ST. LOUIS -- The Pirates are entering a critical stretch of the season, as the coming weeks may shape their strategy at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. With the club enjoying its last off-day before the All-Star break, it's time to open the Inbox and answer your questions.Should the
ST. LOUIS -- The Pirates are entering a critical stretch of the season, as the coming weeks may shape their strategy at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. With the club enjoying its last off-day before the All-Star break, it's time to open the Inbox and answer your questions.
Should the Pirates be buyers or sellers?
-- Jason A., Washington, Pa.
If they're within striking distance of the National League Central lead this time next month, it would make sense to seek reasonable upgrades for the pitching staff and bench and less sense to part ways with, say, Andrew McCutchen.
If they're clearly out of the race, it would make sense to test the market and consider dealing players nearing free agency like McCutchen, Tony Watson, Juan Nicasio and John Jaso. But I wouldn't expect a fire sale either way.
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The Pirates were labeled sellers last season because they dealt Mark Melancon and Francisco Liriano, but two of the players they added -- Ivan Nova and Felipe Rivero -- have been their most valuable pitchers this season. For all the heat they took over the Andrew Hutchison/"financial flexibility" deal, it helped GM Neal Huntington -- who has said the Pirates spent to their budget last offseason -- retain David Freese and Nova.
The Pirates expect to contend next year, as they expected to this season, and it's tough to see them doing so without Gerrit Cole -- unless the theoretical return provided some impressive Major League-ready talent. Other veterans under contract -- Nova, Josh Harrison, Freese and Francisco Cervelli -- figure to play important parts in 2018-19 as well.
In either scenario, a repeat of last year's deadline approach probably makes the most sense: some long-term buying, some short-term selling.
Can McCutchen stay?
-- Rory F., Pittsburgh
This season? Maybe, if the Pirates make a legitimate run and/or his market doesn't materialize to their liking. Don't expect him to stay beyond his current contract, which includes a club option for 2018, considering they thought about trading him last offseason and almost certainly won't extend him into his mid-30s.
Well, they've played 76 games, so ... 86 more, right?
The good news for the Pirates is they don't have any concerns in the ninth inning (or within, say, two outs of the ninth) because Rivero is one of baseball's best relievers. The trouble is getting there. Try as he might, Rivero can't pitch every inning.
Aside from Dovydas Neverauskas, there aren't high-level relief prospects waiting in Triple-A Indianapolis. Realistically, the Pirates' best path to building a better bullpen is getting Tony Watson, Daniel Hudson and Nicasio back on track; they're not going to give up on any of them.
It's unlikely the Pirates will thrust Edgar Santana, who was pitching in Double-A this time last year, into a high-leverage role so quickly. His stuff is outstanding, but it's probably best for now to ease him in. If Santana pitches well and no other setup answers emerge, however, it would be a good time to have the rookie audition for his future role in front of Rivero.
On paper, Chad Kuhl definitely has what it takes -- plenty of athleticism and competitiveness and three or four quality pitches, including a fastball that's now touching 99 mph. The numbers are ugly this year, yes, and he needs to pitch deeper into games.
His stuff would play up out of the bullpen, but it's probably too soon to give up on him as a starter. He's 24 years old and 29 starts into his Major League career. Besides, is it worth making that change now when their other options, Hutchison and Steven Brault, may not be much better? Both are thriving in Triple-A, but Brault had similar issues with pitch efficiency last season and Hutchison has a longer track record that's not much better.
Adam Frazier has indeed slowed down after an incredible start, with his .760 OPS now standing between Jordy Mercer (.773) and Jaso (.753). I think it's fair to wonder about fatigue, especially since Starling Marte's suspension has forced him to play left field most every day and his average exit velocity is down 3 mph since May 25, according to Statcast™.
Frazier should benefit when Marte returns in about three weeks. But this is also a typical part of the process for young players: They succeed, the league adjusts, and they have to adjust back. Frazier is such a natural hitter, I'd expect him to rebound at some point.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast.