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Sunday, December 4, 2022

First Pitch: The Difficult Decision in Trading Top Prospects

Ever since the Jose Quintana rumors started, I’ve been saying the Pirates have the prospects to make a deal. They’ve got enough depth in the upper levels of the minors, and throughout their system, that they could unload a few prospects and really not feel much in the short-term or the long-term. It would probably hurt to see some prospects performing well eventually with another organization. But the Pirates have enough depth that they should have a young player of their own performing in Pittsburgh at the same spot.

My thought was that the perfect combination of prospects to get Quintana would be Tyler Glasnow and Josh Bell. It’s not that I feel those two prospects don’t have a future in the majors. It’s that the Pirates have enough depth to make them expendable.

Glasnow still has a lot of upside, but if the Pirates pulled off a Quintana trade, they’d have Gerrit Cole, Quintana, Jameson Taillon, and Ivan Nova under control as a group for at least the next three years. And Glasnow might need some further time to develop before he gets close to his potential, so you might not be losing much in the short-term by trading him.

I think Bell has a lot more upside than we’ve seen so far with the bat, which would be expected since he has only had a partial season as a rookie to show what he can do. But I think his bat could provide an impact. The problem is that I’m less optimistic about his defense, and feel that will drag his overall value down. Bell has a chance to be really exciting with the bat, and really not exciting defensively, which would make him about a 2-3 WAR player at best. The Pirates have David Freese under control for the next three years, and while there isn’t a lot exciting about his game, he can get you 2 WAR. They also have Will Craig and other first base options in the minors as future starting candidates down the line.

So the Pirates could afford to lose those two top prospects. They wouldn’t really miss them in the short-term, with players in the system who are capable of matching or at least coming close to their overall production. It might sting in the long-term to see them elsewhere, but the Pirates should have options who could match their long-term production as well.

But there’s something about actually seeing the players this week that has me playing Devil’s Advocate. It’s probably more the emotional side, since I’ve been covering Bell and Glasnow for about six years now, and charting their progress every step of the way, but part of me wonders if the Pirates would be better off keeping their prospects. That part speaks up when I watch Josh Bell in the batting cages and remember how far his swing has come along, or watch him in the field and dream about the seemingly unlikely possibility that he could become a good defender, or good enough to warrant keeping.

While I haven’t seen Glasnow do anything other than throwing programs this week, I’m reminded that I have been signing the praises of his future potential for years now. And while I do have concerns about him in the short-term, and don’t consider his long-term upside a guarantee, I still think that if everything clicks for him, he would have more upside than anyone in the organization. That would include Jose Quintana, if they got him.

It’s definitely the emotional side speaking here, but that side brings up some good points. Think about it this way: Quintana is a safe bet and quietly one of the better pitchers in the game right now. Prospects aren’t guaranteed, but there’s a chance that a Glasnow/Bell combo could be much better than Quintana. It’s why these trades work. One team gets as close to guaranteed production as you can get, and the other team takes on more risk, with the chance of getting more production than they would have had with the other player.

That high risk/high reward approach is also something the Pirates have used to fuel their success the last few years. They could have traded Starling Marte, Gerrit Cole, Gregory Polanco, Jameson Taillon, or any number of top prospects to get a safe bet. Instead, they went for the risky options like A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Edinson Volquez, J.A. Happ, and Ivan Nova. It not only worked out for them on the pitching side, but they kept their prospects.

So why not go with the same approach of high risk and high reward? Glasnow and Bell have value, and might have more value than Quintana. That’s the kind of gamble that has worked so well for the Pirates in the past.

The flip side to this is that Quintana is a very good pitcher. I’ve seen the “he’s pitched four years of 200 innings” arguments, or the expectations that he will break down. I think that’s mostly because he flew under the radar, and his production is largely unexpected. If his last name was Price or Bumgarner, you wouldn’t be hearing the same arguments about how risky he is. And if he was on the Pirates right now, and they had David Freese and John Jaso at first base, along with one of their many non-Glasnow starters for the fifth spot, I don’t think you would consider trading Quintana for Bell and Glasnow.

Overall, the Pirates would be choosing between one player who is among the top at his position, versus two players who could combine to be the better package, with a smaller chance at either one of them being better than Quintana at some point. I still think going for Quintana would be the smart move, especially when you consider the other players in the organization. But it’s not exactly a slam dunk, and I think you could easily make a compelling argument that the Pirates are fine rolling the dice with their top prospects instead.

**Josh Bell Slimmed Down After Advice From Joey Votto. My article on Bell from earlier today, looking at his conditioning plans for the upcoming season.

**Fangraphs Releases List of Top 21 Pirates Prospects. John Dreker reviews the latest prospect list to come out.

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Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.


Pirates Prospects has been independently owned and operated since 2009, entirely due to the support of our readers. The site is now completely free, funded entirely by user support. By supporting the site, you are supporting independent writers, one of the best Pittsburgh Pirates communities online, and our mission for the most complete Pirates coverage available.

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Steve Zielinski

Bell & Glasgow for Quizno?

Another stupid move by a FO that has lost it’s nerve.

Robert Reznik

Somehow I have a problem with a poor defensive firstbaseman being capped at 2-3 WAR. I guess I am behind the times but I am finding it hard to believe the defensive metrics these days. I mean I haven’t watched as many games as some but I am feeling like the defensive metrics have been too harsh on some like Jordy Mercer

Robert Reznik

In terms of 2017 the uncertainty in Kang is a factor. Think of how shallow we would be if we traded Bell and Kang is in jail or something.


They’re called prospects because they haven’t done anything to establish themselves in the majors and their ranking comes from potential. At this point, by getting Quintana, as Tim has mentioned, you’re looking at having on of the top rotations in baseball for the next three years. Pitching, or more specifically starting pitching, is how you win in the majors, period.

The everyday lineup is stable enough that with that rotation you can talk confidently about winning the division, not just playing for a wildcard spot every year. This trade is a no-brainer if it’s Glasnow, Bell and Newman, I would even trade meadows as long as you’re not trading bell as well.

Scott K

And that’s why you’re not a GM. Three of top 5 prospects is too much for a small market team to pay.

Bill C

NH is not trading Bell. He outmaneuvered all of MLB when he drafted & signed him, his debut was enormously promising, and filling 1B with a solid, long-term starter been his White Whale during his tenure .

John W

Saying “you can get 2 WAR” out of David Freese doesn’t tell whole story. The fact he has produced 2 WAR the last few years as a 3b should not be used to assume he will produce 2 WAR as a 1b a year older. IIRC he is actually projected at .4 WAR. So sure he “could” get you 2 WAR but projections are finding that highly unlikely.

joe s

Pitchers get hurt and the three years might be reduce to as little as one. Keep the prospects and place glasnow in the number 5 spot in the rotation and let him learn on the job. For every bad start you will get a good or great one. Just him a dam chance to succeed.


Keep Glasnow in AAA until he decides to throw his changeup and develop it, instead of having his coaches try to force him to use it.

Scott K

Most likely outcome is what you suggest.

Joe Nastasi

I agree, no way I’m giving up Bell or Meadows & WS isn’t taking anything less. Walk away.


Likely a game of ‘chicken’ between Rich Hahn (who declined to interview with Bucs prior to NH hire) and NH. NH history suggests he won’t blink. Once camps open and the risk to injury become very real, Sox seem smart enough to make a move with the best offer out there. They’ve shown their hand and are the least leveraged party. Just don’t see how holding out is going to net them significantly more, though holding out can backfire terribly. Somewhat similar to our Cutch situation in that each was hung out there, but Cutch staying (or going) can have high short term upside on a contending team…depending on the deal. Q staying doesn’t give the Sox much short term upside than they already have.


I am beginning to think that when determining WAR, that defense is being weighed too heavily. I do believe that it is a factor, but if you are saying that a batter slashing .300/,400/.500 can have defense bad enough that they could be a 2-3 WAR player, regardless of their defensive position, I find that hard to believe.
Take Cutch last year, he was, by his standards, bad offensively last year. Still he put up 2 OWAR. He was also bad defensively, but was he so bad that he was below replacement level? I’m not buying it. That would mean we would have been roughly 4 games better with Kevin Pillar playing CF for us. I am not arguing that defense does not carry value, in some cases a lot of value, but I think it is more of a sliding scale than a hard number.


I read something somewhere that the White Sox want 3 elite prospects for Quintana, but I am not sure where (Chicago paper?).

If that is the case, forget it.

But, even if that is not true, I don’t think we’re getting JQ. I just feel like the ChiSox ARE holding out for a King’s Ransom.

michael t

“three elite prospects” came from Yankees GM when he explained why they turned away.


I guess if other teams felt that was a fair price for the Q, he’d already be gone. The White Sox, now that they are rebuilding, are best served trading the Q so maybe other teams can just wait until the price comes down.

Zack Nagel

I agree with you. I keep thinking that maybe Sale could have been had for what the Pirates have offered for Quintana already and if that is the case, I would have much rather had less time of Sale…


“Bell has a chance to be really exciting with the bat, and really not exciting defensively, which would make him about a 2-3 WAR player at best” – I really think within a couple years, he’ll be a replacement level fielder and a 4 WAR offensive threat. There really is no reason why he can’t reach that, so 2-3WAR at best is really selling him short. 2-3 WAR is probably the most likely outcome, but it certainly isn’t “at best”

Chris M

I think if u can make a quintana deal without Meadows or Bell you make it. The Bucs lack power and the possibility of losing cutch by trade and Kang to his legal problems creates an almost completely singles type lineup. Dealing a Glasnow and Keller or Newman is coming from depth, but you need Bell and Meadows to be in your lineup. I’m also not particularly high on an aging Freese who fell off the cliff in the 2nd half last season. Keep in mind the prospects lost we could in theory get back by trading Quintana in his last year of his contract. Imagine the value a few years from now as pitching contracts continue to rise.


How is dealing Newman ” dealing from depth ” ?

Chris M

We have a lot of mi prospects tucker, Kramer, should I go on


There’s a pretty big prospect grade gap between Newman and the guys behind him, to be fair. Tucker might have more upside (might), but no one’s a safer bet in our system to be a productive Major League middle infielder than he is. Really, I’m not sure anyone else besides Tucker has much of a shot of being more than a bench piece.

Zack Nagel

This article strikes a cord with how I’ve been feeling as well. I’ve gone on a roller coaster ride of ‘get Quintana at any cost’ to ‘well maybe we should hang onto these guys’.


I think the one aspect of this that most people are aware of, but that I have not seen fully articulated, is the need for additional development time in the majors for these top prospects- particularly for Glasgow and Bell. I think a lot of fans love the idea of the upside – Glasnow the Randy Johnson-like ace, and Bell the Joey Votto-like slugger, but are we willing to stomach the development time during next season where we have enough talent to at least compete for another wild card? Personally, I think Bell is further along than Glasnow and I think with his athleticism he can become a competent fielder is relatively short order. But, what is Bell has 10 errors in his first 20 games? What if Glasnow has 6+ walks and a 5 run ERA in each of his first five-ten starts? How do you manage that and still try to compete? These guys have both dominated AAA and just need major league repetitions. The White Sox can stomach these growing pains much easier than the Bucs. In the end, I’m not sure I’d be willing to part with Bell. But my main point is that the major-league development time is a factor that I think should be featured more prominently in any Quintana trade discussions and partly why Bell and Glasnow are reasonable to consider trading.


Bell is NOT athletic.


That is NOT a commentary on the main substance of my post


SEA added Drew Smyly and a young, hard throwing Caminero-type RP with a little MLB experience yest. They traded their #5 , #13 , and #25 prospects who were all pitchers in A ball or lower last year. Pirates equivalent would be something like Ke’Bryan Hayes, Taylor Hearn, and Braeden Ogle.


I like the idea of evaluating your own prospect talent as if you were trading “for” them to get a more objective view. That said if I were giving up Q for mentioned prospects, I’m not sure I make trade at first glance. And I really like TG, JB, AM. But WSox have more risk than us in that Q’s value cannot go much higher but can go much lower. We can spread that risk over several players. One way or another I thin Sox make a deal as soon as they think the market is set and locked. At this point they think they can get more, though at a significant risk.


I can see an argument for Glasnow and Bell. There is risk for both parties and possible reward for both parties. The sense I have, though, if that the Sox want one or two more good prospects. I would pass, but then I really hate giving up prospects. I watched an earlier GM do that every time the team looked like it was improving, he would trade prospects for the one guy that would put us over the top. The one guy never does, and with the prospects gone there was no other source of talent to fill in.


Tim, with Glasnow seemingly unwilling to throw the change-up do you think it would be wise to try to get him to learn a different pitch? Maybe a cutter? Or do they just mandate that he throws the change-up X times a game or something?


Not Tim but I think they need to either try a change to the grip on the change up (circle change maybe?) or try a different pitch like the cutter. The cutter may be a better bet with a power guy like Glasnow. Sure is fun imagining him shred lefty bats with a cutter.

Bill Harvey

This article reminds me of my days playing Fantasy Baseball. Do you trade the 2 guys who combine for 6 WAR(possibly) for the one guy that gets you 5 WAR(possibly)? Not an apples to apples comparison, just what went through my mind while reading the article.

Frank Koch

Good article by Tim. I am of the opinion that I would not move either Bell or Meadows. I think that is what is holding up the trade. The Sox want either player and my guess is the Bucs don’t want to include either in a deal.


It’s a tough call I say will it be the difference between a championship or not, I think it’s not enough… so I wouldn’t.
However if you keep them and trade Cutch then you may be putting enough high end talent on a roster to think championship in a few years.
Also I think Glasnow could be a solid 5th starter this year so no rush on him and Bells bat is. Potentially big enough that the defense isn’t as important. Yes in terms of WAR but in terms of winning, think Cabrera.


In terms of winning 1st basemen, think of Anthony Rizzo.


I agree, and I also agree that Bell’s.984 in AAA/MLB is not a good fielding percentage. But, in 2010 at A and AA, Rizzo fielded .988; in 2011 at AAA he fielded .985; and, in 2012 in AAA with the Cubs he fielded .986. In the majors he is regularly around .994+.

He has fielded much better at the MLB level and I attribute that to his work ethic, maturity, and coaching. Bell has the work ethic and he needs to be given the opportunity to mature into the 1B position like SD and the Cubs did with Rizzo, and the Astro’s are doing now with AJ Reed.


Defense isn’t important because of his bat ? Tell that to the Cubs. They know better.

Bill Harvey

Cabrera is probably a bad example…….in all aspects.

Brian Bernard

I don’t agree Bill. He’s a lumbering poor 1b with high contact skill and power. He has that ceiling, now if he reaches any of that who could say.

Bruce Humbert

Still waiting on the power…

Bill Harvey

Cabrera is huge, Bell is not, Cabrera is the best hitter of a baseball in the game today. Cabrera is on a bad baseball team. Cabrera hits right handed only. About the only thing they have in common is that you hope that they don’t embarrass themselves on defense.


Miguel Cabrera is not actually a bad defender at 1st.

Scott K

If I’m NH and I can get Quintana for TG & Bell + a lesser prospect, I’d make the deal. This would signify to the team he thinks they are a legitimate contender, and willing to sacrifice a bit of the future for you guys right now.


All that emotion won’t help them hit better. Right now they need all the hitters they can muster. Silly idea to trade Bell away in my opinion.


Even with Quintana, I do not consider the Pirates a legitimate contender for the division. I would rather see the Pirates invest a year in development of their young players and maybe contend for the division in 2018.

Scott K

Yeah because it’s totally reasonable to expect the Cubs to go 162 games without any SP games lost due to injury again.

I vehemently disagree with your analysis!

Kevin O

You know, Scott… you’re alright.


Scott: Respect that position, and I like the promise of Quintana, but I do not like giving up Josh Bell or Austin Meadows as a part of any trade – Bell can contribute now and in the future and Meadows is possible by the AS Break. I think both are candidates to hit 20+ HR/yr immediately.

Tim, I cannot understand it when you attempt to mitigate the loss of Bell by referencing Freese for his ages 34, 35, and 36 seasons and then mention Will Craig. Two HR in 218 AB as an over-aged college draftee at Short-Season with 16 Errors in 144 chances at 3B (.889 fld pct). These were the issues some scouts verbalized about him coming out of college – converting power from metal to wood bat, and finding a defensive position he could play. Wake Forest tried him at 3B and 1B. Check the defensive numbers.

Bell has been an infield defender for only 1 of the 6 years we have had him. He fielded .984 at the 2 highest levels of professional baseball – AAA and MLB in 2016, and I like his chances to be able to field in the low .990’s with more reps as he matures into this new position.

Kevin O

“If I’m NH and I can get Quintana for TG & Bell + a lesser prospect, I’d make the deal.” He never said Meadows… which you led with


.984 is terrible

Scott K

You make a good argument for sure. The reason I would do the deal is because I believe with Quintana, Cole, and Taillon pitching up to their capabilities would give Pirates the best chance to win a title.


Pitching is key, no doubt. But I’d rather give up two years of Cutch in his present condition than six years of Bell or Meadows. Glasnow plus the trade return for Cutch from a third party would work in a trade for Quintana.

Scott Kliesen

That’s understandable. This situation has many possible positive and negative outcomes. Personally, I’d like to have a roster with Quintana and Cutch on it this season to see if it’s good enough to win NL Central. If not, trade Cutch next winter and at least partially replace what was given up to get Quintana.

I’m very optimistic Cutch will play like a monster this year.


The most important point advocating the deal is that solid to good to very good starting pitchers are very hard to get while 1b with offense first skill sets are pretty easy. Pirates don’t have to replace bell with what is on the roster or prospects they can sign veterans in a given year.


I wouldn’t mind signing Luis Valbuena.


Bell provides controllable costs given that his $5M is a sunk cost. The veterans you reference would cost a lot of money to achieve equal output as Bell.


I don’t know how easy it is to get a first basemen…pirates haven’t had a productive one in quite some time. 2nd half Adam Laroche or Kevin Young comes to mind.

Chuck C

How has that worked out for the Pirates in the last 10 years. And don’t bring up Alverez and his solo hr’s.

Joe Nastasi

How about we bring up that Pedro was by far their best hitter in the playoffs & St. Louis was afraid to pitch to him

Chuck C

So we had a 1st baseman that hit in the playoff. Wow, that’s worth keeping all year long.


Then lets consider they didn’t have the pitching to win the series. Pedro didn’t make that much of a difference.

Joe Nastasi

We had the pitching, what we didn’t have was anyone not named Pedro & Martin get a hit. The lack of offense from everyone else is what lost that series. Hurdle insisting on going back to Barmes over Mercer didn’t help in any fashin either.

Scott K

That’s revisionist history. Morton gave up a 2-run HR and that’s all in game #4 . Surely good enough to win 75% of the time.


Playoffs are all about pitching, not offense. They were up 2-1 in that series and didn’t close it out, it wasn’t because they couldn’t hit, they’re pitching didn’t keep them in the game.

Scott Kliesen

Morton pitched a great game #4 . If he gets any help at all from Offense, they win game and series. Cole even pitched decently in game #5 , but bullpen let them down in late innings preventing a comeback.



jason d

Great article, I’ve been battling both sides of this argument in my own mind. Not that this helped me make up my mind, but glad to know I’m not alone with my slight bias to our own prospects, while simultaneously drooling over a possible rotation including Quintana for the next 4 years.

Kerry Writtenhouse

As long as they keep insisting on Meadows, we have nothing to worry about. I think Quintana would be a solid arm to add, however, I think the asking price is too steep. I’ve seen reports where they want 3 of the top 5. Too rich for me.


I don’t really see anything surefire in the Pirates top 5, and considering they have Marte and Polanco signed long term, I wouldn’t have a problem trading meadows.

I wouldn’t give up both Bell and meadows, though.

Kerry Writtenhouse

I wouldn’t either. However, Quintana is not the guy I’m emptying the top of my prospect cupboard for. Chris Sale is another story.

Scott K

Sale has better stuff, but the results don’t suggest it’s by much.

Ben E

Me too.


This article reminded me of the coining of the “non-Glasnow-Taillons”, or NGTs. Or was it NTGs? Either way, quite useful in discussions.


Josh Bell and Tyler Glasnow could both live up to or beyond their theoretical ceilings and turn out to be huge impact players. So it may well be that rolling the dice on their potential is the smart move. And off topic, who would like to bet with me that Andrew won’t return to form and be close to MVP-level. I bet Cutch is backing himself. I am with him!


In Right field, it’s possible. In center field, its not happening (regards to cutch)

Scott K

I’ll go so far as to say Cutch will be starting in CF, batting 3rd on opening day and more than ready, willing, and able to show why he belongs there to each and every detractor he has.


Joe Nastasi

I think Cutch will be better than last year offensively without a doubt, to an MVP level, I’m not holding my breath. With that said if Cutch is in CF on opening day then Hurdle should be fired. He has never been as good or even close to Marte on defense. You can NOT keep putting Cutch’s ego ahead of what’s best for the team.

Scott K

Cutch’s ego ahead of the team? So it was his idea to move into the #2 hole after years of sustained success batting 3rd last season?

As for moving Marte to CF, it certainly makes sense for games on the road. At home, with the size of LF, I’m not so sure.

Joe Nastasi

Position in lineup is only guaranteed in 1st inning. I believe he was so butt hurt over being moved to 2 hole that he let it affect his hitting. So yes that would be ego driven.
Your right it makes 0 sense for having different defensive alignments for home & road. Someone with range & arm is needed @ home in LF & CF, that means Cutch should be a RF while his time in the Burgh lasts.


Yes. Cutch needs to be a leader and that starts with putting the team first. And move to rf

Scott K

Like it’s his choice.

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