I saw someone suggest that if we trade Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole, we should go ahead and trade Felipe Rivero because he'll get us better prospects. What do you think?
-- Jeff R., Erie, Pa.
I disagree, but I understand the thought process. Relievers are worth more than ever -- look at the contracts they've signed this offseason -- and there aren't many out there like Rivero. Why shouldn't the Pirates move one of their most valuable assets to maximize the return of young players and potentially accelerate a rebuild?
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But look, Rivero is not the same as McCutchen, Cole or even Josh Harrison. This is McCutchen's option year, the last year of his contract. Cole will be eligible for free agency after the 2019 season. Harrison has one more guaranteed year and two club options on his contract. Meanwhile, Rivero remains under club control for four more seasons -- and he seems willing to stick around even longer.
If the Pirates deal veterans this offseason, as reports indicate they may, it won't be a complete teardown followed by a lengthy rebuilding process. GM Neal Huntington has said Pittsburgh won't be "completely in or completely out." The club could contend again while Rivero remains under contract, perhaps even as soon as 2019, and they can improve their odds in '19-21 with a couple smart deals this winter.
• Huntington has "wide-open slate" this offseason
The Pirates have a young, controllable core in place with Rivero, Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, Josh Bell, Adam Frazier, Elias Diaz and most of their starting pitchers: Jameson Taillon, Chad Kuhl, Trevor Williams, Steven Brault, Tyler Glasnow, Nick Kingham and so on. Those guys will be here a while. The next wave of prospects, headlined by right-hander Mitch Keller in Double-A, should arrive over the next two years.
The Pirates can build on that foundation of young talent by adding MLB-ready or near-ready prospects through trades. Then they can fill in the gaps with veterans. If they go about reshaping their roster the right way, it's hard not to imagine Rivero closing games for a contending Pirates team in the near future. So no, I don't think they should be in a hurry to trade him, especially without a clear-cut closer to replace him on the other side.
Do you think the Pirates would really trade Cole to the Cubs?
-- Bill H., Pittsburgh
In a word, no.
A report out of 670 The Score in Chicago said Cole and Rays ace Chris Archer are "receiving attention from top clubs like the Yankees and Cubs." We all know about the Yankees' interest, so that's not a surprise. And we know the Cubs could use another starter.
Though it is rare, it's not as if the Pirates refuse to trade within their division. Two years ago, they sent Keon Broxton and prospect Trey Supak to the Brewers for Jason Rogers. (That deal did not end well for Pittsburgh.) Think about it, though. The Pirates pulled Juan Nicasio off revocable waivers and put him on outright waivers, ultimately losing a good reliever for nothing, rather than sending him to the Cubs (the "direct competitor" that claimed him) for one month. You think they'd send Cole to the North Side of Chicago for two years? Not unless they got back the sun, moon and all of Wrigleyville.
I always figured that Bell would be around a .300 hitter. Do you think he projects around that? How high is his upside?
-- Gary S., Flint, Mich.
You're not alone, Gary. Bell figured the same. We talked at length toward the end of the season, and it stood out to me when he said this: "I definitely didn't think I was going to hit 20-plus homers, but I also thought I was going to hit .300."
• Hurdle in awe of Bell's approach, progress
Of the 144 players who qualified for the batting title last season, only 25 hit .300 or better. None of them was a Pirate. Bell wound up hitting .255 with 26 homers and an .800 OPS. It was certainly more power and less average than he showed in the Minors, where he batted .303 but only topped 10 homers in a season twice.
I don't know if Bell will hit .300, but I think it's fair to expect more as he continues to get comfortable and adjust to Major League pitching. So much of his focus last offseason was on his defense at first base, and we often overlook how he hustled through Spring Training after knee surgery, which affected his preparation and training.
What's a reasonable projection for next season? I'd look at what he did after a brutal month of May, slashing .271/.348/.483 in his final 105 games. I think Bell will continue to improve over the next few years, too. He's the kind of person you want to bet on.