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.