It's the All Star break in Major League Baseball, and that means that the trade deadline is fast approaching. Moved to Monday August 1st this season to avoid a Sunday deadline, the Pirates' role at the deadline has changed drastically over the past few weeks. As the team has gained so much ground on the suddenly faltering Chicago Cubs in a short period of time, the Bucs have moved from what could have been sure sellers to likely buyers. The way the Pirates organization is set up at the moment, the club has a lot of pieces that could shake around, from the low minors all the way up to the major league roster. This article will take a look at much of the important pieces in the organization and show some of the movement that could happen come the end of this month by general manager Neal Huntington.
I'll start with the big league level, as even if the Pirates are not sellers, a few pieces could still be moved.
SPs Francisco Liriano/Jon Niese
Grouping two of the lefties in the Pirates rotation together here because it's highly unlikely both will be moved. For the past three seasons since coming to Pittsburgh in 2013, Liriano has arguably been the Pirates' best starter consistently year in and year out, something that was rare previously in the 32 year old's career. Niese, who came to Pittsburgh in the Neil Walker trade, was never an ace, but the 28 year old was consistently a good back end starter for the Mets, holding a .500 record with a 3.91 ERA in eight years with New York. The consistency has fallen apart in 2016 for both of the left handers, as neither have been able to put up a sub-5.00 ERA over the first half of the season. With the influx of pitching coming from AAA, with four highly anticipated prospect pitchers making their debuts since the start of June, along with Gerrit Cole's impending return from the disabled list, the rotation could need some space. The Orioles were reportedly interested in Liriano, and Niese is reportedly being shopped by the Pirates. In terms of contracts, Liriano is signed for next season at $13 million, lower than only Andrew McCutchen's salary, and Niese has two team options that will likely be bought out at the end of the season. If either player were traded, it would be selling low on them, but I believe either pitcher could bring in value similar to the Travis Snider trade of 2014. Even if whoever is acquired by the Bucs doesn't turn out that well, it could be a plus just to get prospects more big league experience, which brings me to the next player...
1B John Jaso
Jaso has had a more than respectable season at first base in 2016, coming to the club looking for the challenge of moving to first rather than being a designated hitter. After a hot start, the 32 year old has cooled into the summer months, but for the season has hit .275/.352/.391 with 4 home runs and 25 RBI, doing a great job of setting the table from the leadoff position. Jaso is under contract for this season and next at a $4 million rate. While Jaso is probably the least likely on this list to be moved, if there is a team looking for a first baseman or a DH even in a bench role, the Pirates could clear space for Josh Bell to play everyday at first and see if the prospect can build on an exciting first weekend in the bigs. Of course, the Pirates could do this and keep Jaso, in which case it would make sense to trade one of my next grouping....
IF David Freese/OF Matt Joyce
Two of the integral bench pieces for the Pirates this season, either of the two veterans being moved may diminish the club's bench, but would make room for the Bucs to give young prospects some experience at the big league level, as AAA Indianapolis has a high amount of utilitymen at their disposal, some of which will be heard about later. Freese, the 33 year old brought in during spring training, has hit .291/.373/.472 in 79 games, and has also added defensive value playing all around the infield. Joyce was brought in a little earlier in the spring, and the 31 year old corner outfielder with my favorite walk up song in the game has hit .295/.420/.558 with 8 home runs and 27 RBI, acting as one of the best pinch hitters in the game and in Pirates history. Either one of these players should remain nice bench pieces whether they are kept by the Pirates or dealt elsewhere. There have been no direct rumors involving either of the two players, nor Jaso before them, but any of the three could be traded without major consequence for the Pirates if they choose to focus on the future in the second half, while still giving the team a similar opportunity to win.
Now let's shift our focus to assume the Pirates are buying at the end of the month. The system has been prospect-rich throughout the past half-decade or so, leaving the Pirates with opportunity to make deadline deals without giving up anything that would decimate the farm system. Let's flash back to some trades the Pirates have made at the deadline over that span of time:
2015: 3B Aramis Ramirez from Brewers for RHP Yhonathan Barrios
RHP Joakim Soria from Tigers for SS JaCoby Jones
1B Michael Morse from Dodgers for RF Jose Tabata
LHP J.A. Happ from Mariners for RHP Adrian Sampson
2014: No deals at deadline
2013: OF Marlon Byrd and C John Buck from Mets for 2B Dilson Herrera and RHP Vic Black
1B Justin Morneau from Twins for OF Alex Presley and LHP Kris Johnson (initially RHP Duke Welker)
2012: LHP Wandy Rodriguez from Astros for LHP Colton Cain, OF Robbie Grossman and LHP Rudy Owens
RF Travis Snider from Blue Jays for RHP Brad Lincoln
1B Gaby Sanchez and RHP Kyle Kaminska from Marlins for OF Gorkys Hernandez
None of these prospects have really amounted to anything as of yet since leaving the Pirates (although Barrios, Jones, Sampson and Herrera all still have chances to become solid players) and none of these trades have harmed the Pirates major league club or farm system whatsoever.
I've chosen 35 of the Pirates top prospects (The MLB.com Top 30 and five others that deserve to be mentioned) to be placed into two groups; the keepers, more along the lines of players who should remain in the organization even if it passes up an opportunity to improve the Major League club in 2016, and the 'open to deal' players, ones that should take a fair amount of thought beforehand, but players who should be available in trades in the right situation. The players will be listed in order of affiliate, highest to lowest, including their top 30 rank, which also includes players currently in the major leagues, but exempts 2016 draftees as they are ineligible to be traded anyway until the end of the season. Players that will be eligible for the 2016 Rule 5 draft will include an asterisk, as the Pirates have used deadline deals in the past to move eligible prospects who they may not have room for on the 40-man roster to protect them. It also can then be reasoned that any minor league player not listed here should be traded if it would improve the major league roster in the 2016 season.
1B Josh Bell (3), RHP Tyler Glasnow (1), RHP Jameson Taillon (4): Duh.
UT Adam Frazier (27): Frazier's short showing thus far in the majors combined with sustained success in the upper minors over the past few seasons puts the 24 year old here. With major versatility, speed, and ability to hit for a high average, Frazier could become the next Josh Harrison type of player for the Pirates. His presence on the bench helps the Pirates now, and should continue to help the club in the future.
C Elias Diaz, disabled list (8): If you asked me this question once Francisco Cervelli signed his extension, I would have been all-in for dealing Diaz. Well, following the injuries to Cervelli and Chris Stewart, and the Bucs going into the All Star break with Erik Kratz and Eric Fryer as their catching tandem, Diaz should be kept for the near future. As we know from the 2011 season, you can never have too much catching depth. The 25 year old prospect has played just four games this year in Bradenton due to injury, but could come straight to the bigs upon return from his rehab assignment.
SS Alen Hanson, Indianapolis (10): While the Pirates seem to be loaded with solid middle infield prospects, Hanson has been near the top of that list for many years now. While mentally he still has room to develop to show he is ready for the big leagues, the tools are all there for the 23 year old to become a major league player in the near future. Lots of speed, solid defense and versatility along with the ability to hit for average and some pop, Hanson should also become a key contributor to future Pirates teams.
OF Austin Meadows, Indianapolis (2): Meadows is about as close to an untouchable as it gets in terms of prospects who haven't hit the major leagues yet. Drafted 9th overall in 2013, the ascent through the minor leagues has been a strong one for Meadows, which has included a 26 game hitting streak this season. The 21 year old is likely the replacement for McCutchen, as while no prospect is a certainty, Meadows is by far the safest of the outfield prospects in the Pirates system.
RHP Dovydas Neverauskas, Indianapolis*: The Lithuanian right hander seemed on the brink of being released just a few years ago, but after being moved to the bullpen last year, 2016 has been a breakout season for the 23 year old, as his season combined between Altoona and Indy has led to a berth in the Futures Game and a 2.39 ERA with 37 strikeouts in 32 games. Relief pitchers may come a dime a dozen, but the Pirates bullpen has zero guarantees once you get past impending free agent Mark Melancon. Even if Melancon is brought back, Neverauskas should be key to the future of the Pirate bullpen.
C Reese McGuire, Altoona (5): McGuire was brought in to the organization four picks after selecting Meadows, and the 21 year old is unquestionably the catcher of the future for the Pirates. His defense has been near major league ready for most of his professional career, and now in the midst of his first full AA season, the bat is starting to catch up. Unless something catastrophic happens or the aforementioned Diaz happens to wow us in an unexpected way, McGuire is the future at the backstop for Pittsburgh.
SS Kevin Newman, Altoona (11): Newman, the first round pick by the Pirates in 2015, came into the system as a polished college player out of Arizona rated as the second best player in the entire draft by Keith Law. While, again, the Pirates have a lot of good middle infield prospects, Newman has demolished minor league pitching throughout four levels in just about a full season's worth of games, and is very close to being big league ready. Jordy Mercer becomes eligible for free agency following 2019, and Newman could already be pushing him out the door before that time comes.
RHP Yeudy Garcia, Bradenton (18)*: While the Pirates have had their initial wave of pitching prospects begin to reach the majors, Garcia has become arguably the best of the next wave. Far from a certainty as of yet, like any pitcher still in lower levels of the minor leagues, the 23 year old is one the Pirates should bet on to develop into a future solid big league starter. His 2015 season with the West Virginia Power saw Garcia put up the fourth best ERA in all of Minor League baseball and has put up a 2.56 ERA in 17 games with the Mauraders this season. Rule 5 eligible for the first time in 2016, his command issues so far this season may harm his chances of being selected away, but if he improves and has another very good season, he should be protected.
OF Tito Polo, Bradenton*: If Garcia is part of the next wave of Pirates pitching, Polo is becoming part of the outfield future for the Pirates. While that is something that need not be thought of for hopefully a long way yet to come, the 21 year old with maybe the most fun name in the system has grown a lot as a player since making his pro debut four years ago. Polo could become the next Starling Marte or Gregory Polanco in the Bucs system, and that's where he should get the chance to develop. That five-tool potential makes Polo a must protect to prevent being selected in the Rule 5 draft.
LHP Stephen Tarpley, Bradenton (19)*: Tarpley is another part of the next wave of pitching prospects, and also has enough upside that the 23 year old left hander should be held onto for the future. One of the two pitchers acquired from Baltimore in the Snider deal, Tarpley had a solid season in 2015 which included 11 wins, a 2.48 ERA and even a shortened no-hitter with West Virginia. If Tarpley can harness command of his stuff, he should have no problem advancing through the Pirates system. While he does have high upside, I don't believe Tarpley would be selected in the Rule 5 draft, although if the Brewers can take Wei-Chung Wang (currently in AA with the Brewers two years after being selected, by the way) then no pitcher is safe. Tarpley should be protected if he can continue building on his solid 2015.
SS Cole Tucker, Bradenton (9): Maybe at this point in the article you might be thinking "He wants to protect Hanson and Newman, and now Tucker too? What gives?" Well, Tucker is still a very young player at 20 years old, and still doesn't have a great amount of experience yet after missing the second half of last season with a shoulder injury. It was a surprise to see him back so early in 2016, but Tucker has had himself a decent season thus far. There's still so much to develop with Tucker, and he seems to have one of the best work ethics in the entire system. It's worth a shot to let him develop further in the system, especially given his draft status being a first round pick in 2014. The entire conversation could be different come this time next year, but for now it's best to hold onto Tucker.
3B KeBryan Hayes, West Virginia (6): The 19 year old infielder was drafted in the first round last year anticipating to eventually become a large part of the Pirates' future. The son of former Pirate Charlie Hayes, and another young player seeming to have exceptional work ethic, KeBryan should have every opportunity to advance through the system in Pittsburgh. Just like Tucker, there is a lot to develop, but Hayes has the skill to become a big league player, maybe right around the time Jung-Ho Kang's contract runs out in 2019 (2018 if the Bucs don't pick up his option, or maybe even earlier depending on the current allegations against him.)
RHP Mitch Keller, West Virginia (14): Keller was one of my more difficult decisions as to where he should be placed, but holding onto the 20 year old would be the right decision. Getting an agressive push to the Power this season, Keller has fared well in his first extended action since turning pro (6-5, 2.64 ERA in 16 starts; 94 K's in 88.2 IP) and should have the chance to develop into an even better pitcher.
RHP Luis Escobar, Mortgantown (21): Another Keith Law favorite, the 20 year old has yet to put up dynamite stats in his three limited pro seasons (though he is off to a good start with the Black Bears) but has a relatively high ceiling and lots of time and room to develop. His stuff is good enough that at this level he can get away with throwing more than the finesse of pitching, so as he learns more of the technique on the mound, Escobar could potentially become a high level prospect and good major league pitcher.
SS Adrian Valerio, Bristol: A name not often heard from in the system, Valerio was signed from the Dominican a few years back and the 19 year old is off to a hot start in the Appalachian League this season with the bat. This is a good sign because Valerio is generally known as a defensive-first player, and could even have the best glove in the entire system already. He's nowhere close to the major leagues, but letting the young shortstop develop could be fun to watch, and he eventually could bloom into a very productive player; or at least a more valuable trade chip than he is right now.
Open to Deal
RHP Chad Kuhl (16): Following what has been a decent first few starts for the 23 year old in the majors, maybe it wouldn't be cool to deal Kuhl. However, as we have established, the Pirates have a lot of pitching prospects, many in the high levels of the minors. A presumed Pirates rotation including Cole, Glasnow and Taillon heading into 2017 (if not for the remainder of this season) doesn't leave much room elsewhere. Liriano is signed through 2017, and Niese and Jeff Locke are controllable through 2018. Although Kuhl could be better for the Pirates than any of those three starters over the next three years, he is very much replaceable, whether it be with big league veterans, new reclamation projects, or other pitching prospects (regardless of minor league level or even current organization) that may present a higher ceiling. While Kuhl is at the top of the list here, he should not be at the top of the list of players that could be traded, but if the deal would significantly help the Pirates in 2016 and ideally a little beyond that, it wouldn't be the worst idea to move Kuhl.
RHP Nick Kingham, disabled list (12): I'm not sure if anyone would risk taking Kingham in a trade while still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, or if he would even be eligible to be traded while still injured. Regardless, the same situation I broke down with Kuhl would also apply to Kingham, the 24 year old who has just started pitching again on rehab in the GCL. Kingham is a better prospect than Kuhl, but still doesn't have the crazy high ceiling. While that's obviously not necessary to be a good big league pitcher, moving Kingham for the right price, a good piece to benefit the Pirates in 2016 and beyond, would not be the end of the world.
RHP Jacob Taylor, disabled list (29): There's essentially zero chance of him being moved, having just barely made his pro debut and immediately going down with Tommy John surgery, but the 21 year old had plenty of success at the junior college level, enough to put him in the Pirates top 30 prospects. With the Pirates system stacked with good pitching (common theme in this article) if someone were to want to take Taylor for a decent piece in return, I wouldn't stop them.
LHP Steven Brault, Indianapolis (17): Brault had a decent major league debut and would likely be a good piece at the big league level at the back end of the rotation (maybe a similar career to Locke, just maybe a little more consistent) but falls into the same category as Kuhl and Kingham in that while impressive, they are replaceable in both the short and long term. If the 24 year old lefty could help bring a good piece into the Pirates club, it's worth it.
OF Willy Garcia, Indianapolis (13): Part of Garcia's problem is that he is entirely blocked at the big league level because of the Pirates' great outfield. The other part of his problem is that while the 23 year old has always had huge power potential, it hasn't quite been fully harnessed, and the strikeout rate is not under enough control to earn consistent big league time as it is. Garcia has struck out in 28 percent of his at bats in 2016, hitting .265/.323/.382 with 3 homers and 30 RBIs. The Pirates shouldn't have major need for Garcia, and a trade would not only obviously help the Bucs at present with whoever the return might be, but would also give Garcia a better opportunity to crack the majors and possibly end up clearing a 40-man spot for another Rule 5 eligible player to be protected just as Garcia was two offseasons ago.
2B Max Moroff, Indianapolis (25): Moroff, another player who has become a good prospect over the last few seasons, also could fall victim to the great amount of depth the Pirates have. With the current infield in Pittsburgh all locked up and other options to step in in the future or off the bench, Moroff could end up the odd man out, but similarly to Garcia, could also benefit from a deal to give the 23 year old an extended chance in the bigs. Just as is the case for many of the high level players on this list so far, if the right situation comes around, deal him.
1B Jose Osuna, Indianapolis*: Since Osuna has broken out and become a productive player, he has always been blocked by somebody. Starting as an outfielder and moving to first base, there has always been a prospect seemingly better than Osuna. Now that the 23 year old has moved up to AAA, being selected in the Rule 5 draft (though he has been eligible before) is a real possibility. Osuna could become a true casualty of the roster crunch, as there's no reason to protect him on the 40 man roster, because of continually being blocked. Because of this, the Pirates previously using the same idea to help the club, and the fact that Edwin Espinal is a relatively similar player just a level below him, I'd believe Osuna could be the player on this list most likely to be traded come the end of this month.
RHP Trevor Williams, Indianapolis (24)*: Same story as Kuhl/Kingham/Brault. Another pitcher with good potential, but one that could be replaced without much trouble. The 24 year old seems similar to Adrian Sampson to me, both in value and as a pitcher, and he was traded at last season's deadline. Williams, the supposed compensation for the Marlins hiring Jim Benedict and Marc DelPiano from the Pirates front office over the winter, has had a decent season at AAA, but nothing that wows as much as the prospects who have been called up. I don't believe the Pirates would love to give up on Williams yet, but in the right scenario it is not a bad move.
OF Barrett Barnes (20)*/Harold Ramirez (7), Altoona: While I believe Barnes is far more likely to be dealt than Ramirez, as Barnes is again Rule 5 eligible and not as high of a prospect as Ramirez, but either one of these players could be moved without much harm. Both outfielders are similar in skill set, have been slowed by injuries at times, and won't have an open big league chance for the future in the Pirates outfield. Ramirez, 21, is someone who might be able to help hook a big fish in the trade market, but this might not be the year to move him. Barnes, 24, may still be unlikely to be selected in the Rule 5 draft just as last year, but similarly to Osuna it may be smart to move him if he can help bring in someone to help the club.
RHP Tyler Eppler, Altoona (28): Eppler hasn't done anything particularly outstanding since being drafted in 2014, but he hasn't done anything to harm his status either. One of the largely overlooked names in the organization, the 23 year old has moved up quickly and is putting together a nice season with the Curve thus far. If a club wanted him in a deal that would benefit the Bucs' big league club, the Pirates probably wouldn't think twice before dealing him. It's not always smart to give up good pitching, but the Pirates have plenty of it.
RHP Clay Holmes, Altoona (15)*: Holmes is similar to Barnes in that both were Rule 5 eligible and not selected but have put up good enough seasons to put some pressure on the Pirates. I would say Holmes is the most likely of the pitchers on this list to be dealt because of that distinction. The 23 year old has a 4.30 ERA in 17 starts, and likely still has work to do, especially because of missing a year due to Tommy John surgery from mid-2014 to mid-2015. The Pirates may not have the time or enough of a reason to keep Holmes around much longer if the chance comes up to move him.
LHP Brandon Waddell, Altoona: I put Waddell on the 'keep' list at first, but after shuffling around some of the other names, I don't believe it would severely harm the Pirates if Waddell was traded. A winner of the College World Series at Virginia before making his pro debut last August (at a game I was fortunate enough to attend) and the 22 year old has moved very quickly in the system, already in AA less than a year after that debut. 4 brilliant starts in Bradenton to start 2016 have led to some not-so-stellar results in 12 starts with the Curve, but Waddell, while still having plenty of time left to sharpen his skills, could be a good piece for a major league club to bring to the majors quickly and become a good pitcher. The Pirates almost never do that with their pitchers, but if another organization would like to, the Bucs shouldn't turn away from dealing him at the right price.
3B Kevin Kramer (22)/Jordan Luplow (26), Bradenton: Another pairing together as both Kramer and Luplow are also similar players at similar stages of development. Both have versatility outside of third base, with Kramer moving around the infield and Luplow a corner outfielder at times. Either of the 22 year olds, while nice pieces to have, would be easily replaceable in the system.
RHP Dario Agrazal, West Virginia (30): An All-Star, championship winning season in short-season ball isn't much to go by, as the ace pitcher for Morgantown had last year with a 2.72 ERA in 14 starts, but Agrazal also appears that with some work, he could become a solid prospect and eventually a good big league pitcher. I also initially had Agrazal on the 'keep' list, but with how much he still has left to develop, his struggles this season in West Virginia and the Pirates' knack for developing a lot of talented young pitchers into good prospects, it would make sense to include the 21 year old in a trade to benefit the big league club now. Agrazal's ETA is 2019, and at that time we would hope the Pirates system is still stacked with good pitching, whether the Panamanian righty is a part of it or not.
RHP Gage Hinsz, West Virginia (23): Hinsz, drafted in 2014, is commonly compared to two other pitchers from the same draft class. One of those is Keller, who is blossoming into what could become a high level prospect. The other; Trey Supak, moved as part of the trade for Jason Rogers. Hinsz, 20, will need a lot of patience and development if he will become a contributor to a major league ballclub, which means he will not have much value at this trade deadline. That being said, if someone wanted him included in a deal, I see no reason to turn them away, simply because pitching prospects with upside seem to be found quite often by the Pirates.
Obviously very few of the players listed on either side will be traded away, if any of them are at all. If this article shows us one thing, it's that the Pirates farm system, top to bottom, is still one of the strongest in all of baseball and should stay that way for years to come.
Pirates Prospects, MLB.com's Prospect Pipeline, Roster Resource, and Spotrac were used in compilation of this article.