Published July 17, 2019
By William Whisler
With the trade deadline heating up and teams around the league looking to sort themselves into buyers and sellers, the Pittsburgh Pirates are in a precarious position.
On one hand, the Pirates are six games behind the Chicago Cubs in the National League Central Division — at the conclusion of their loss to the St. Louis Cardinals today — and are just four games behind the Philadelphia Phillies for the second National League wild card spot.
The Pirates are by no means out of it.
They might be at the trade deadline if they have a bad stretch, though.
Pittsburgh has a crucial set of games with a three-game set against Philadelphia coming up this weekend in Pittsburgh, followed by a series against St. Louis at home and then two road series at the Mets and Reds.
The question is, if the Pirates view this season as a lost year, will they be willing to dangle Felipe Vazquez for some top-level prospects that could help the team in future seasons, or decide to keep a crucial piece moving down the line?
Vazquez still has team control on his contract through the 2023 season and is on a very team-friendly deal, as the elite closer is making $5.5 million per season. His 2.01 ERA and 21 saves in 22 opportunities makes him the best dollar for dollar closer in the league.
So why mortgage that for an unknown commodity?
The Pirates should know just how hard it can be at times to get those final nine outs — if Pittsburgh gets those outs it wins today. Instead, Paul Goldschmidt’s three-run jack gave the Red Birds a win over their rival in the rubber match of the series.
With a young core that has taken some nice steps in developing, the Bucs should look to return as many members of this year’s roster as possible. Bryan Reynolds has been spectacular in his first year in the big leagues, hitting .339 with seven homers and 34 RBI. He’s recorded 81 hits and has scored 40 times at the top of the Pirates’ lineup.
Along with Reynolds’s success is the resurgence of Melky Cabrera in an everyday role. Cabrera could always hit, but he’s made some big strides into playing a much better game in right field. His bat has made it hard to remove him from the lineup with a .304 average.
If the Pirates can bring back Cabrera, retain Vazquez and have Josh Bell continue to produce — even if he can’t to the level that he is this season, the Pirates have something going for them. Bell’s year — easily the best of his career and one that will likely not be matched — alone should be reason for optimism if he can continue to be half of what he is right now.
It just doesn’t make sense to flush away one of the team’s best players at the break of a season when Vazquez’s cheap contract with multiple years of team control make him perhaps the best reliever for the value in the majors. Not to mention he’s one of the best closers right now, period.
The Pirates also have had solid contributions from the likes of Colin Moran, Adam Frazier, Starling Marte, Corey Dickerson and Kevin Newman. Chris Archer has finally pitched well in his last 10 starts. Jameson Taillon has been hurt. Trevor Williams has been on the shelf. The rotation has been battered, the bullpen is banged up. Still, the Pirates are in contention.
Give this team another shot next season. Bring them all back.
William Whisler is a columnist for PennSports.LIVE, as well as a 2018 graduate of Shippensburg University. Whisler served for three years as the sports editor of Shippensburg University’s student-run newspaper, The Slate, where he specialized as the beat writer for SU football and the SU men’s basketball team. Whisler has written for multiple publications including the Lewistown Sentinel, the Shippensburg News-Chronicle and The Gettysburg Times. Whisler is currently pursuing a master’s degree in communication studies at Shippensburg.