The Pittsburgh Pirates enter Friday at 51-40, just a half game back of the first-place Cincinnati Reds. On July 20, 2011, the team found themselves in the exact same spot, but instead behind the Milwaukee Brewers. The Pirates of last year ended up going 21-45 to finish 24 games back of first place.
Though this year's team looks to be better, a history of losing has followed the club since 1992, their last playoff appearance and last winning season. They are definitely in the race for the NL Central crown, but don't look like a World Series contender just yet.
With the opening game of the playoffs pitting the two Wild Card teams against each other, the division race becomes much more important in 2012. The Reds and Pirates are neck and neck, and with Joey Votto out three to four weeks with a torn meniscus, the time to act is now.
The idea of trading Marte should be a non-issue. Though he is a talented prospect, he's just one year younger than Upton, who already has two All-Star appearances and finished fourth in MVP voting last season. He may be having a down year, but his talent is undeniable.
As for the shortstop situation, Alen Hanson may be the solution. The 19-year-old infielder was recently ranked the 40th-best prospect in Baseball America's midseason rankings. Marte was 36th on that list, and the two would provide a great foundation for an Upton swap.
The Pirates would not only get to keep their top two pitching prospects, but receive a star outfielder that they are in dire need of. Putting him in the cleanup spot will give McCutchen more pitches to hit and provide a powerful punch in the middle of the lineup for years to come.
Pittsburgh's No. 4 hitters are batting a combined .243 this year with a .290 on-base percentage. Upton's numbers in a down year are .273 and .353, respectively. He will help immensely with the offense which ranks ninth in the NL in runs scored.
For anyone who values the prospects more than Upton's services, the time for the Pirates to contend is now. They have a chance to take a comfortable lead in the division with Votto out, and Upton will help them do that. Prospects have come and gone over the last 20 years, but the team hasn't had a chance like this since 1992, and there's no telling when the next chance will come.
The National League is wide open this year. The Nationals, Reds and Giants lead their respective divisions, but all have flaws. Stephen Strasburg will likely be shut down before the end of the year, Votto is out for a month and may need time to get back on track and the Giants aren't anything special with Tim Lincecum struggling mightily.
McCutchen is having a career year, Pedro Alvarez is finally contributing, James McDonald is dominant and Joel Hanrahan is pitching lights out. Everything is coming together for the Pirates in 2012. The time to win in Pittsburgh is now.
If the Pirates obtained Upton, they could be a pennant contender. For the first time in two decades, they have a chance to make a World Series run, and they shouldn't let it pass them by.
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