal two and a half years before free agency. And the Pirates must feel like they've dodged a bullet in not extending Cutch, if that was ever really a consideration. I can't imagine them wanting to sign him past 2018 right now.
IAPiratesFan: Do you think Bell will start at first full-time next year? Do you think that Kevin Newman and Austin Meadows could make their big league debuts next year? And, finally, if McCutchen bounces back next year, could you see them trade him and bring Meadows up to take over for him in the outfield?
Yes to all those questions, although with some caveats for the last one. If the Pirates are contending next season (a pretty likely scenario if McCutchen bounces back), it's going to be pretty hard to trade McCutchen in the middle of the season, for the reasons outlined in the Melancon response above. However good Meadows is, dealing McCutchen in the middle of a contending season would be widely perceived as a scorched-earth move. Again, maybe there will be a way to do it that involves the Pirates getting a bunch of big-league-ready talent back, but it would be tough.
The most likely scenario in which they deal McCutchen in-season is if he does well and the team as a whole does poorly. Also, Matt Joyce will be a free agent after this season, and if Meadows continues to progress, the Bucs could still find plenty of playing time for him as a fourth outfielder (presumably in a somewhat greater role than Joyce's, and only after a couple months in Indianapolis to start the year). There will not be any rush to trade anyone, even if everyone thrives.
Don't rule out the possibility that the Pirates trade McCutchen in the offseason, either this winter or in 2017-18, by the way.