Center fielder Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates is congratulated by Neil Walker and Alex Presley after makeing a sliding catch on a fly ball off the bat of Clint Barmes of the Houston Astros in the eighth inning at Minute Maid Park on July 17, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
The Pittsburgh Pirates could use reinforcements. At which position should they look to improve?
The Pittsburgh Pirates are contending. You might have heard about this, possibly even reading about it at this very site, PiratesNation.com. They're in first place, a half-game up. Don't call the Pirates for spare parts like the last two World Series winners did -- this time it's going to be the Pirates strip-mining the other teams. I picture there being a dusty tome in the front office titled "How To Trade Prospects For Veterans," and the first chapter is all about how to reach other GMs on their pagers.
Oh, you're sick about the Pirates? Look at yourself. Look at what you've become. You might not get another chance to care about the Pirates before the ice caps melt. This is your chance. Drink it up.
It wasn't long ago that I thought the team should make every effort to get to .500, even if that meant trading away some young players. It wasn't exactly a rational approach, but, hey, .500! It means something if you haven't been there in a couple of decades, I promise.
But just .500 isn't enough now. The Pirates are thinking that another hitter or reliever could maybe, just maybe push them towards a division title. Whether or not it's a good idea for the Pirates to trade young players is a moot point. For team with a fan base that's been told "Next year!" for 20 years, it would be a bit of a PR disaster to punt at the deadline. Even if they make minor moves, they have to do something -- even if it's just the equivalent of a Javier Lopez trade, but in reverse.
With that in mind, here are the Pirates' priorities at the trade deadline, in order:
1. Get an outfielder or a first baseman
The two are lumped together because it's sort of the same thing. If they get an outfielder, Alex Presley can keep left field warm, and Garrett Jones could move to first when Jose Tabata gets back.
But the goal is to limit Lyle Overbay's at-bats as much as possible. When the Pirates signed Overbay, he didn't make sense for a team that wasn't expecting to contend. Upside has a restraining order against Lyle Overbay, so why would a rebuilding team mess around with him?
Now that the Pirates are contending1, though, Overbay's even more inconvenient. In 2006, he was an above-average first baseman. Managers and GMs remember that sort of thing, and it comforts them. But on a team with a 91 OPS+, they can't afford to wait for a 34-year-old first baseman to do the things that weren't really that impressive at his peak.
2. Get an outfielder or a first baseman
Which is to say, this is the only thing the Pirates should consider. Don't give up legitimate prospects for Koji Uehara or another reliever. Don't sprinkle B- or C-level prospects around the league for three or four marginal upgrades around the diamond. Take on salary with a Carlos Beltran or Carlos Pena. If they can find a player who's a year or two away from free agency, like a B.J. Upton, that'd be fine too. But make one splash, and make it where it's easiest to improve the team.
Pedro Alvarez has been on an absolute tear in the minors, so he should reclaim third base soon. There aren't any great, good, or middling shortstops or catchers to trade for. Second and center are locked down, and a healthy Jose Tabata and Garrett Jones will have spots in the lineup. The rotation and bullpen are the reason why this column is even being written in the first place, so there's no need to flush prospects to improve the pitching.
That leaves an opening for a corner outfielder or first baseman who can hit better than Lyle Overbay. They're out there. They shouldn't cost a prohibitive amount. And while the Pirates are looking for something like that, you can scrounge together some flares, ammunition, and canned food to store under the house in the event they actually win this thing. Also, don't forget that locusts are pretty good sources of protein, and they'll probably be plentiful.