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How Bucs open 2nd half key to Deadline plan

Pirates could add if they stay hot out of gate, but have pieces to move and prospects in wings
MLB.com @adamdberry

PITTSBURGH -- The last four years, the Pirates have gone into the All-Star break with a bang.

In 2015, they pulled off a pair of nationally televised, extra-inning walk-off victories against the Cardinals. Two years ago, Josh Bell's Major League debut and pinch-hit grand slam highlighted their series win over the Cubs at PNC Park. Last year, they lit up Jon Lester for 10 runs in the first inning of their first-half finale at Wrigley Field. On Sunday, they capped a rare five-game sweep by walking off in the rain.

PITTSBURGH -- The last four years, the Pirates have gone into the All-Star break with a bang.

In 2015, they pulled off a pair of nationally televised, extra-inning walk-off victories against the Cardinals. Two years ago, Josh Bell's Major League debut and pinch-hit grand slam highlighted their series win over the Cubs at PNC Park. Last year, they lit up Jon Lester for 10 runs in the first inning of their first-half finale at Wrigley Field. On Sunday, they capped a rare five-game sweep by walking off in the rain.

"I guess that's what we do," shortstop Jordy Mercer said, laughing.

But what will they do now? After an 8-1 surge to finish the first half, the Pirates are 48-49 and 5 1/2 games out of the second National League Wild Card spot. But they are still in fourth place in the National League Central, nine games behind the division-leading Cubs, and they are still the same team that went 14-31 from May 18-July 7.

Video: Must C Comeback: Bucs walk-off in extras in the rain

"We know what we're capable of in here," third baseman Colin Moran said on Sunday. "It's nice to get things clicking, going, and hopefully keep it going."

So, with the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline approaching, where do they go from here?

Current status: Hold, for now
Only 10 days ago, the Pirates looked like obvious sellers. But if they start the second half like they ended the first half and somehow jump into the Wild Card race, there will be pressure on general manager Neal Huntington to supplement this young roster. The most likely outcome is a combination of short-term selling (of veterans nearing free agency) and long-term buying (of cost-controlled players or prospects), as they've done the past two years.

"We're built around young guys that have the ability to be here beyond this year, so that's a good thing," Huntington said. "We want to win this year. We want to win next year. We'll continue to look to do what we believe to be the right things for this organization."

What they are seeking
If they add, Huntington only said the Pirates would be in the market for "upgrades." The back end of their bullpen has come into its own lately, but the Bucs could use another veteran arm in front of All-Star closer Felipe Vazquez. Their rotation depth took a hit with Chad Kuhl's forearm strain, but they like internal options Nick Kingham, Clay Holmes and, eventually, top prospect Mitch Keller. They also have a handful of position-player prospects in Triple-A, including Austin Meadows, Kevin Newman, Kevin Kramer and Jason Martin.

Video: MIL@PIT: Kingham fans 9 over 6 1/3 solid frames

What they have to offer
If they sell, look for the Pirates to move players who are a year or two away from free agency. That group includes Mercer, Josh Harrison, David Freese, Sean Rodriguez, Francisco Cervelli, Corey Dickerson and Ivan Nova. Cervelli's concussion complicates his trade value. Dickerson is enjoying a strong year offensively and defensively. Freese has thrived in a bench role, with a .780 OPS (his best since 2012), and he remains a strong defender at the corner-infield spots. Mercer and Harrison are established veterans, and Nova has a 3.51 ERA in seven starts since coming off the disabled list.

The Pirates rarely, if ever, part with their top prospects. But they have a deep system to deal from, if the situation calls for it.

Possible scenario
Let's say the Pirates remain in this middle ground, not close enough to warrant buying but still too confident in their young core to start a full-blown rebuild. They could try to thread the needle by moving veterans at positions of depth -- Harrison and Mercer up the middle, Dickerson in the outfield, Nova in the rotation -- in exchange for prospects. At the same time, they could promote MLB-ready prospects in their place -- Kramer and Newman in the infield, Meadows as an everyday outfielder, Holmes as a starter -- to avoid a significant drop-off in performance.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

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