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Flip a free agent: Pirates’ edition

Cleveland Indians v Washington Nationals Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Pirates are not in a mode to contend. We know this. Ben Cherington has been working diligently to flip major league players for young prospects. This is a methodology that likely should’ve been utilized in the offseason which saw the departures of Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen.

We know that the pool from which to draw players on the Pirates’ roster for trade purposes is now nearly fully depleted. How, then, can Cherington continue to acquire young up-and-coming talent? By signing a free agent, of course.

Many of the remaining free agents are either cost prohibitive for Pittsburgh or would be unwilling to spend half a season with the Pirates. More than likely, most candidates fall into both of those camps. But there are players who might be willing to sign with the understanding that the front office will move them prior to the trade deadline, meaning said player would end up on a contending team’s roster sooner or later.

I suggest that player be Yasiel Puig. The Cuban outfielder played a portion of 2019 in Cleveland and another portion in Cincinnati. He was set to sign with the Atlanta Braves in 2020, but there was a COVID-19 related problem with the physical screening which resulted in Puig’s absence throughout the 2020 campaign.

In 2019, Puig earned just south of $10 million. Would the Pirates be willing to shell out that type of cash? Our obvious first reaction would be “no.” I would suspect, however, that Puig won’t command that type of money in his age 30 season, particularly after sitting out last year.

He was a .267/.327/.458 hitter in 2019, with 24 home runs. That would be quite a bit of production in this lineup, which is in need of a clear starting outfield choice. While Bryan Reynolds will patrol somewhere in the green, it’s up in the air what could happen elsewhere. Gregory Polanco will likely remain in right — barring another injury — simply by virtue of playing out his contract. Anthony Alford seems like the odds on favorite to be in center in 2021, but there’s no reason management has to be dedicated to that idea.

The way to approach this for the Pirates is simple. Go to Puig’s agents and present a reasonable dollar amount, while letting them know that the team’s full intent is to find a landing spot for him in July with a team that has a chance at the playoffs.

Granted, this is a long shot. I suspect the Pirates aren’t courting this possibility at all, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t toying around with it. While it will take a bit more to entice Puig, it’s something worth pursuing. I think Puig will ultimately have suitors which he would regard more favorably than Pittsburgh, but this could be a good move for both parties. For Puig, he would have an opportunity to re-acclimate to MLB-level talent somewhat under the radar. For the Pirates, think of it as investing in the future.

Sure, before shipping him off sometime in July, the Pirates will have to foot a bill somewhere in the neighborhood of $6.5 million, but think of the benefits they could receive if Puig is playing well. If he’s having a good season, and there’s a team in desperate need of another outfielder, the Pirates might be on the receiving end of a couple high end prospects. Think about it, Nutting.