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Mitch Keller, David Bednar trades don’t make sense for Pirates if they truly believe in 2024

Keller is under control through 2025, Bednar past 2026.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Arizona Diamondbacks Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The MLB trade deadline is one week away. Depending on how you look at it, August 1st can’t come soon enough.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are struggling. Throughout his tenure with the club before facing the San Diego Padres to start a three-game series Monday, manager Derek Shelton is 185-298. In comparison, John Russell from 2008 to 2010 was 186-299. Yeah, it’s bad.

A key talking point regarding a team continuously falling down the standings isn’t necessarily who comes, but who goes.

On Monday, MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reported that the Pirates will listen to offers surrounding two-time All-Star closer David Bednar. Nearly six hours later, Heyman stated the same rumor about the other Pirates All-Star to earn a trip with Bednar to Seattle, Mitch Keller.

A Pittsburgh native and Mars High School graduate, Bednar has been one of the best closers in baseball the past two seasons. Keller turned from one of the worst, to one of the best starters in baseball in a calendar year.

Heyman closed his tweet regarding Keller and Bednar by saying that it “would seem like a pretty low probability to happen in either case, but in this sellers’ market makes sense to listen.”

I’m ok with them listening just for the fact that you need to do your due diligence… but why does it need to be made public? It wouldn’t make sense for the Pirates to leak this type of news, especially as the free fall continues, but rather probable a team or two that contacted the Bucs about the star pitchers wanted to gauge the media market to see what could stick.

Keller, 27, is arbitration-eligible for the next two seasons before becoming a free agent after the 2025 campaign. After his first career complete games on May 8 against the Colorado Rockies, Keller told 93.7 The Fan that there have been discussions surrounding a long-term contract. A few other reports since have been consistent with Keller’s original comments, and a significant extension for the former second-round pick seems like a solid possibility.

Keller pitched fantastic in April - he owned a 2.90 ERA in 31 innings spanning five starts - and posted a 3.00 ERA in six May appearances. His ERA has climbed every month and sunk into a negative direction, a likely correlation with the Pirates over 10 games under .500. Keller’s June was still good (3.56 ERA) but has become a disaster in July.

His 3.25 ERA after May 31 has ballooned over four (4.01) thanks to a 7.04 mark in four July outings. Keller allowed five runs (four earned) in five innings on the road against the Los Angeles Dodgers, was fantastic facing the Arizona Diamondbacks (7 innings of one-hit action), but has allowed 14 runs in his last 11 innings.

The Cleveland Guardians lit up Keller for eight runs on July 18, and the LA Angels scratched together six in five innings against the All-Star. In 21 starts, Keller owns a 1.20 WHIP and 137 strikeouts in 128 innings.

Bednar is the Pirates’ best pitcher by a mile, and the results continue to indicate it. The former 35th-round pick posted a 1.15 ERA and 0.95 WHIP through his first 38 games (39 innings). His 19 saves are an indication of the Pirates’ failure to get him the ball enough with the lead in the 9th inning. Bednar totaled eight saves in April before earning only one in May and six in June.

In three seasons with the Pirates, Bednar’s numbers are dominant. He owns a 2.08 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 212 strikeouts, and 51 walks in 168.2 innings.

Trading Bednar and/or Keller doesn’t make sense for the Pirates if they truly believe the window opens in 2024. It would make plausible sense that they SHOULD believe it, considering the likes of Henry Davis, Nick Gonzales, Endy Rodriguez, Quinn Priester and others are in Pittsburgh. Their continued growth and development are of high focus and priority, as should locking up Keller.

One concerning aspect is the number of runs allowed later in the season as innings piled onto his right arm. Closers don’t grow on trees but are easier to replace than other positions on the diamond or in the bullpen, but Bednar is a fascinating case. How much should his connection to Pittsburgh factor in? From an emotional standpoint, a lot. From a baseball perspective, the right move needs to be made regardless. But you have to get it right. Would Bednar sign a team-friendly deal to stay in Pittsburgh? I think it’s likely. Will it get to the point where the Pirates are winning, and that will be a realistic possibility? Any hope for the future depends on a group of 22-24-year-olds that were in Double-A a year ago.

If that group takes a significant step forward in the back half of 2023 and early part of 2024, things will change on the North Shore. If the Pirates and Ben Cherington truly believe the team can compete in 2024, Keller and Bednar aren’t going anywhere.

There is a major difference between “listening” and “fielding” offers for valuable players. Carlos Santana, Rich Hill, Ji-Man Choi, Austin Hedges and others will likely depart on the first day of August, but the two top arms on the Bucs are only on the move if the front office is blown away.

If not, prepare for Keller to guide the rotation and Bednar to the back of the bullpen for another offseason, spring training, and 2024 Opening Day still to come. A trade would signal one significant thing: the rebuild was for not.