Earlier this week, the Pittsburgh Pirates agreed with the New York Yankees on a five-player trade that exported right-hander Jameson Taillon to the Bronx in exchange for prospects. Taillon is the third notable member of the 2020 Pirates to be sent elsewhere this winter, joining first baseman Josh Bell (Washington Nationals) and fellow right-handed starter Joe Musgrove (San Diego Padres), as second-year general manager Ben Cherington continues to remake the organization in his image.
The Pirates are now projected to have an Opening Day payroll around $40 million, according to Cot's Contracts. So reliant are the 2021 Pirates on young, cheap talent that only one player on the forecasted roster has amassed so much as five years of big-league service time. Just nine other players have as much as three years.
Even so, it's fair to think the Pirates aren't done making moves. Who could be next to leave Pittsburgh? Below we've listed five likely candidates, as well as a dark horse. (Note the players are listed in order of the perceived likelihood of a trade.)
Adam Frazier isn't going to hit the ball hard frequently, and he isn't someone you should intend to play against left-handed pitchers if your goal is to win those contests. He will offer singles and walks against righties, however, and he's a capable defender at either second base or in left field. That makes him a decent little platoon option for a team looking to take advantage of his two remaining years of control.
A heck of a pro-scouting find, Richard Rodriguez was a 28-year-old reliever with five big-league appearances to his name when the Pirates gave him an audition in 2018. He's since tallied 159 outings, in which he's managed a 138 ERA+ and a 3.94 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Rodriguez doesn't throw hard (93 mph in 2020), but he has some other qualities teams like in their pitchers: a high spin rate, a deceptive arm action, a flattish release point, and an appreciable talent for missing bats. He has three years of team control remaining, there's no reason to waste them in Pittsburgh.
Chad Kuhl is, somehow, two years away from free agency despite having made just 70 starts over four big-league seasons. The jury remains out on his value. Kuhl had his best season in 2020, as judged by ERA+, but he accomplished that with reduced velocity and an abysmal 1.57 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He's a sinkerballer through and through, resulting in pitiful swing-and-miss rates, yet he still allowed more air contact than the league-average mark. Is he a back-end starter? Or is he someone who should be moved into a relief role, where he can spam hitters with sliders? The Pirates shouldn't use much more time trying to figure out the answer.
Though Colin Moran won't turn 29 years old until October, you can be excused for feeling as though he should be much older than his chronological age. What's behind that sensation? It's probably the fact that he's bounced around a lot since being drafted in 2013, or it's possibly because his skill set is vaguely aligned with old-player skills: he's a below-average defender who offers some walks and some power (albeit at the cost of strikeouts). Moran is best deployed as a platoon bat who stands at an infield corner just often enough to remember the basics. That doesn't have a ton of value in today's game, but it's something a contender might want for the stretch run.
The aforementioned Bucco with more than five years of service time, Gregory Polanco would've qualified for free agency this winter were it not for a long-term extension that runs through the 2021 season. (His pair of club options seem highly unlikely to be exercised.) Polanco broke out in 2018 before injuring his shoulder late in the campaign. He's since had trouble getting back in form, culminating in a hard-to-watch 50-game stretch that saw him strike out 65 times in 157 at-bats. Polanco did hit the ball hard, to his credit; but, to his debit, he also whiffed on more than 40 percent of his swings. He's currently on the mend from a broken wrist. If he can make a quick recovery, and if he can put together a decent first half, and if the Pirates are willing to eat money -- dealer's choice on which of those conditions is the least likely to be met -- then he might be on the move sometime this summer.
Here's the dark horse. Nick Mears has spent all of four weeks in the majors, so the Pirates have no financial- or service-time-related incentive to move him. Other teams nevertheless have plenty of reason to ask about him. He has a pair of high-spin offerings, in his 96-mph fastball and curveball, and he hides the ball prior to an over-the-top release. It's a step too far to call him the next Nick Anderson or Pete Fairbanks, but he's a legitimate target for a team who is looking to grab a budding late-inning reliever before he's able to realize that upside.