It’s hard to get pumped for the 2021 Pittsburgh Pirates season.
There are projections for a 100+ loss season. The best case seems to be a “They’re not that bad!” admission that this is still going to be a very bad team.
The main things I’m watching for the 2021 team:
1. The development progression of Ke’Bryan Hayes and Mitch Keller as leaders of the team.
2. The development of all of the players with 3+ years of team control remaining.
3. Whether the Pirates will get the number one pick in 2022.
I’m mostly interested in the future of this organization, because once again we’ve found ourselves in a situation where the future holds the only hope of winning. The only focus for the Pirates in 2021 should be on those future winning years. That requires further development for their young guys in the majors, but also more trades to stock the farm system.
The Pirates have traded Josh Bell, Jameson Taillon, and Joe Musgrove in the last two months, landing 11 prospects in the process. They signed a large group of international prospects during this same span. They’ll have the first overall pick in the 2021 draft, and the biggest bonus pool. They’ve got a system on the rise, with some big boosts still on the way.
What else can the Pirates expect to add for their building efforts? Today, I’ll take a look at the remaining trade candidates on this team, trying to see what type of value they could land, and how they could get there.
Gregory Polanco – Polanco has one year remaining on his deal, with a $3 million option buyout for next season. This could be an opportunity for the Pirates to use their low payroll to their advantage. They can afford to pay Polanco to pay for another team, in exchange for a better prospect return. I’d imagine Polanco will need to show what he can do during the regular season in order to have any trade value. A strong enough performance could give him value with his two remaining option years.
Tyler Anderson – There was a point when Anderson was one of my fantasy baseball sleepers, despite pitching in Colorado. He’s lost velocity and isn’t getting as many swinging strikes as he was when he broke into the league. I could see him pitching as a league-average starter, which combined with his low cost could help to land a lottery ticket type return.
There are still some interesting free agents out there, and it would be disappointing if the Pirates stopped at Anderson as their only low-cost pickup.
Extra Year of Control
Adam Frazier – Frazier might have the biggest potential trade value of the remaining players. He also has a year of arbitration remaining in 2022. He was a 1.8-2.2 fWAR player in 2018-19, but was inconsistent in each of those years. His second-half performances were both strong. If he gets off to a hot start in 2021, he could be a valuable trade chip to a team in need of an infielder, or even an outfielder. I think the Pirates would be best using Frazier as a super utility player to maximize his value, while allowing for development looks at second base for Cole Tucker and Kevin Newman.
Erik Gonzalez – When Neal Huntington acquired Gonzalez, he compared him to Freddy Galvis. If he turns into Galvis this year, he could land a small return, as strong defensive shortstops always have a bit of value. I wouldn’t expect much more than a lower level lottery ticket type return.
Chad Kuhl – I could see Kuhl adding some value in the rotation, or as a power reliever. I doubt he would be a trade chip by the deadline, but he could be a reliable innings eater who could help fill the rotation into 2022.
Michael Feliz – I can’t see Feliz having any trade value, although he can be a reliable guy who can eat innings over the next year or two.
The Pirates depleted their depth at this stage with the trades of Josh Bell, Joe Musgrove, and Jameson Taillon. I’d expect them to trade anyone with value and two or fewer years of control. The six guys above don’t leave a lot of room for a Taillon or Musgrove type return. They could collectively lead to one of those types of returns. Individually, I think a Bell type return is more likely the ceiling.
Years of Control!
Colin Moran – He’ll get a chance at first base this year. His power spiked last year to a .225 ISO, which isn’t elite for a first baseman, but an improvement over his previous results. Moran is going to need his plus raw power to finally show up in big league games to have enough value to be a starter. He’s a fringe guy right now. If he slips below his 2020 numbers, it will be hard to justify him for a 2021 roster spot. If he improves on those numbers, the Pirates could have a decent starter for a few years, or a trade candidate to help restock the system.
Steven Brault – Brault is a more valuable Tyler Anderson, arguably better at this stage in their careers, and with two additional years of control. He should get a chance at a rotation spot this year, where he’s been improving steadily over the last two seasons. I think the Pirates will keep Brault in the rotation in 2021, giving him a chance to build up his value as a starter. I could see him being a trade candidate next offseason with a good 2021 season.
Kyle Crick – He’s got impact reliever stuff when he’s healthy. His health is a big concern after missing a lot of 2020 with a lat injury, and seeing a big velocity drop. Can he bounce back, and improve his control in the process? He should have the full 2021 season to rebound.
Richard Rodriguez – He’s been a quality reliever for the last three seasons, at a very cheap price. Unfortunately, this doesn’t lead to a high trade value. I’d expect the Pirates to hold onto Rodriguez for the next year or two, giving them reliable innings out of the bullpen, with a chance at a small return near the end of his team control.
The guys above are under control through 2023. I’d be surprised if the Pirates traded anyone who is under control beyond this point. I can’t really see these guys being traded, unless they make some massive improvements to their game in a short amount of time. Even if that happens, they’d seem more likely to remain on the team for 2022, at which point they could be mid-season trade options with a repeat performance.