The Pittsburgh Pirates are contending for the first time since Barry Bonds patrolled the outfield in the Steel City. Thanks to their improbable success thus far, the Bucs are actually looking to add pieces instead of sell them off. It must be an odd sensation for citizens of Pittsburgh, but yes, the Pirates are looking to make some deals to improve their roster, not tear it down.
Reports this weekend had Pirates scouts checking out tons of possible trade targets and the Bucs have the depth in their farm system to make what could be a significant deal.
Most notably the Pirates have asked around about outfield help. Pittsburgh would like to add some stability to its lineup and thinks adding another outfield bat could do just that. The Pirates would even consider what would amount to a high-priced rental if they thought it could help them get to the playoffs.
The Pirates could actually be solidly in the market for a star like Carlos Beltran. The New York Mets have come to the realization that they will probably have to eat much of Beltran’s remaining contract, but are willing to do so to net a solid prospect in return for the six-time All-Star.
In addition to Beltran, the Pirates have inquired about the availability of Oakland’s Conor Jackson and Josh Willingham. Willingham has had a decent year with the A’s, hitting .244 with 12 home runs and 46 RBI. His batting average leaves a bit to be desired, but he is decent defensively and could certainly help Pittsburgh. Jackson has been disappointing this year (.249, three home runs, 27 RBI) and would likely be added only as a bat for the bench.
Another name that has surfaced in connection with the Pirates is Houston Astros outfielder Hunter Pence. Pence is apparently not opposed to the idea of being traded, and while he’s making $6.9 million this season and has two arbitration years left, Pittsburgh might be willing to invest in him if they feel he’s a significant upgrade.
Pence, who is just 28, is a phenomenal defender and is swinging the bat well this year. He’s currently hitting .321 with 11 home runs and 61 RBI on an awful Houston team. If the Pirates could somehow pry him away from the Astros, it would be a huge coup that could slightly tilt the balance of power in the National League. That’s not to say the Pirates would become the favorites in the NL – that distinction will belong to the Philadelphia Phillies no matter what happens at the deadline – but adding Pence could take them from being on the fringe, to solidly in the playoff discussion. The question will be how much the Pirates are willing to surrender in return for him?
Two guys the Bucs have also checked in on are Chicago Cubs regulars Aramis Ramirez and Geovany Soto. Both could be traded before the July 31 deadline. Ramirez has about $7 million left on his contract for this year, and carries a $16 million option for 2012. His buyout for next season is just $2 million, but if traded he gets an extra $1 million tacked on. Though Ramirez is a former Buc, I don’t think the Pirates would be willing to spend big to bring him back into the fold. They’d have to shift a few things on their infield and that could disrupt the chemistry that has formed there.
Soto has been a disappointment this year, hitting just .235 with eight home runs and 23 RBI. But a change in scenery might do him good. Not sure the Pirates would pony up too much for the 28-year-old former Rookie of the Year, but they have certainly asked about his availability.
We’ll keep you updated on what we hear.