As the new year approaches in this weird and slow offseason that has seen record breaking contracts for the largest overall deal (Shohei Ohtani), largest deal ever handed out to an international player (Yoshinobu Yamamoto) and largest deal ever given to a pitcher (also Yamamoto), it makes sense why the Pittsburgh Pirates would want to turn to the trade market to fill the holes on the roster.
The Pirates’ most immediate need is starting pitching, but they might also need help defensively in the outfield or anywhere else they’re just not comfortable with. With the stove heating up, let's explore some mock trades.
Pirates trade 2B Termarr Johnson, RHP Jared Jones, 3B/UTIL Jared Triolo and SS/2B Liover Peguero to Seattle Mariners for RHP Logan Gilbert
The Mariners get MLB ready talent with plenty of team control in Jared Triolo and Liover Peguero. Triolo, who produced 1.7 fWAR in 54 games brings an excellent glove and a contact-oriented approach to the plate and starts at 3B. Peguero has tons of tools and plenty of upside in a package that’s somewhat less than refined and competes with the recently acquired Luis Urias for the starting 2B job in spring training.
The Mariners also get two prospects, Jared Jones and Termarr Johnson. Jones, a near MLB ready RHP who has downright ridiculous raw stuff, but whose lack of control and a real third offering present substantial reliever risk and Johnson a highly-touted infield prospect who hit a combined .244/.422/.438 between low and high A in his age 19 season.
The Pirates get a very good starting pitcher in Gilbert who has many traits the Bucs tend to value highly, including elite extension and walk rates. He slots into the front half of the Pirates rotation and is controlled via arbitration through the 2027 season.
Alright, taking a step back here, there’s tons of reasons for the Mariners not to make this trade. With the market for pitching as insane as it is and Gilbert not hitting free agency for four more seasons, there’s just no reason to move him for anything less than an insane overpay that's too good to refuse. An overpay which this return doesn’t represent.
Corner OF is also a need for them, and the Pirates don’t have much to spare. The Mariners would also likely be able to get better more experienced bats in return for Gilbert rather than a more prospect-oriented package like this. Trading good, controllable starting pitching for bats is not the smartest thing in the world to do anyways.
It would also take some serious stones on the Pirates’ side. Yes, you get a fantastic pitcher with Gilbert, but with arms being the way they are health-wise, that can change with a single pitch. You’re risking an awful lot here, but it’s something you would have to at least seriously consider doing if the reward is potentially heading into a playoff series with Paul Skenes, Logan Gilbert and Mitch Keller all slated to start games.
Pirates trade 2B/CF Ji-Hwan Bae, RHP Kyle Nicolas and RHP Po-Yu Chen to the Washington Nationals for CF Victor Robles and RHP Hunter Harvey
The Pirates, at least on paper, have a bad defense. Particularly in the OF, where Jack Suwinski, who would really be better suited in a corner, is slated to be the starting CF just as he was last season, with new acquisition Edward Oliveras presumptively handling the majority of reps in RF. Oliveras, despite the tools, grades out as one of the worst OF defenders in the sport.
It’s hard to make sense of how this is going to work defensively, and while Ji-Hwan Bae was adequate in CF simply from his speed alone, his route running was often hard to watch. Bae is also a left-handed hitter, making a less-than-ideal pairing with the also left-handed Suwinski.
Ideally, you bring in a starting CF and Suwinski moves back to a corner OF spot and Oliveras becomes your fourth OF or platoons with Suwinski with how well Oliveras hits left-handed pitching. However, the options for doing so at this point may be limited with Kevin Kiermaier re-signing with the Toronto Blue Jays.
What’s far more likely is the Pirates acquire a better fit for a defensive role player via trade who can be a late game defensive replacement and off day starter in CF. In this mock trade, the Pirates get CF Victor Robles, who fits that bill. Robles missed much of 2023 with lingering back spasms but historically is a defensive stalwart with respectable enough career splits vs. southpaws.
He’ll be 27 next season and will be a free agent at the end of the year. He signed a one-year deal this offseason worth $2.65 million to avoid his last year of arbitration.
They also get another arbitration eligible player in RHP Hunter Harvey. Pitching to the tune of a combined ERA of 2.70 in 100 innings the past two seasons with 10 saves, Harvey is a good backend bullpen piece who has some experience closing and adds to the existing backend group of David Bednar, Colin Holderman and Carmen Mlodzinski. Opponents hit just .087 off of his slider in 2023. Harvey is set to become a free agent after the 2025 season.
Now far removed from their 2019 World Series victory with questions about ownership structure looming after the passing of principal owner Ted Lerner and over $175 million owed to both Steven Strasburg and Patrick Corbin through 2029 with $48.5 million owed in 2024 alone, the Washington Nationals may be looking to shed some salary around the margins of their rebuilding team while getting pieces with loads of team control in return.
The Nationals try out the speedy Bae in CF before the potential mid to late season arrivals of Dylan Crews and James Wood this upcoming year. They also get RHP Kyle Nicolas, a pitcher who until recently was a starter but struggled with command and consistency and transitioned into a relief role later in the season. While Nicolas still walked over four per nine, he struck out 31 batters in 22 innings from August 1 onwards and managed a WHIP of 0.91 in AAA until his mid-September call up. Additionally, they also receive Po-Yu Chen, a low-level starting pitching prospect.
Pirates trade LHP Marco Gonzales, RHP Max Kranick and RHP Braxton Ashcraft and cash to the Oakland A’s for RHP Paul Blackburn
Marco Gonzales has already been traded twice this season... why not thrice? With the trade market also looking rather pricey, the Pirates might need to get creative to improve their rotation.
Oakland is in an extreme situation in just about every way, their move to Las Vegas was approved by all 30 MLB owners, but the stadium in Vegas isn’t set to be completed until 2028. Meanwhile, their lease at the Oakland Coliseum runs out after this year.
With serious questions about where the team will simply play their games in the coming years combined with the dismal state of their roster, Oakland has had a seriously hard time attracting even bargain bin free agents. Having to overpay last offseason for Aledmys Diaz (2/14), Jace Peterson (2/9.5) and Drew Rucinski (1/3 with a club option for $5 million that was declined).
With LHP Ken Waldichuk’s status for 2024 up in the air with a UCL injury and RHP Mason Miller to start the year in a bullpen role as he rehabs from a UCL injury of his own, Oakland simply needs bodies to fill innings and buy time.
While being Oakland’s best remaining starter is far from a compliment to Paul Blackburn, it doesn’t mean there aren’t traits to really like about him him. He had a stellar first half of 2022, pitching to the tune of a 3.62 ERA (3.66 FIP) in 18 starts and 97 innings pitched headed into the All-Star Break and was the A’s only selection to the mid-summer classic before a torn flexor tendon sheath in his pitching hand slowed him down and ultimately ended his season. Then in 2023 between a freak injury cleaning his cleats that caused a cracked nail in spring training and a stint on the paternity list, he wasn’t available to pitch until late May.
Despite being limited to just over 100 innings again, his 1.5 fWAR in 2023 would have been third among Pirates starters behind Mitch Keller and Johan Oviedo
Opposing hitters hit just .198 off his slider, just .140 off his curveball and .143 off his changeup. But his fastball and cutter got hit hard, really hard. .306 and .435 respectively
Headed into his age 30 season, Blackburn is a flawed but acceptable backend rotation option with reason to be optimistic he can pitch more innings and be more valuable in 2024 and in 2025 after which he becomes a free agent.
In exchange the Pirates flip Marco Gonzales coming off a major nerve injury in his forearm and a subsequent surgical procedure with a downright nasty track record and pay the $2.75 million on his $12 million contract not being paid by the Atlanta Braves. Aside from Gonzales, the Athletics also receive Max Kranick, looking for his first MLB action since getting Tommy John surgery in June of 2022 and Braxton Ashcraft who performed well in a limited number of innings after missing all of 2022 with a Tommy John surgery of his own.
Oakland gets the warm bodies they need while the Pirates lose some depth in exchange for an upgrade in quality and upside over Marco Gonzales coming off such a scary injury.