To say that last offseason was a busy one for the Pittsburgh Pirates would be a major understatement. The club shipped off several key performers – first baseman Josh Bell and pitchers Joe Musgrove and Jameson Taillon – in a bid to restock a depleted farm system. And – some Bob Nutting haters might say – to reduce the payroll.
Bell was the first to go, as he was sent to the Washington Nationals on Christmas Eve in exchange for pitchers Wil Crowe and Eddy Yean. Musgrove followed in mid-January, traded to San Diego as part of a three-way deal that ultimately netted the Pirates reliever David Bednar and four prospects – outfielder Hudson Head, catcher Endy Rodriguez and pitchers Drake Fellows and Omar Cruz.
Taillon, the one-time No. 1 draft pick chosen No. 2 overall in 2010, was the last to leave, as he headed east to the New York Yankees for four more future hopes: pitchers Miguel Yajure and Roansy Contreras, outfielder Canaan Smith-Njigba and infielder Maikol Escotto.
This year figures to be much quieter on the trade front – after all, just about all of the major chips already have been dealt. But the organization isn’t completely void of potential other chips.
Among pitchers, right-hander Chad Kuhl might be of interest to teams. He seemed to fall out of favor last year, as he was relegated to bullpen duty after returning from a stint on the COVID-19 list. I always thought Kuhl might make a nice late-inning reliever, but he looked ill-equipped to pitch out of the bullpen – and what’s more, he looked like he had no desire to do so. Still, he might fetch a lottery pick of some type.
Another possible trade candidate is lefty Steven Brault, whose season was decimated by injury. He’s proven, when healthy, to be a serviceable southpaw who could start or relieve.
Among relievers, Chris Stratton would figure to be the most attractive, and I’d be surprised if he finishes the 2022 season in Black and Gold.
Assuming Ke’Bryan Hayes isn’t going anywhere, the Pirates position player with the most trade value would have to be Bryan Reynolds. However, I don’t see general manager Ben Cherington saying goodbye to Reynolds unless it enabled him to say hello to one of the game’s top prospects. Reports circulated last week that the Seattle Mariners tried to pry Reynolds from the Pirates’ hands at the trade deadline, but the Pirates were seeking prized outfield prospect Julio Rodriguez – ranked as the No. 2 prospect in all of baseball by MLB Pipeline – and that deal never materialized. If I were sitting in Cherington’s desk, I wouldn’t give Reynolds up for much less, given the fact that he’s established as one of the National League’s top outfielders heading into his age-27 season and is under contract through the 2025 season.
Still, one must at least consider the idea. Although Reynolds had a terrific 2021 season by anyone’s standards, he also struggled mightily during the 60-game pandemic season in 2020, showing that he’s not completely bulletproof. You could argue that the pandemic season was a one-off and not a real indication of anyone’s ability, and I actually buy that argument. But chances are, his value will never be higher than today. And even the most optimistic Pirates fan would admit that the club doesn’t figure to be a serious contender until at least 2023 and more likely 2024 – and that’s if everything goes right. That would put Reynolds in his age-29 season – still plenty productive, one would think, but possibly no longer ascending.
Trading Reynolds would be the current regime’s boldest move yet, though I don’t see it happening. What’s more, I’d hate to see it happen. Reynolds is the type of player you want to keep – not lose. Not only is he an outstanding player, he’s definitely a Pittsburgh kind of a guy – hard worker, doesn’t call attention to himself, no social media nonsense – and his departure certainly would create an uproar from what’s left of the fan base. It would also leave a gigantic hole in the outfield.
But for how long? And would it matter all that much, given that 2022 looks like another lost cause, record-wise? A look at the current organization shows an outfield lacking in established talent to fill that gigantic hole. But there could be help on the horizon.
Even though the Pirates’ Top 30 prospects list (according to MLB.com) isn’t overflowing with outfielders, there are some names who could pop in the near future in Travis Swaggerty, Cal Mitchell, Matt Fraizer and Smith-Njigba, with others – Lonnie White, Hudson Head – more long-range types.
And let’s not forget Oneil Cruz, who I’m convinced will end up in right field at some point. Even Ji-hwan Bae, who has played mostly middle infield coming through the system but is seeing time in the outfield in the Arizona Fall League, could ultimately find himself in the outfield, given the presence of Nick Gonzales and Liover Peguero.
And you can add Tucupita Marcano to the list; the highly regarded former Padres prospect who came in the trade deadline deal for Adam Frazier is another middle infielder who saw action in the outfield last season both in the minor leagues and with San Diego.
Given the state of the Pirates, the only player I’d consider completely untouchable at this point is Hayes. Reynolds would be a very close second, but if the Pirates were blown away by an offer, I would at least have to think about it, particularly if Reynolds makes it clear he’s not interested in signing a contract extension and being here for the long haul, a la Freddie Freeman. To me, that would be a key factor in deciding how long to keep him around.