In January, the Pirates traded former National League MVP Award winner Andrew McCutchen and All-Star right-hander Gerrit Cole in a three-day span.At that point, many in the industry expected Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington to continue dealing away veteran players. He didn't. The Pirates' 40-man roster has remained largely unchanged
In January, the Pirates traded former National League MVP Award winner Andrew McCutchen and All-Star right-hander Gerrit Cole in a three-day span.
At that point, many in the industry expected Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington to continue dealing away veteran players. He didn't. The Pirates' 40-man roster has remained largely unchanged over the past five months, and the group was talented enough to lead the NL Central as recently as May 17.
But the Pirates are 7-18 since then -- the NL's worst record over that span. They have fallen into fourth place, with a losing record and dwindling hopes of passing the Brewers, Cubs or Cardinals -- let alone all three.
Now it appears the Pirates' future-focused moves didn't stop after the McCutchen and Cole trades, as much as they went on hiatus until the right market conditions materialized. That juncture could arrive very soon.
While the Pirates haven't declared publicly -- yet -- that they will be sellers at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, they are expected to make veteran players available next month unless they catapult back into the NL Central race.
Based on Huntington's approach during past years in which the Pirates were below .500 in July, the team probably will listen to offers on players eligible for free agency after the 2018 or '19 seasons. That group includes right-hander Ivan Nova, catcher Francisco Cervelli, infielders Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer, Sean Rodriguez and David Freese, and outfielder Corey Dickerson.
Jameson Taillon is less likely to be moved, as he's not eligible for free agency until after the 2022 season. But contending teams will inquire about his availability, given the apparent shortage of high-end, controllable starters on the midseason trade market -- that is, if the Mets decline to make Jacob deGrom available.
Cervelli is perhaps the most intriguing trade candidate among the Pirates' position players. While some GMs are reluctant to acquire No. 1 catchers at midseason, for fear of disrupting the rhythm of their pitching staffs, Cervelli is highly regarded as a teammate, and he has played on three playoff teams, including the 2009 World Series champion Yankees.
Cervelli, under contract through 2019, is enjoying the best offensive season of his career, with a .901 OPS in 50 games. Fortunately for the Pirates, three projected Trade Deadline buyers -- the Red Sox, Twins and Nationals -- are the Majors' worst teams in production from the catcher's spot this year.
Mercer's best trade fit may be within the division, where the Brewers' .501 OPS at shortstop is the worst in the Major Leagues. Although shortstop Orlando Arcia is part of Milwaukee's future, his inability to produce offensively this year could prompt Brewers GM David Stearns to consider a veteran option like Mercer.
• Adrian Beltre went 3-for-4 Wednesday night and is hitting .324 this season. Clearly, he's playing well enough to help a contender -- if the Rangers are comfortable with him chasing the elusive World Series ring elsewhere at age 39. Cleveland is one possible destination to watch: Beltre played for Terry Francona in Boston, and Francona's current team could accommodate the arrival of Beltre by moving Jose Ramirez to second base, his best defensive position.
• Rangers right-hander Jose Leclerc isn't a big name for many fans outside of Texas, but he's well-known among scouts employed by teams that need bullpen help. He pitched another scoreless inning Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium, in which he struck out the side. The Rangers would rather move their more experienced relievers like Keone Kela or Alex Claudio, but Leclerc carries more trade value right now. He's striking out more than one batter per inning and isn't on pace to become a free agent until after the 2022 season. Leclerc is an ideal fit for the Rockies, who are desperate to fortify their bridge to closer Wade Davis.
Jon Paul Morosi is a reporter for MLB.com and MLB Network.