What has long been speculated is now confirmed: The Pittsburgh Pirates are rebuilding. The Pirates Gerrit Cole to the Houston Astros over the weekend, and, on Monday, they Andrew McCutchen to the San Francisco Giants. The rebuild is on.
Both Cole and McCutchen had been regulars on the trade rumor circuit this offseason, so it's no surprise either was dealt. For the Pirates, trading their ace and franchise player sure seems like the first step in a rebuilding process, a rebuilding process that is necessary after their win total dropped from 98 in 2015 to 78 in 2016 to 75 in 2017.
Despite that less-than-stellar 75-87 record last season, the Pirates do still have several other attractive trade chips even after trading Cole and McCutchen. If they're going to dive headfirst into a deep rebuild, and it sure seems like they are, they could import a boatload of prospects in a hurry.
Here are the top players the Pirates could offer in trades now that they've broken the seal and dealt away Cole and McCutchen:
Francisco Cervelli's offensive numbers are in decline -- his OPS+ from 2014-17: 127, 113, 91, 88 -- and he's owed $22 million from 2018-19, but catching is always in demand, and chances are the Pirates would be able to drum up some trade interest. The Pirates don't have a young catching prospect to step in for Cervelli -- Elias Diaz, the team's tentative backup, is 27 and doesn't have a full MLB season under his belt -- but that's a secondary concern. If you're going to rebuild, cash Cervelli in as a trade chip and get as much talent as possible.
Possible Suitors: Athletics, Diamondbacks, Mets, Nationals, Rangers. The biggest obstacle to trading Cervelli is the free-agent market. Both Alex Avila and Jonathan Lucroy remain unsigned, and why trade prospects for Cervelli when you could get Avila or Lucroy for only money?
Moran is expected to take over at third base and 2017 NL Rookie of the Year third place finisher Josh Bell is entrenched at first base, leaving David Freese without a position. He's a bench player at the moment, and hey, there's nothing wrong with that. NL teams need quality bench pieces. Freese is productive (.368 OBP in 2017) and cheap ($4.25 million salary for 2018), and even rebuilding teams need veteran leaders, so keeping him wouldn't be crazy. That said, if the Pirates are going to rebuild, it makes sense to make Freese available.
Possible Suitors: Braves, Mets, Twins, Yankees. The Orioles could be a sleeper here if they actually go ahead and trade Manny Machado -- still unlikely, but you never know -- and want a stopgap third baseman for the upcoming season. Freese would represent a lower cost alternative to free agents Mike Moustakas and Todd Frazier.
Aside from Cole, Josh Harrison has been involved in more trade rumors this offseason than any other Pirates player. And why not? He's a league average-ish bat and a quality defender who can play just about any position. Harrison is owed $10.25 million in 2018 with affordable club options for 2019 and 2020, and he's a productive high-energy player. There's a reason his name has popped up in trade rumors for weeks. Teams want guys like this on their roster.
Possible Suitors: Braves, D-Backs, Mets, Orioles, Rays, Twins, Yankees. Plenty of other clubs could get involved if they view Harrison as a Ben Zobrist/Chris Taylor super utility type, capable of playing everyday at a different position.
If you're going to rebuild, start by trading your pitchers. The injury risk is inherently great. Setup man Daniel Hudson is a two-time Tommy John surgery guy who threw 61 2/3 innings with a 4.38 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 2017. He's owed $5.5 million in 2018, and while that may sound a little pricey, keep in mind free agent middle relievers have been getting upwards of $9 million per season this winter. Hudson could be viewed as a cheap pickup as relievers continue coming off the board.
Possible Suitors: Angels, Athletics, Brewers, Cardinals, Giants, Mets, Orioles, Rays. Because he's a reliever, just about every team could have some level of interest in Hudson. There is always room for another bullpen arm on the roster.
Jordy Mercer is one year away from free agency and, with top prospect Kevin Newman inching closer to the big leagues, the Pirates don't figure to commit to him long-term. Mercer combines a serviceable bat with a solid glove, and his $6.75 million salary this coming season isn't prohibitive. The free-agent market is very short on shortstop options. Mercer would almost instantly become the best-available player at the position, not counting Machado, who is a bit of a special case.
Possible Suitors: Hmmm. Hard to come up with teams that need a shortstop right now. I suppose the Mets could have interest if they believe Amed Rosario needs more seasoning in the minors. The same could apply to the Royals and Raul Mondesi. That's about it. Perhaps Mercer would generate interest as a second baseman or utility man?
It is entirely possible the single most attractive trade chip on Pittsburgh roster is closer Felipe Rivero. Lefty relievers who can top 100 mph and post obscene numbers (1.67 ERA and 0.89 WHIP in 2017) are always in high demand. Rivero is under control as an arbitration-eligible player through the 2021 season, so he is far from a short-term pickup. This is a difference-making reliever who will be around for the long haul. His trade value is tremendous.
Possible Suitors: Basically every team. Contenders will want Rivero to help put them over the top and rebuilders will want Rivero because he can be part of their next winning team given his four years of control. The Pirates can put him out there and name their price. Think along the lines of what the Yankees got for Aroldis Chapman (Gleyber Torres plus more) and Andrew Miller (Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, and more) two years ago. That's what Rivero is worth.
It stands to reason that, if the Pirates do rebuild, they would rebuild around Bell, right-hander Jameson Taillon, and outfielders Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco. They're all young and under control long-term. Then again, if you're going to rebuild, doesn't it make sense to listen to offers for everyone on your roster? Taillon or Polanco could net a significant return. Huntington wouldn't be doing his job if he didn't at least listen to offers for those guys.
At the very least, it seems likely the Pirates will get serious about moving Harrison, who just had his best offensive season in four years. Others like Freese and Hudson could be marketed as well, though they aren't cost prohibitive, and keeping them would help the Pirates be respectable in 2018. Once you trade guys like Cole and McCutchen though, it only makes sense to make everyone else on your roster available. There's no reason to hold back.