Last year at the trading deadline, the Pirates knew they shouldn't be buyers. They felt obligated. They were the guy looking for a toy at the only open grocery store on Christmas because he didn't know one of his guests was bringing his kid. He knows the kid doesn't want a 500-piece horse-themed jigsaw puzzle. But he has to get something. So he bought the stupid puzzle and wrapped it up. It didn't cost that much. No one was happy about the gift, but at least no one was offended.
This year is different. The Pirates have the third-best record in the National League. Swirl that sentence around in a glass. Smell it. Taste the oak, the tannins. The Pirates have the third-best record in the National League. Of course they're buyers. They've already made a nifty trade for Wandy Rodriguez, trading decent-to-good prospects for a pitcher who will be around next season. The Pirates have more holes, and they could be making some more deals.
But there's a difference between a) picking up a couple of reinforcements and b) deciding the Pirates' window is this season and next season. The Pirates' window isn't closing. Andrew McCutchen isn't going anywhere. Prospects like Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole will graduate to the majors soon enough. The Pirates aren't a team getting older and older, with pending free agents halfway out the door.
Which makes you hesitate when you see a rumor like this:
Pirates still checking in on #Indians OF Choo. Price likely would include Marte.
That'd be Starling Marte, who just made his major-league debut. Say what you will about Marte's plate discipline, but that's six years of team control the Pirates would give up for Shin-Soo Choo. Of course, Choo's fantastic. You can see both sides. The short term and the long term, the delicate balancing act of a team contending sooner than they were expecting. Do it wrong, and you're the 2011 Indians, trading top prospects for the remnants of of Ubaldo Jimenez and quickly falling out of the race.
But a winning Pirates team this season would mean so danged much. Choo would help with that. He'd help this season, and then he'd help next year. He's not exactly a rental.
Back and forth. Point and counterpoint. The Pirates should chill out for a bit and let things happen naturally. The Pirates should do everything possible to make this the best durn Pirates team it can be. Starling Marte -- or Cole, or Tallion, or … -- probably shouldn't go anywhere. Unless they should. Back and forth. Pros and cons.
It would seem to be something of a paradox -- a Zen koan to keep us up at night. There is no right answer. At least, that's what I thought until I read this on MLB.com:
The possibility of Joel Hanrahan and his 30 saves going in a blockbuster has been on the back burner all summer. Many elite teams that lack a proven closer would be willing to swap two Major League bats for him. The Pirates may feel confident giving the closing role to Brad Lincoln, Jason Grilli or a combination of the two of them.
There it is. That's the deal. Hanrahan for prospects, and the prospects as part of a package for Choo. Or Upton. Or Pence. Or … heck, pick someone. I seem to be obsessed with the idea of the Pirates getting another outfielder for the next two seasons. I'm not sure about the "two Major League bats" for Hanrahan up there -- he's at least worth a couple of rosin bags, too -- but he's in the middle of another good year, and there's always one team willing to panic and overpay for a proven closer. It happens every year. If this were the typical Pirates team, they'd be taking advantage of that.
And that's the way out of the Pirates' conundrum. Hanrahan is a fantastic closer, but he's probably overrated on the trade market the closer to the deadline it gets. A Pirates team with Choo instead of Hanrahan is a better team, and the bullpen is deep enough to withstand the loss. But that's just one example with one outfielder, who might not really be on the market. An openness to trading Hanrahan opens all sorts of doors for the Pirates, though, and it doesn't affect what the Pirates are hoping to build a couple of years down the line.
They aren't rebuilding anymore. But they aren't trying for one last gasp before their star player leaves for the Yankees after the season. It's unlikely they'll make a substantial deal at all. Super unlikely they'd actually trade their closer. But the fact it's even up for discussion in an MLB.com article -- a contending team mulling over the trade of their hyper-effective, All-Star closer -- highlights the odd, tricky spot the Pirates are in.