Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports has a big rumor, saying that the Pittsburgh Pirates are emerging as a dark-horse candidate for Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester. He also says that one name at the center of trade talks is Josh Bell.
As we learned with last year’s Bud Norris situation, and the revelation of the Astros’ trade talks this year, having a guy like Bell mentioned in this rumor doesn’t necessarily mean the Pirates would deal him. Last year we heard a rumor that the Astros and Pirates were discussing Bud Norris, and that Tyler Glasnow made sense. We eventually found out that the Astros just wanted Glasnow, and the Pirates said no.
In Bell’s case, we don’t know the backstory, although the Red Sox have liked him in the past. In fact, they wanted him in the 2011 draft, but passed on him because they believed he was un-signable. Now that he’s starting to live up to the hype that he had on draft day, it only makes sense that they’d still be interested.
Bell would be a lot to give up for two months of Lester. I calculated Lester’s trade value at $12.9 M, using the same value that Jeff Samardzija received. Lester is only a two-month rental, and there’s no chance the Pirates will re-sign him, since he’ll probably cost over $20 M a year on the open market. Bell is emerging as a top 50 prospect, getting ranked in the 26-50 range. That gives him a trade value of $18.12 M, which is more than Lester. The Pirates could kill two birds with one stone by adding Andrew Miller, and that would be worth Bell from a value standpoint. But it would be a horrible move in the long-term.
With Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco in the outfield, Bell’s future is likely at first base. That could be as soon as next summer, depending on how quickly he adjusts to the upper levels. He’s off to a slow start at the Double-A level in his first 51 plate appearances, although Gregory Polanco didn’t exactly dominate in his time in Double-A last year, with a .263 average and a .762 OPS. Whether he arrives in 2015 or 2016, you could make the case that Bell is the first baseman of the future, with the upside to hit .300 and 25-30 homers per year. He’s got the potential to be a special bat, and that’s not the type of player the Pirates should be trading, especially for a two month rental.
UPDATE 3:41 PM: Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston says that any deal with the Pirates doesn’t necessarily revolve around Bell.
Any trade with Pittsburgh does not necessarily revolve around OF prospect Josh Bell
— Gordon Edes (@GordonEdes) July 29, 2014
UPDATE 3:46 PM: Passan says that the Red Sox don’t seem likely to re-sign Lester. So if you were wondering whether the Pirates had a chance, this should answer it.
Sentiment among competing executives is unanimous: The Red Sox realize the chances of re-signing Jon Lester are minuscule and will deal him.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 29, 2014
UPDATE 5:24 PM: Rob Biertempfel says that the cost for Lester would likely be two of the top 10 prospects. He mentions Josh Bell and Tyler Glasnow as an example. As I pointed out above, Bell would be a high price for Lester. Bell and Glasnow? That would be getting close to the value for David Price, who you’d have for 14 months.
UPDATE 8:42 PM: Tom Singer says that the Pirates are making their top guys off limits, mentioning Glasnow, Nick Kingham, Jameson Taillon, Bell, and Austin Meadows. He says the Pirates are trying to drum up the Red Sox interest in Alen Hanson, JaCoby Jones, and that Jose Tabata is a wild card in the talks. An interesting point tonight is that Tabata was a late scratch from the lineup in Indianapolis.