PITTSBURGH – The Pirates took an important series against the Cardinals this weekend, taking two of three against the team directly above them in the standings. In most years, that would be huge, as it usually means the Pirates are gaining ground on the first or second place team. This year, the Pirates are currently in fourth place, trailing the third place Cardinals, with both teams below .500.

After the win today, the Pirates are four games under .500, and the important number is that they’re seven games out of first place. They also have a four game series coming up against the first place Milwaukee Brewers. If they’re going to be contenders this year, then they can’t settle with beating the Cardinals — they’ll need a big week against the Brewers. That series will see the return of Starling Marte, giving the team an additional boost.

“We don’t want to undersell, we also don’t want to oversell, what this four-game series with the Brewers means,” Pirates’ General Manager Neal Huntington said. “Every game’s important for us, not only between now and the deadline but as we get beyond the deadline, every game matters. And that’s one of the things that we need to move forward with. Obviously an 0-4 changes the dynamic pretty significantly. We go 4-0, it changes the dynamic in a much more positive direction.”

While the series against the Brewers is a big one, even a 4-0 sweep would still have the Pirates in an uphill battle. They’d still be three games behind the Brewers, and possibly still behind the Cubs and Cardinals. They’d also still be a few games out of the Wild Card race. While the Pirates might look like contenders with a big week, it’s questionable whether they are actually contenders.

“We still need to be realistic about our evaluation of this club, about our opportunities moving forward, about roles where we can get better, where are some of our flaws that we’re still going to be challenged by, what are our chances,” Huntington said. “We recognize the division’s different than the second wild card. We also recognize that we’ve gone 17-13 in our last 30 games and have lost two games, so that means the club we’re chasing is still playing very well.”

The Pirates were in a similar situation last year, where they were technically “contenders” around the deadline, but realistically they didn’t have a good chance to make the playoffs. They weren’t exactly buyers or sellers in that scenario. They traded Mark Melancon and his expiring contract to get Felipe Rivero and Taylor Hearn. They also salary dumped Francisco Liriano, clearing up room for future moves. But on the other side, they added by trading for Ivan Nova.

This year could see a similar approach, especially with the makeup of the team. The Pirates have a lot of young players in key positions, with all of the starting lineup and rotation made up of guys who are under control through the 2018 season or longer. They also have several relievers with expiring contracts. Then there are a few players like Andrew McCutchen and Josh Harrison with one year of control remaining beyond 2017, who could lead to some interesting decisions.

Last year the Pirates didn’t trade all of the players with expiring contracts. A few of those players were kept around beyond the deadline. David Freese was extended before the season was over. They attempted to bring back Sean Rodriguez after the season, but he signed with Atlanta.

One of the guys who makes sense for the Pirates to extend is Juan Nicasio, as he has been solid out of the bullpen, which is a big weakness for the Pirates this year. Alan Saunders asked Huntington if the team had extension talks with Nicasio yet, but Huntington didn’t provide an answer.

“We obviously like what Juan does,” Huntington said. “He’s been very good out of the bullpen since we moved him back there at the midpoint last year. There was a reason we signed him. We were interested him as a reliever out of the Dodgers. We knew he had starter history. He pitched so well in Spring Training as a starter, we decided to give that a roll. We don’t talk publicly about whether we do or don’t engage in extension conversations with players. He certainly does things that we like. We’ll go from there.”

The Pirates could still try to re-sign Nicasio during the offseason if they trade him in the next few weeks, and that is true of any other pending free agent they trade. But the fact that they didn’t take that approach with guys they tried to extend last year — all while bringing in pending free agent Ivan Nova — indicates they have some value in keeping around guys they want to try and re-sign. So we might get a preview of their offseason targets in about two weeks, based on who they decide to keep around.

As for a preview of the trade deadline plans, those will probably be heavily influenced by the next four games against Milwaukee. I have a hard time picturing the Pirates as traditional buyers, even if they win. However, if they have a rough week, I think it’s going to be inevitable that they end up selling in some fashion when the deadline rolls around.

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64 COMMENTS

  1. This weeks series won’t have any impact on what the Pirates do at the deadline. They will be sellers. This year they absolutely should be. They are a lousy team that has no realistic chance of making the playoffs. That’s the only objective way to look at it.

    • They surely aren’t great, but a ” lousy team ” that has taken 4 out of 6 against the Cubs then Cardinals ? How much MLB do you really watch ? Looks to me like very little.

      • I’ve had half season tickets for the last four years and partial season plans for years before that. I watch every game.

        I’m not sure what you’re watching. Both the Cards and Cubs have losing records. So the Pirates recent success just isn’t that impressive. If the Pirates sweep the Brewers they’d still have a losing record. Sorry but the Pirates aren’t good and they are going nowhere this year. Thinking they will be buyers at the deadline no matter what happens this week just isn’t the reality.

        • Likely not buyers. But NOT a “lousy team” either. Not sure you’ve watched the games if you think that.

          • I suppose that depends on your definition of the term “lousy.” They aren’t as bad as the Reds or Phillies, I can give you that but they recently were swept by the Giants. How good are they? In my opinion they most likely will be a fourth place team at the end of the year, with a losing record and they will likely be 7-10 games below .500 based on their lack of talent. Yes they have played well recently but they aren’t good and they won’t improve at the deadline. To me that’s lousy. But then again I would like the team I root for to try to compete for a WS Series win. I’m not happy to watch a middling team like the Pirates.

  2. A possible extension for Nicasio was mentioned in the article. Won’t he be too expensive and want multiple years?

  3. With the Rockies and D-Backs playing poorly lately, I believe the Pirates have a better shot at the wildcard than the division.

  4. They should be looking to add value with the money they saved from Kang’s absence and Marte’s half-season suspension. That could easily produce a solid reliever to help with the bullpen and then some

  5. The problem with moving Cole is that the Pirates’ pitching is already a weak point. I don’t really see players at AAA who look like they’d be better than Cole in 2018, so I’d only move him if you can get a guy like Martes (HOU) who has already debuted, plus something extra.

  6. Poor Sean Rodriguez. He’s been on the shelf all year. I imagine there are a few water coolers in Atlanta that paid dearly.

      • He has been, but the Bravo’s seem not to need a late inning defensive 1B, or a MI. The D’backs handed them the SS and the Reds paid for the usage of the 2B for 2017 and Ozzie Albies will be in the Braves MI in 2018, if not sooner. And, FF at 3B – SRod should not be with the Braves much longer.

    • Just got called up today. Looks like Sean will make his debut tonight. Heck of a recovery since he was suppose to be out for the year

  7. Sell VERY high on Cole before this year’s deadline. He’d bring a very nice package of prospects. Plenty of pitching in the system to replace him with.

    • I’d be listening heavily in Cutch, Cole, Harrison, Watson, Jaso and Freese. But for me, the most valuable asset the Neil H. should consider would be F. Rivero +5 years of control. He’s every bit as good as A. Chapman. I’d be interested in quietly seeing what his market value would be. Originally, I would have looked at the Nationals, Rivero and Harrison for Turner -Robles-Fedes. I’d look for double + what the Yanks got for a couple months of Chapman.

      • Interesting thought…a top-tier reliever’s career isn’t too terribly long and, with the amount he is being used, Rivero’s may be shorter still.

        When you consider the return the Phillies got for Giles…shopping Rivero has validity.

  8. if being 4 games under .500 and 7 gms back, is contending than the pirates will be “in the race the rest of the year”. So they should be buyers at the trading deadline? Or they should see how the market moves and try to get good value and slash some dead weight and get in good position for 2018-2019 .

  9. The Pirates have to rebuild with low cost controlled assets. Cutch, has to go either now or the off season. Cole is a pitcher in demand due to the lack of quality arms on the market. Yes get significant talent for back for him. I actually like the Pirates better if they can duplicate the kind of trades/return that MM brought back. Pirates have to acknowledge as constructed they are a non contender. With the attendance falling, the so called financial flexibility is a myth. But with prudent trades, the next period can be something fans can get behind. But no more smoke from the BMTIB. Rebuild the credibility is first and foremost the priority.

    • With Quintana being traded the market has begun to take shape for starting pitchers. Interesting to see where it goes with Gray and Cole.

  10. Bob Nutting invests $50M, borrows the rest that taxpayers pay 50%of, makes an estimated $200-$400M over the last 10 years, and the franchise value increases by a minimum of $1 billion. And the FO constantly cries about “small market” for not investing in the franchise. Time for Nutting to sell out and let a real Marketer take over!

    • Sounds to me like a good investment. Funny how if you or I make a good investment it’s something to her proud of but if someone else does it they become criticized. Grow up.

      • The Pirates were/are a GREAT investment for the owner. However we fans deserve a competitive franchise, a World Series caliber team. The nucleus is there, outfield, SP, bullpen, so add a few pieces and extend Cutch.

      • Its a great investment for BH but if thats all it is for BN then really there is no reason for us to support this team if he is not going to support this team.

        • Then don’t support them. Rot for the Cubs or some other team. The Rooneys have been making money hand over fist on County taxpayers and nobody complains.

      • Wow, some sanity in the comment section, couldn’t have said this better myself. It is so easy to hindsight quarterback.

        I truly agree with your sentiment, with a big HOWEVER. Based on the commitment made by the city and taxpayers, it is absolutely fair the owner take some criticism for some of the spending practices. But the mistake made was not having accountability from ownership for the use of taxpayer’s dollars. Don’t believe any city has done that, so we aren’t alone, but should serve as basis for future stadium/sports deals.

    • selling out just means 1 or 2 years of maybe getting to the top and then 5 or 6 years of losing. We (Pittsburgh) wants a competitive team year after year. So far they are providing interest and possibilities. Nobody liked revario and hearn for mellanson. It looks like that was the best trade any team made at the deadline. let NH do his thing. I think he is the best we’ve seen around here since Joe Brown.

    • Cole makes sense as Quintana set the market, so NH could fetch a very good return.

      Cutch is not in the same situation. I’m highly dubious if there’s a market with multiple bidders that would make a trade of Cutch worthwhile. You don’t trade him unless you’re really happy with the return. Don’t forget, Bucs can still offer a QO end of next year and get at least a 1st rnd comp pick, assuming Cutch nets a contract >$50 mil in FA.

      • That is a conservative estimated EBITA of PBC. At a $100M payroll add 70% to covers all other operating costs. The team easily grosses $200M.

  11. My preference: The Pirates go all in on the future. That means trading McCutchen, Cole and, perhaps, Nova. Of course, the opportunities must be there. They should not make trades just to make trades or to dump salary. But winning the Division this year should not be the highest priority.

    The needs:

    Shortstop
    Thirdbaseman
    Outfield
    Starting pitcher

    It would help the cause if Bell, Polanco, Meadows and Glasnow became the players we believe they could be.

      • Wrong Tucker – Kyle Tucker at 20 is better than Fisher and Preston Tucker. Moran never developed the way the Astro’s expected and is blocked by a younger player in Bregman. He’s a throw in at best after getting K Tucker, and possibly Forrest Whitley and Yordano Alvarez. Tucker is hitting strong at AA and Whitley and Alvarez are in lower levels. Their upsides are huge, but because they are so far off, they could be a part of the deal.

        • Thanks. My blunder! Should have stuck with my original thought of using just Tucker with no first name, but for some reason Preston popped in my head. Anyway….
          Moran hasn’t been a basher, but IMO he’d be realistic. Better option than Wood. Whitley would be nice. Alvarez I know nothing about.
          It’s a fun thing to speculate, but the bottom line to me is Cole needs to go.

          • Alvarez was signed as a thin 18 year old out of Cuba by the Dodgers in 2016 for $2 mil. They also had to pay a $2 mil penalty. Then, the Dodgers needed pitching & traded him to the Astro’s. He is now 20 and at Lo A this year he hit 9 HR in 111 AB and a slash of .360/.468/.658/1.125 OPS. He was recently promoted to Hi A where he is .246/.329/.386/.715 OPS in about 50 AB. And he has grown to 6’5″ 225.

            Tucker is their #2 Prospect, Whitley is #5, and Alvarez is #14.

            • I don’t see Cole bringing both Tucker and Whitley would be a great haul, but I think there’s no chance of that happening.

    • Bell is close to leading the team in HR and RBI, and has been a lot better than expected at 1B defensively. Can we expect more from a Rookie?

      Cole is worth big prospects, but if he is traded, Nova and Taillon would be necessary to keep this Rotation solid, after adding Brault or Taillon. I wonder how many days TG has to stay at AAA in order for the Pirates to avoid a year of service?

      • Bell’s progress this year has been really good. I think he slumped a bit but he seems to be coming out of it.

        Mr. Drecker answered the TG service time//year of control question at some point in the last week or so in the comment section. I don’t remember the exact answer but you should be able to find it in his post history if you dig hard enough.

    • Sound reasoning, but it really depends on the market and potential return. There are plenty of pitchers and outfielders on the trading block. And both Cutch and Cole have been a bit enigmatic this season, so it’s not clear a contender will offer a strong enough package for either one of those guys.

    • Steve, I agree except for outfield (Osuna, Meadows, Luplow).

      Cole for:

      Yankees: Gleyber Torres, Michael Andujar, +
      Astros: Kyle Tucker, Forrest Whitley, +
      Dodgers: Yadier Alvarez, Walker Buehler, Gavin Lux, Will Smith

  12. Our 2015 season was so good that we did very little in terms of trades moving into 2016. After the failure of 2016, the Pirates again did very little. We signed Nova in Free Agency, but added almost nothing by trading for Gosselin and Bostick?

    We dumped Liriano and two prospects and freed-up $18 mil. About $3 mil was spent on Drew Hutchison in 2017 Arbitration, but that leaves $15 mil. If the best we are going to attempt is to remain between $90 to $100 mil in salary, then we need to trade Gerrit Cole right now, and try to add some tools for the future. There are others that can be traded, but they will not bring what Cole can bring to the Pirates.

  13. Last year, there was a lot of disappointment expressed in the comments section after the Nova and MM trades. The year before, the overall response to the Happ trade was a no. Based on prior experience, unless any trades this deadline deal period are trashed by a sufficient amount of PP readers, I am not going to like the trade.

    I am hoping that NH makes a few “really stupid deals” like the Travis Snyder deal.

    I will issue one warning however. If NH trades two highly rated prospects and a starting pitcher for a AAA pitcher who looks like he might be a AAAA pitcher, then all bets are off. I really hope that that trade works out well, but I admit that trade was the most emotionally upsetting deal for me since the Littlefield administration traded for that washed up pitcher from the Giants with the expensive contract obligation. No Matt Morris kind of deals.

            • Uh no that money came from dumping Rodriguez, Joyce, Melanson. Our team salary is 10-15 million below what it was last year. Even with the Kang and Marte situation adding to the decline, we are well below where we ended in 2015 and where we started in 2016. I have no problem with the owner making a profit and watching his investment grow but don’t take a wiz on me and tell me its raining.

              • I agree that they should spend more money but that argument is ridiculous. The Pirates got Rivero and Hearn for a half year of Melancon. It was wise for them to move Melancon because it took the Giants 60+M to sign with him. And both Rodriguez and Joyce signed with teams that will use them as a starter, unlike the Pirates who would have used them as a bench player. You can’t just argue that they dumped them in order to save money.

                • I agree with what you are saying but we did not replace either Joyce or Rod. We could have used the money saved from Lirano, Rod and Joyce on a bullpen upgrade. I feel for NH because I think he is limited in what he can do and how he has to do it. I think he does a great job with limits he has. I also believe we hear a lot of GM speak.

              • Exactly. The Pirates didn’t add payroll. They cut it. It’s no surprise to me that their record is what it is.

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