First Pitch: Finding a Middle Ground in the Jon Lester/Josh Bell Debate

The lead up to the trade deadline has been pretty bland so far. The Pirates are looking at relievers. The Pirates are looking at more relievers. They like A.J. Burnett, kind of, but don’t like his salary for 2015. More relievers. Interest in Marlon Byrd, for some reason. Relievers. Not really interested in Burnett anymore because of the 2015 salary. Just to specify: left-handed relievers.

And that was the way it was until this afternoon, when news came out that the Pirates were emerging as dark-horse candidates for Jon Lester. That’s a big rumor, but it’s not too far off what we’ve heard before, with the Pirates showing interest in Lester. The key difference here is that Josh Bell’s name was thrown in to the Passan rumors, which created an afternoon and evening of debates over a theoretical trade that would send Josh Bell to the Red Sox for two months of Jon Lester.

As Pat Lackey pointed out on Twitter today, this is the most divisive trade discussion for Pirates fans.

On one side you’ve got Jon Lester. Saying that he would help the Pirates is pointless. He would help any team. You can dream about the impact he could have on the rotation down the stretch. You can dream about him taking the ball in games one and five in the NLDS, and hopefully, his impact in the World Series. He’s gone at the end of the year, and there’s no chance the Pirates are re-signing him, especially after the Red Sox couldn’t reach a deal with him. But the chance that he could help win a World Series is tempting enough to ignore that he’s a rental. Especially when the division is so close, Milwaukee is falling back to earth, and the Cardinals and Reds have experienced major injuries.

On the other side, you’ve got Josh Bell, who is starting to break out this year and realize his upside. While the dreaming on Lester is short-term, the dreaming on Bell is long-term. He’s got the potential to be a .300 hitter with 25-30 homers a year, and could be up in a year or two. He doesn’t fit in the plans for the Pirates’ outfield, but his bat projects to be good enough to work at first base. You could dismiss this as projections that might never happen, or dismiss him as a prospect with no guarantees. But keep in mind that those are the same arguments made over the last few years about Gregory Polanco, Starling Marte, and Gerrit Cole. If the Pirates give up Bell for Lester, and don’t win it all, then Bell lives up to his potential, it could be a trade that haunts the Pirates for years.

In short, you’ve got a player that is good enough to allow you to dream about a World Series, and a prospect who could be good enough to provide an impact bat for 6.5 years, and might be too much to pay for a rental.

Of course we later heard that the Red Sox wanted Bell AND Tyler Glasnow, which takes this from “interesting debate” to “completely insane.” Then we heard that the Pirates don’t want to include top prospects like Bell and Glasnow. As we learned when the Astros trade discussions were revealed, we really don’t know much about what is going on behind the scenes. The Bell rumors might just be coming from Boston, even if the Pirates have no intention of dealing him.

But let’s talk about the concept of dealing Bell for Lester. The general reaction in these issues is to take a firm stance, and ignore that the other side of that stance has any valid points. I personally wouldn’t deal Bell for Lester. No matter who they’d trade for Lester, he would be a massive addition to the roster. He’d be worth about two wins over the remainder of the season, which is a significant boost that very few can match in a mid-season trade. That doesn’t count what he could contribute in the playoffs. But there’s a limit to what a player is worth, and Bell is over the limit for Lester (never mind Bell and other prospects). With my stance in mind, I want to look at both sides of the issue, since this isn’t as simple as saying “yes” or “no” to a trade idea.

The Idea That There is a Window and When to Cash In?

I don’t believe that small market teams have a window to compete. I think with the right moves, you can be competitive for the long-term. A lot of Pirates fans look at Andrew McCutchen’s contract as the window, guessing that they can’t compete when he’s gone. I think it’s definitely possibly for them to continue to be competitive beyond the 2018 season, as well as all of the years leading up to 2018. I think a big part of this is not only adding additional bats to take over for McCutchen, but also adding a good long-term pitching staff to rival the young talent level the Pirates have in their outfield right now.

Most fans don’t care about 2018. Or even 2015. They only care about now. Outside of answering questions about when a certain player could arrive, I don’t spend much time thinking about future years. It’s mostly pointless, since so many things can change in a year, two years, or more. But an MLB GM needs to at least have a rough guide of the future, the players who could be a part of that future, and the players who are expendable. They can’t make a move for 2014 and worry about anything after this season at a later date. And thus we get the balance between short-term needs and long-term needs.

The goal should be to reach the playoffs in as many years as possible. To paraphrase Billy Beane: the goal is to get to the playoffs, and anything after that is just luck.

The Pirates have a young team that only projects to get better in the future. They’ve got one of the most talented outfields in the majors, and when it all comes together, they could have the best outfield in the majors. They have a lot of talented young pitchers ready to come up in the next year or two, with some already in the majors. They’ve got top prospects like Bell, who could play first base, and Alen Hanson, who might be able to stick at shortstop, but could work at second base.

There’s nothing wrong with dealing a prospect to try and make a better run in one of those years. That’s not something the Pirates can afford to do every year, since it would basically create a short window for them to contend. So which year do you make that move? Or, in the case of the Lester talks, what is it about this year that makes it worth it to pay big for a rental?

One argument you could make is that the Pirates don’t project to need pitching in the future as much as they do now. Jameson Taillon could be in the majors by mid-season next year. Nick Kingham should definitely be in the majors by that point. Tyler Glasnow looks on pace to join them in 2016. They’ve got Adrian Sampson tearing it up in Altoona, and looking like a sleeper middle of the rotation guy, possibly arriving next year as well. And looking at the current rotation with Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke, and Vance Worley under control beyond the 2014 season, there might not be room for all of those pitchers. Or there would be extras in case of injuries.

So if there’s a year where it makes sense to deal for a top of the rotation guy, this year makes more sense than future years, where Gerrit Cole is more established, and other potential top of the rotation guys join the mix. That said, what about the cost?

Josh Bell’s Future With the Pirates, and the Limited Avenues to Get Impact Talent

It’s no surprise that the Red Sox would want Josh Bell. They’ve always wanted him. They wanted him in 2011, when he told every team not to draft him. They passed on him four times before the Pirates took him in the second round, believing he was un-signable. The Pirates gave him $5 M, which led to the Red Sox complaining, and then the draft getting changed.

The reason Bell got $5 M was because he was projected to be a guy who could hit for plus average with plus power. He’s starting to live up to that hype this year, showing the potential to eventually be a .300 hitter with 25-30 homers. That potential is what got him placed in the mid-season top 50 prospect lists.

Bell is a right fielder, but the Pirates don’t need a right fielder any time soon. They’ve got their outfield of the future set, and if Bell is to play a role in the future of the team, it will require one of two things: a move to first base, or a trade to make room for Bell. I’d say the bigger possibility would be a move to first base, which is a long-term need for the Pirates.

If first base wasn’t a need for the Pirates, then this might be a different story. Ike Davis hasn’t been the greatest pickup. The first base platoon will be getting more expensive in the coming years, which removes some of the benefit of having a platoon, rather than just paying for a good first baseman. The Pirates will never be a player for impact talent on the free agent market. They could go for impact talent on the trade market, but they’re giving up a lot of long-term talent for short-term rentals, like a deal for Lester. The best way for the Pirates to get impact talent is to develop their own.

It’s not a guarantee that Bell reaches his upside. But if the Pirates want an impact first baseman, Bell is their best chance. And based on the internal options, he’s one of the only chances they have. That’s not a player you can easily deal for a two month rental, even if that rental is a great player.

So who can you trade?

The Pirates have been stocking up on prospects over the last several years. In the last three years they’ve seen breakout players each year. It was Gregory Polanco and Alen Hanson in 2012. Tyler Glasnow broke out last year, and Nick Kingham emerged as a top prospect. Adrian Sampson and JaCoby Jones are starting to break out this year, while Josh Bell is starting to live up to expectations.

Eventually, the Pirates will reach a point where they’ve got an excess in prospects. We’re starting to see that with the outfield, and could start to see it with other positions in the not-too-distant-future. Some of that excess can be used for depth, while the excess can also be used for trades. Those trades could send prospects away that wouldn’t hurt the Pirates at all in the short-term or the long-term.

The rotation is close to that point. You can never have too many starting pitchers, but young starters do carry good value. It’s hard to see where Adrian Sampson fits in the rotation, either in the short-term or long-term. He’s a guy who could be expendable, although he probably wouldn’t carry top 100 prospect value. It’s possible he could be considered a Grade B pitching prospect, which would be worth $7.3 M.

The bigger value the Pirates might have could come from the shortstop position. Since the start of June, Jordy Mercer has a .295/.340/.421 line in 201 plate appearances. His defense at the shortstop position has been improved this year. He’s got a limited time in the majors, so it’s hard to say what is the real version. Is he the hitter he was last year, and since the start of June this year? Or were the first two months of this season more than just an outlier and a slump?

If Mercer can handle the shortstop position, then the Pirates won’t have a need there for a few years. That could be enough time to bridge the gap until JaCoby Jones arrives in the majors. That would make Alen Hanson a guy who could be traded. The risk here is that Jones might not stick at shortstop. But that’s also a risk with Hanson, due to his inconsistency and lack of focus on routine plays. You could trade either shortstop, but Hanson might have more value right now, since he’s widely considered a top 100 prospect, while Jones still has some question marks. The Pirates don’t seem to be making Hanson untouchable, based on all the rumors. I can’t say I’m surprised by this. Back when he was suspended for a week, I heard from a scout who offered up the comparison to Robbie Grossman. Back in 2012, Grossman received a similar week-long suspension for unknown reasons. Two months later, he was traded, despite still rating highly as a prospect.

The outfield is the big area where the Pirates don’t have a spot for the short or long-term. Bell could move to first base. Guys like Mel Rojas and Willy Garcia either aren’t established enough to be big trade pieces, or don’t have the upside to be big trade pieces. All of the rumors had Austin Meadows as someone who is untouchable by the Pirates, but he would make the most sense to deal if you’re dealing a top outfielder. Meadows also has the potential to be an impact bat. He could be the guy who eventually takes over for Andrew McCutchen. But you’re talking five years from now, in an organization that has had a lot of success developing outfielders. Five years ago, Starling Marte was just making the jump to the US, Andrew McCutchen was just entering the majors, and Gregory Polanco had just signed for $150,000. If you dealt Meadows, it might hurt in the long-run, but there’s plenty of time to find a replacement. The only way you’d regret the trade is if you think Meadows could be a mega star, or if you failed to develop a prospect to replace him.

What Would Happen if the Pirates Traded For Lester?

No matter what side of the debate you’re on, I think everyone can agree that a trade for Lester would be a huge boost for the Pirates. They’d get one of the top pitchers in the game this year. If Francisco Liriano continues pitching the way he has been pitching since the All-Star break, and if Gerrit Cole returns healthy and productive, then the Pirates could have a dangerous 1-2-3 down the stretch, and in the playoffs.

The question of Lester comes down to cost. If it’s the rumored Bell AND another prospect, then there’s no way he would be worth it, as you’d be sacrificing too much of your future. I think Bell alone would be too much. But there are top prospects you could deal to match Lester’s value, without hurting the team in the long-term.

That’s really the key to any deal for Lester. If the Pirates trade for him, they’re getting a great player for the rest of the season. The hope is that this wouldn’t be followed by years of great regrets for giving up way too much for a rental — even a very talented rental.

Links and Notes

**Pirates Emerging As Dark-Horse Candidate For Jon Lester; Josh Bell Involved?

**Jon Lester Scratched From His Start Tomorrow

**A.J. Burnett to the Pirates Probably Isn’t Happening

**Pirates Looking For a Left-Handed Reliever

**Rockies Plan to Keep LaTroy Hawkins

**Prospect Watch: Adam Frazier Breaks Long Homerless Drought, Joely Rodriguez Pitches Great in Relief

**Minor League Schedule: Nick Kingham Looks to Rebound From Tough Outing

**Prospect Highlights: Homer From Stetson Allie, Key RBI by Reese McGuire

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • ClayDog

    Good analysis, Tim, though I reach a different conclusion. Living in the Boston area, I’ve had an opportunity to watch Lester closely over the years and I drool at the thought if having him for the stretch run and post-season. As you recognize, adding as our new ace will allow us to match up very well in the postseason (assuming we get there) against other teams’ numbers 2-4, with Liriano, Cole, Morton and/or Locke or Worley. In short, with Lester and the Pirates continuing to swing the hot bats, there is a REAL shot at winning the NL pennant and more (I can’t even say it). Bell may turn out to be a strong ML player, but he could be a bust, too. I don’t agree that he had the same cache or production as Cole or Polanco at the same points in their careers. Bell is currently batting just above the Mendoza line in AA, while Polanco and Cole faired much better than that. I know it’s still early for him, but your comparison to Marte seems more appropriate, and I’m still not convinced that he will be a top ML outfielder, given the few holes in his game. So, I’d rather try to win it all now with a team that has the talent to do so than imagine the team can be even better in a few years, without Lester, if we just wait for Bell to emerge. It’s been 35 years since a Pirates Parade. Why wait?

    • Steve Williams

      Why wait? Because even with Lester the Bucs’ shot of winning the WS is still not very high. Statistically the best shot to win a WS is to make the playoffs multiple times, as opposed to putting a lot of your eggs in one basket and weakening the future.

      • jaygray007

        my argument isn’t about WS vs a round 1 exit.

        my argument is about making the playoffs vs not. that extra win or 2 have an extremely high chance of making all the difference.

        and if they’re in a position in the future where they wouldn’t be in the playoffs unless they had josh bell at 1b, then something will have went terribly terribly wrong in the grand plan.

        This is all assuming that Bell is all they give up. anything more and i say no.

      • squeper

        Perhaps the Pirates are also looking to satisfy the need for someone to pitch the play-in game. That’s where you need an ace: take a look at Billy Beane’s recent comments when asked about acquiring Samardzija and Hammel. He said that they were brought in to keep him out of a play-in game where he’d have to face “that guy up in Seattle”, almost certainly referring to Felix Hernandez, who could carry an otherwise mediocre team for one crucial game.

  • Michael Jameson

    This argument around the trade deadline should change everry year for the Pirates but too often Pirate fans think every year is the same. They look at it as black and white, the future or now. With each year not only have the Pirates played better as a team grows up together, the holes in the starting lineup and the bench begin to close. No longer do we have to wonder what Polanco will do against MLB pitching or if Tony Sanchez can play every day at Catcher. This time last year we had a hole in RF and 1B. Now it is down to 1B. The Pirates have to keep developing tallent for years to come but trading Bell for Lester makes sense to me. The Pirates are playing thier best ball of the year now and seem to have their bullpen figured out, at least at the back end. Their starting pitching has been tremendous but it is not good enough for September baseball and the playoffs. You need big time starters to pitch in September and October and a Lirano, Lester, Cole 1-2-3 would be just that.

    • John Lease

      Polanco is hitting .243. That’s not ‘closed’. There is no point giving away a potential all star though for a two month rental of Lester.

      • Michael Jameson

        Everyone is a potential all star until they are not.
        Tabata is still a potential all star. I would rather take my chances that
        Polanco hitting .243 in MLB vs Josh Bell hitting .217 in AA is the answer to
        right field for the future. At some point you have to take a chance, and
        taking a chance not sacrificing the future is a great idea.

        • R Edwards

          To be fair to Bell, he doesn’t even have 100 ABs at AA yet – a little early to be making a conclusion on his average to date. Polanco had his struggles when he first got to AA as well. That being said, I do agree – I would trade Bell before I would trade Polanco.

        • John Lease

          I would never trade a full time starter(or one who looks like a cinch to be so) for a 2 month rental of a starting pitcher. Ever.

    • https://profiles.google.com/100212786463678215436 Nathan Swartz

      But, surely you’d be ok with it if they could deal Hanson (who I like) instead of Bell, yes?

      “Now it is down to 1B. The Pirates have to keep developing talent for years to come.”

      You just gave the two best arguments to KEEP Josh Bell. They aren’t going to sign a power 1B thru FA and it’d be difficult to draft one in the late 1st round that would be here ANYTIME soon.

      If there are other avenues to Lester, the Bucs have to go the alternate route.

  • pilbobuggins

    The pirates offer is hanson or jones and tabata if either carp or a reliever is added. I would have to think the deal would also have to include an b or c level pitching prospect. Reports also say a deal should be done by this morning. It looks like the pirates are the front runner here as the dodgers don’t want to give top prospects and are reportedly more interested in hamels. The cards are supposedly offering tavares,miller and a comp. pick for price and appear set on him. That leaves the bucs with the best hand. If the cards do indeed get price the bucs would need lester to keep pace. If the cards don’t get price then the pirates have the inside track for the division crown as well as a very good chance for the first world series title since pop’s was king. If the deal turns out to be hanson,tabata and a pitching prospect then the pirates can more than afford it without mortgaging the future. Get this done nh, we want the ring!!!

  • John Lease

    The outfield isn’t set. You play your best players. I wouldn’t trade Bell for a two month rental of Cy Young, and hopefully neither will the Pirates.

  • st1300b

    I look at things from an impact perspective when it comes to prospects. There’s a difference from offering impact players and offering players that are valuable.
    For example Bell, etc are impact players – others like T. Sanchez, Rojas, Lambo, types can all be effective players – possibly having impact years – and are the kind I would offer in trades.
    You can’t, if your the Bucs, offer players who are elite talents in trades – ever – IMO – as they are the foundation of our teams future competitiveness.
    Alvarez and a Sampson for an Arreanado from Colorado is a deal I would do though. Alvarez – who I’ve long supported – is a player I think needs a new address. A quality player like Arreanado would be a player I’d feel good about long term. He seems like a Scott Rolen type to me.

    • enrique romo

      I can’t agree with you more about Alvarez. Would love Arreanado. How about Alvarez for Middlebrooks in the Lester deal?

    • bucsws2014

      Why would the Rockies even consider that? Especially if they’re considering dealing Tulo.

      IMO, the market for Pedro is very limited. ATL, Angels, KC, Detroit. That’s probably it. NYY were there, but they got Headley.

    • Steve Williams

      There is NO way the Rockies would even consider an Arenado for Alvarez and Sampson deal.

  • https://profiles.google.com/100212786463678215436 Nathan Swartz

    Stop thinking of Bell as an OF. he will not be. They have every intention of making him the 1B. The only reason he is still in the OF is for appearance value to other teams, just in case. It also allows him to focus solely on getting his bat where it needs to be and not worry about a new position, yet.

    1st is such a gaping hole, they won’t trade him. But the draft of Tucker, the possible emergence of Jones, decent play of Mercer, and the recent douchebaggery of Hanson have all but punched his ticket…if the Sox will bite.

    Sampson, Tabata, and one other minor piece seem logical fits to fill it out. Not sure how Miller or Carp would factor in, if at all.

    I don’t think NH would sell a possible switch hitting power first baseman that can also hit for a solid average. And stop using his AA sample as negative proof, soooo SSS.

    I hope the Cards focus on Price, and fail to get him. Their comp pick offer is a wash. They would get it back when Price walks. But a Wainwright, Wacha, Price rotation is scary. Hopefully, the Rays keep on winning.

    • leowalter

      It is pretty certain Wacha will not be back this season.

      • https://profiles.google.com/100212786463678215436 Nathan Swartz

        I know. Was thinking next year.

  • bucsws2014

    Tim, as much as you disagree with the concept of a “window”, IMO, it certainly does exist, and, unless the Bucs are confident they’re re-signing Martin, that window is right now. You’re correct in that the pitching (on paper) is probably more solid in 2015-on. But w/o Martin, catching drops precipitously – which may well negatively affect the pitchers.

    So my immediate concern is whether the FO’s willingness to sign an expensive rental pitcher and go all-in for 2014 is a signal that Martin will not be with us in 2015.

    • jaygray007

      it’s not like the pirates’ only good prospect is Bell. Trading Bell is by no means punting on 2015.

      I’m concerned they won’t bring back Martin as well, but I disagree that bringing in Lester would have any negative effect on their thoughts about bringing Martin back.

    • Steve Williams

      The window is the next 6-8 years, unless NH closes it by making a dumb, short-term deal.

      • jaygray007

        they can do 1 dumb short term deal. they just can’t do it every single year.

      • bucsws2014

        Technically, the window could be “forever” if the Pirates continue to have success developing players. That does not mean that in some years they will be better positioned to go for it all than other years. And a team with Martin at C >>>>> a team with T. Sanchez at C. Add to that the real possibility that Liriano is back to 2013 strength as opposed to relying on 1st year pitchers in 2015, there should be little question that the 2014 team is better positioned to go for the brass ring than 2015 will be.

  • jaygray007

    Another point… the future of every single position doesn’t have to come from the farm system.

    i’ll even loosen that statement to… the future of every single position doesn’t have to be in the farm system right now. can always go get a true 1b prospect in a trade.

    basically the difference between having josh bell at 1b and buying a FA for 1b in a few years is the cash monayyyyy.

    we are pretty sure that they’ll be able to fill the team almost entirely through young players in a few years. McGuire C, Hanson 2b, Jones SS, let’s throw in an expensive Walker for 3b, a not that expensive marte for LF, Austin Meadows for CF, a not that expensive Polanco for RF, and a young rotation where Cole still isnt that expensive.

    That payroll is miniscule. I propose that even if they have to fill 1b with a $15 mil free agent, it will still be under their payroll ceiling. Or what their payroll ceiling should be.

    Bell at 1b can definitely win you the $/ WAR Competition. But your only goal should really be to fit the most talent onto your roster as you can while staying under your payroll ceiling. win the talent / total payroll competition. And the pirates have so much talent coming in the minor leagues that even if they trade away the future at one of the positions, it won’t hurt them to go splurge in the FA market for an equally talented but more expensive option. whether that’s Bell the 1b or jacoby jones at ss or whatever.

    so while it’d be getting rid of a lot of value of young slugger 1b josh bell, the Pirates are in a good enough position that plugging a few holes with FA won’t/shouldn’t be a problem, just like filling a few holes with FA haven’t been a problem recently.

    • moose7195

      Do you know what team you’re talking about? They don’t normally bring in guys from free agency. They avoid it like it’s small pox. That’s why it has to be the farm that feeds the lineup. The FO won’t do anything else

      • jaygray007

        the lineup i suggested wasn’t fed by the farm? i suggested 1 FA addition lol.

        and this team currently has russ martin, a 1b platoon, 4/5 of a rotation, half a bench, and half a bullpen that wasn’t home grown whether it be by trade or FA.

        • moose7195

          So only one everyday player. And none of those pitchers are here long term. Thank you for making my point.

          • jaygray007

            A FA 1b doesn’t have to be here long term either

  • John

    Let’s look at this as the gamble it would be. Lester increases the chances for the Pirates moving forward in the post season. But how much percentage wise and it will take more than Bell also. Now what percentage of reaching and winning the WS if we gut the farm system and get a right fielder and third baseman also will increase the odds but there are no guarantees.And even if the Pirates go all in then they can be a laughingstock for another 20 years. I see a lot of fans giving up on Polanco like he should automatically have 20 hrs and 60 rbi’s by now and have 15 outfield assists. His growing pains don’t worry me because I see a smart hard working kid with a good attitude.

  • R Edwards

    Although anything is possible, in my opinion, adding Lester still does not make the Pirates a serious World Series contender. They just have too many other flaws – namely first base and in the bullpen. You could also say that LF and RF are not exactly positions of strength right now.

    If the Pirates had a real chance at re-signing Lester, I would not have a problem trading a Josh Bell to get him. But for a two month rental? No way. In two short years, we will likely not have a World Series championship and we will regret trading a guy with so much power potential.

    For a two month rental, I would offer up some combination of 2-3 from the list of Tabata, Rojas, Sampson, Cumpton, and Harold Ramirez. That is not likely to get it done however.

    • Dave

      How much stronger would Lester make the bull pen? If he I throwing 7-8 inning every time he goes out there, then you are not using the weaker pieces of the bull pen as much. If he has a bad outing an the Pirates are getting tagged, does it really matter if frieri gives up 15 runs in 3 innings?

      • has5025

        Also, we add one of our SP to the bullpen and get rid of a guy that doesnt make the cut (Firestarter Frieri?)

    • S Brooks

      Every contending team in the NL has flaws. The Dodgers have execrable up-the-middle defense and 3/4 of their OF rotation (Crawford, Kemp and Ethier) COMBINED have produced less than Sterling Marte. The Cardinals are getting next to zero production from 2B and RF, and also have 3 poor defenders in the OF. The Braves are getting nothing out of CF and are relying on David Hale and Aaron Harang to continue to pitch above their peripherals. The Brewers are getting nothing from SS and the cracks are showing in their pitching staff – 4.04 ERA in July is 11th in the 15 team NL. The Giants are weak at 2B, LF and Matt Cain is visiting Dr. Andrews. Only the Nationals are pretty set around the diamond – whoops, there goes Ryan Zimmerman’s hamstring, a Grade 3 tear that may keep him out the rest of the season. Say hello to Danny Espinosa, replacement 2B.

      There’s a reason the NL is tightly packed 2/3 of the way through the season. It’s wide open, there for the taking. Is it just a fluke that the Bucs have taken the season series from the Dodgers, Giants, are basically even with the Cardinals (6-7), are even in RS/RA with the Brewers (you can thank 3 blown saves in the 9th for the lopsided record) and took 3 of 4 from the Nats?

      I don’t like Lester for Bell, but let’s not pretend the future of the franchise rests on Josh Bell’s shoulders. The team seems to be doing just fine, even with the replacement production from 1B. Adding an ace like Lester will allow the Bucs to go toe-to-toe with any NL team’s front 3 in a short series – Lester, Frankie, Cole.

      • R Edwards

        I agree 100% that all of the NL teams have flaws – we could debate whether they are worse or less than the Pirates’ flaws. But, if the idea of getting Lester is to win it all, I think we fall short if we are in a series with Oakland, LA Angels, or Baltimore – especially in their ballpark with the DH.
        I would agree with you about Bell, but we’re not taking about a straight Bell for Lester deal – that would be a no brainer. We’re talking about a potential Bell, plus maybe 2 more top end prospects (say Kingham and Ramirez), for Lester deal. I would rather miss the playoffs this year, and avoid a short sighted trade like that – and remain a very strong contender for the next several years. Its too steep a price for 2 months of a guy, who likely will turn around and re-sign with Boston next Winter.

        • S Brooks

          Set aside winning the WS for the moment. If Lester is the difference between winning and losing the NLDS – and taking the hill twice in a 5-game series, he very well could be – it generates another $10-$15M in revenue from ticket sales in the NLCS. If he helps the Bucs get to the world series – win or lose – that’s worth another $15M-$25M. That more than pays for the disparity in trade value.

          • R Edwards

            True, but it doesn’t replace the prospects traded away.

            regardless, I am hearing now that Orioles and Red Sox are close on a trade for Lester….

            • S Brooks

              Of course it does. It replaces them with major league free agents. Josh Bell is “worth” $18m in surplus trade value because that’s the difference between what the Pirates will pay for his 6.5 years of expected production and what that production would be worth on the open market. If trading him away nets you an additional $18m in cash, you can spend that money on or toward an upgrade on your major league team. It’s a wash.

              BTW note the retractions related to Baltimore being “close.” Also note the asking price has been clarified.

              • R Edwards

                In theory yes, in practice – as far as the Pirates are concerned -no. The Pirates do not have a strong track record of making that level of investment in free agents. Other than Russell Martin of course.

                • S Brooks

                  That may have been true of the pre-2012 Pirates, but not the post-2012 Pirates, who have signed Martin, Frankie ($12.75), and offered James Loney ~$21M over the last two off-seasons. They haven’t done this before because they weren’t in a position to. It makes no sense for a small market team to spend free agent dollars to improve a 70-win team because the ROI is negative. You spend $20M, you expect to get 4 extra wins, but what does going from 70 to 74 wins get you? Very little for ticket sales and ancillaries. Fans don’t start showing up until you get to .500. Bad investment.

                  But take a contending team, put $20M into it, and the 4 wins that take you from, say, 85 to 89 kick off a 2x-3x return on investment, and that doesn’t even account for playoff revenue. It makes good business sense to spend money on winning, as long as you’re at a good point on that win curve. Nutting knows this. Coonelly knows this. Huntington knows this. They’ve said as much for 3 years – get competitive, fans start showing up, the front office starts expanding payroll. Don’t forget they also committed $52M – $85M to Morton and Marte in extensions that bought out free agent years.

                  The Pirates will spend their windfall from a deep playoff run on player payroll – whether through extensions or fee agency. They’ll do it because it allows the team to keep contending and a contending team makes Mr. Nutting a richer man.

  • scrappy2499

    I’m starting to develop the opinion that Bell may be the feature piece from the Pirates side of the trade with Lester being the feature piece from Boston…I do not believe that it will be Bell + for just Lester. If Bell goes then I suspect that Lester + comes back this way…Also, I keep hearing Bell at 1st, but isn’t he athletic enough to handle 3rd?

  • wkkortas

    I would disagree that small market teams do not or should not operate with the idea that they have certain “windows” to contend in–as Tim notes in his article, the Pirates have “limited avenues” to acquire impact players. To expect a team to be both always correct in evaluating amateur talent and being lucky in terms of development and injuries is a lot to ask. A trade for Lester would be like the Sabathia deal for the Brewers a few years back–it’s just about as high-risk/high-reward as you can get. It’s a World-Championship-or-bust move; if Lester gets you to the playoffs and wins four or five games in the postseason to get you to the promised land…well, there’s a sginificant percentage of Pirate fans who’ve never known a World Series title, and Flags Fly Forever. If you make that trade and you don’t win it all, it’s a failure.

  • https://www.facebook.com/clementewall21 N_Cap

    Just don’t think bell goes in the trade… People are just assuming its him because he is out biggest OF prospect who we have flexibility to move

  • wilbert matthews

    Good piece Tim. You drank your coffee first on this one. One thing I’m curious about, is Tony Sanchez someone other clubs are interested in? It seems like we have added depth at catching in our system. If Martin were to be signed, this would allow us to move Sanchez. Could you discuss the trade value for Alvarez sometime? He seems destined for the American League. would there be any interest in a 30/100 guy who bats 220?

  • Benjamin Sonnet

    Alvarez, Hanson, Tabata and Frieri for Lester and Middlebrooks?

    • https://profiles.google.com/100212786463678215436 Nathan Swartz

      Middlebrooks is GARBAGE. He is Pedro minus 25 hr

    • wilbert matthews

      No, we want Carp back, and Miller from the Bullpen

  • Monsoon Harvard

    Boston has said they would like to get an established arm in the deal and I wonder if Stolmy Pimentel might be someone they have interest in getting back to help make up for the Joel Hanrahan debacle.

    • letsgopitt123

      Agree. I believe Hanson(possibly plus a few fillers) would be the one to go.

  • moose7195

    Good article Tim. But the point of any debate is to entrench people deeper in their own views. I can’t see the sense in overpaying. The world doesn’t end if they don’t get Lester, nor does it end if they fall a little bit short of the playoffs. This is a good team that will get better next year. There is plenty of time to see exactly what you have with prospects like Bell. Why throw that away, because we’ve suffered through terrible 1B play for nearly a decade

    • jaygray007

      but is having to buy a FA 1b in a few years instead of going with Bell the end of the world either?

      it would be if the rest of the team was going to be super expensive in a few years, but the rest of the team is going to be inexpensive in a few years.

      that’s what they gotta balance i guess.

      • moose7195

        When have they ever shown a willingness to buy anything??? If I thought they would actually bring in a serious 1B, then I would be much much more open to moving Bell, because then you actually have nowhere to put his very talented bat

        • jaygray007

          over the past few years, they’ve bought things every time there’s been a gaping hole. which hasn’t been toooooo often. Martin, Burnett, Liriano, every trade deadline deal for the past few years, Ike Davis (who obviously hasn’t been great so far).

          my only point is that the future 1b doesnt haaaave to be in the system right now.

          • https://profiles.google.com/100212786463678215436 Nathan Swartz

            Who are all of these available, awesome, remotely affordable 1B you folks are thinking about? Adams? Rizzo? Even a few years down the road (looking at FA lists as well as prospect lists) I don’t see anyone.

            Take a look around. We have a 30 hr 3B and a prospect w/ similar power that could be on the other end of the diamond that shouldn’t need a platoon.

            • jaygray007

              just last year they would have had a perfectly fine 1b situation if Garrett Jones had just done what he was capable of.

  • Curtis

    Bell for Lester wouldn’t be the end of the world, but I don’t think it would be in our best interests. I’d rather see the Pirates buy-low on Justin Masterson. His current ERA will scare a lot of teams but he is a prototype Pirates starter with good strikeout and ground ball numbers, he’s been repeatedly victimized by a dreadful Indians defense.

    • Bucco_Joe

      Bell by himself will not be enough for Lester, it will take Hanson + Bell minimum. Neal and company will never offer this much for a rental. Lester shouldn’t be a rental for this organization, but they will never, regardless of what the attendance figures show, pay the kind of money that is required to obtain a top of the rotation starter who is going into free agency. I doubt they pay the money to keep Martin. The building process of the Pirates continues, and Nutting is more than happy to bank his profits, and not reinvest them into the baseball team.

  • NorCalBuc

    KEEP the top shelf prospects. Worley, Locke and Morton are more than adequate to follow Cole and Francisco in the rotation.

    • Bucco_Joe

      Translation: Why attempt to win a World Series this year, there is always next year.
      The Bank of Nutting thanks you for your support.

      • NorCalBuc

        READ what I wrote, not what you translate. I feel it is not worth shipping out 5 Tool talent of six years for two months.

  • leadoff

    I wonder how bad the Cards, Pirates and Brewers want to get Lester to keep the other one from getting him?
    From all I read I have no idea what the Pirates are willing to give up for Lester or what the Sox have to have for Lester. IMO, the Pirates are in competition for Lester and a lot depends on what the Sox can get from the Brewers or the Cards, IMO, they are very much in the Lester sweepstakes. The only thing I have not head is what the Sox want from them, we know they would love to have Bell in a trade with the Bucs.

  • jiminnc

    You don’t get Jon Lester by giving away only players you will never miss. Bell plus Glasnow is way too much, but Bell plus one of those guys you will never miss would work. Maybe expand to see what else they are willing to give. Their AAA 1b is hitting .297 .374 .517 combined in AA and AAA. Get a post-season reliever.

  • impliedi

    Awesome article, as usual, Tim! My immediate gut reaction when I heard these rumors was to say “no way do you trade Josh Bell. For anybody.”

    I still feel that way!

    I think part of the issue in this debate is that some people look at organizational depth while including the guys in the majors, and some do not. So, some see a stocked outfield on the major league team, and therefore think that Bell is expendable. Personally, I ignore the major league team when I think about organizational depth. So I only see Meadows, Bell and Ramirez, and I don’t think about McCutchen, Marte, and Polanco (since anyone of those could get injured or see a significant decline in results, and the depth is what you turn to if that happens).

    I would feel much more comfortable trading a top-level pitching prospect, because I feel the Pirates have more of them. All other things being equal, I’d rather trade one of Taillon, Kingham or Glasnow in just about any trade over a Meadows or Bell (I’d prefer not to trade any of them!!!) simply because of the perceived pitching depth in the minors over the hitting depth. Even if that pitcher that you trade becomes a perennial Cy Young winner and Bell becomes a washout, I’d feel better because there are other pitching options (while much fewer position player replacements).

    To me it’s about the combination of quality AND quantity of the prospects at each position, and not about trading a prospect because he’ll be blocked at the major league level for the foreseeable future.

  • Jordhu

    This is, by far, the best analysis of the Pirates’ current trade situation I’ve read. I DEFINITELY agree that trading Josh Bell and another major prospect is too costly for a player we have no chance whatsoever of signing for next year. It will be much more difficult to secure a wild card slot this year than last with not only competition from within our division but also the records of other NL teams such as Atlanta and San Francisco. Also, I strongly believe that securing a “rental” pitcher like Lester only makes sense if we also secure someone capable of hitting in the clean-up slot. Hurdle has been creative in covering up the lack of a bona fide clean-up hitter to make it more difficult for teams to pitch around Cutch, but this deficiency needs to be addressed (as in the acquisition of Marlon Byrd last year) if we hope to increase our chances of making the playoffs and beyond. In fact, I’d have absolutely no problem with renting Byrd again this year as long as we don’t have to give up too much to get him (I suspect that he’d prefer coming to Pgh over many other possible options). One last thought — I wonder what it’d take to pry Tulowitski away from the Rockies and how long he’s under contract? Paying the price to get a SS like him would be worth it even if we don’t make the playoffs or win the World Series as long as the Pirates could be reasonably sure of having him for the next 2+ years.