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Exploring Pirates options as buyers at the MLB trade deadline

Evaluating the trade market a month ahead of the deadline.

MLB: Houston Astros at St. Louis Cardinals Joe Puetz-USA TODAY Sports

With a month to go before the August 1 MLB trade deadline the Pittsburgh Pirates are five and a half games out of first place in NL Central and five games under .500.

The Pirates have expressed interest in adding at the deadline this year, despite their slide to 39-44 the division could very well be a race to .500 so even a minor add in a key spot could make a difference.

It’s unlikely they will add positionally, with Oneil Cruz projected to return sometime in August, the infield’s future looks fairly crowded. The one spot they could add here is by picking up a center fielder. Manned mostly by Jack Suwinski and Ji-Hwan Bae, they haven’t had a true option there this year.

Neither the ever-controversial Suwinski nor Bae have been catastrophic defensively, but neither look refined in center. Watch long enough and you’ll see your share of bad routes and bad jumps from both.

It doesn’t help matters that both left-handers have been largely MIA offensively for weeks. With an OPS of .409 in the last month and .609 on the season and without a true and healthy CF near the majors, Bae’s ability to play center may be only thing keeping him on the team.

Although more teams will firmly be in sell mode by the deadline, the market for bats at the present is less appealing than previous years. The pickings are slim for anyone the Pirates would be in position to acquire here.

Someone like the right-handed Victor Robles of the Nationals, a free agent after the 2024 season, could be an option for a platoon with Suwinski and to serve as a defensive replacement. But the defensively great CF was recently placed on the 10-day IL with the same back spasm issue that’s limited him to playing in just 36 games this season.

With Henry Davis poised to play right field every day for now, that leaves only CF available to Suwinski when Bryan Reynolds returns from his IL stint. Considering how much the team has let Jack see the field against lefties this season, it’s unclear how willing they would be to trade for a platoon option here.

However, adding even a mediocre true CF who’s right-handed, optioning Bae, optioning Josh Palacios, and calling up a red-hot Liover Peguero, should he continue to produce at the deadline, would go a substantial way towards the roster construction making more sense. As well as putting Suwinski who struggles against lefties (.576 ops) in a better position to succeed.

The much more likely place for the Pirates to add would be to the pitching staff. The rotation lacks the depth it had going into the season and the bullpen has several spots that could stand to be improved.

Luckily, middle relief arms on the trading block are always plentiful and relatively inexpensive to acquire. Even when the bullpen was pitching well the Pirates had just an awful time filling at least three spots at any given moment. Trying and mostly failing to fill bullpen roles with pitchers like Duane Underwood Jr., Chase De Jong, Rob Zastryzny and Cody Bolton (combined ERA of 7.59 through 61.2 innings pitched).

It might also be optimistic to hope you can continue to get what you have out of lefty Angel Perdomo. So it’s an opportunity to significantly improve the roster even with just minor competent middle relief additions.

The Pirates could look to acquire a swing man or at least someone with some experience starting in MLB and kill two birds with one stone. The Padres’ Nick Martinez could be an interesting trade candidate if the friars decide to sell.

Starting four games and pitching in 60.1 innings across 31 appearances, after a five-run blowup against the Pirates on Wednesday, his ERA sits at 3.90 — 4.01 as a starter and 3.82 in relief. With a $16 million club option in the offseason that could be declined by a Padres team looking for more roster and financial flexibility, he could be on the trading block come the deadline.

There’s Nationals relievers Hunter Harvey and veteran Carl Edwards Jr. in his nineth season. The hard throwing Harvey, who has posted an ERA of 3.25 with seven saves would be more of a long term add, moving into his first arbitration eligible season in 2024. Edwards has an ERA of 3.07 in 93.2 innings over the past two seasons in D.C and is a free agent at the end of the season. Packaging whichever one fits better into the team's long-term plans with Robles would be a solid move.

With the time frame for Jarlin Garcia’s return still up in the air, Athletics’ lefty Sam Moll, who’s been great at limiting hard contact and has a very respectable 27.6 percent strikeout rate across 29.1 innings with a 3.99 ERA. He could give the team a legitimate cost-effective left-handed option other than Jose Hernandez. Limiting lefties to just a .402 OPS.

The Pirates could also pursue a reunion with Chris Stratton, a free agent at the end of the season, who they traded to the current last place Cardinals last season as part of the deal that sent Jose Quintana to the red birds and brought back Johan Oviedo.

The possibilities are as vast as the number of arms on the market allows. Nothing stands in the way of acquiring multiple of varying quality to bolster the bullpen, should the team feel they are in position to do so.

With the August 1 deadline a month away there’s still plenty of time for the market to change substantially.

Should things go south in July and the Pirates look to sell some of their veteran rentals, Rich Hill, Ji-Man Choi and Carlos Santana are the obvious candidates. Without extensions, David Bednar and Mitch Keller’s name will also come up, no matter how unlikely the move.