Per Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, we've learned that the Pittsburgh Pirates are "seeking to acquire" right fielder Alex Rios from the Chicago White Sox and considering an expanded deal that includes shortstop Alexei Ramirez.
The challenge here is assembling the ideal package that satisfies Chicago without depleting the farm system.
ESPN Insider Jim Bowden was dreaming (subscription required) that these teams would complete a trade involving Rios and Ramirez. Hypothetically, he wrote that pairing prospects Nick Kingham and Gregory Polanco with Jordy Mercer, Pittsburgh's current shortstop, would be a sufficient package for the pricey veterans:
Here's how Bowden justified the blockbuster from the Pirates' perspective:
The Pirates solve the two major weaknesses in their lineup, with Rios taking over right field and Ramirez at shortstop. Rios, 32, has proved over the years to be a solid .270 hitter capable of 20 home runs. He is solid in right field and would be a good support bat for Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez and Starling Marte.
A change of scenery would help the 31-year-old Ramirez, who has hit 15 home runs and driven in 70 runs four different times in his career. He’s a solid defensive shortstop, too. Neither player is a difference-maker, but both would upgrade the Pirates at those positions.
However, this is more talent than they would be comfortable moving.
The 21-year-old Polanco has the highest ceiling of any position player in their farm system. He's a special defensive outfielder with plus speed who could bat in the middle of the lineup someday if he fills out his 6'4" frame (.803 OPS this season).
Kingham, also 21, throws from the right side and boasts a 3.59 strikeout-to-walk ratio through 309 professional innings. The former fourth-round draft pick has split this summer between High-A Bradenton and Double-A Altoona, succeeding at both levels.
Mercer is an Oklahoma native who's under team control through the 2018 season. He maintained a .257/.309/.383 batting line prior to the All-Star break, leapfrogging Clint Barmes on the depth chart in the process. He's a rangy defender capable of handling either middle infield position.
Consider that both Rios and Ramirez have hefty contracts extending beyond this summer:
|Alex Rios||Alexei Ramirez|
|2013 salary||$12.5 million||$7 million|
|2014 salary||$12.5 million||$9.5 million|
|2015 salary||$14 million/$1 million buyout||$10 million|
|2016 salary||$10 million/$1 million buyout|
*Contract details courtesy of Baseball Prospectus
Also, neither guy has been particularly effective this season.
Entering the second half of 2013, Rios is batting .270/.326/.429 with 11 home runs and 19 stolen bases, all numbers that are pretty much in line with his career averages. He's basically Pittsburgh's own Jose Tabata, but with less extreme platoon splits and a more reliable arm.
Meanwhile, Ramirez has slashed .286/.311/.358 with only one long ball and 20 steals. He continues to pile up doubles, but this is the second straight year he's suffered from poor plate discipline and a lack of over-the-fence power. Even when factoring in his stellar defense, the Cuban veteran still lags behind several National League shortstops in overall value.
If the Pirates are expected to absorb these costs and question marks, they wouldn't ship off Polanco. At his current rate of progression, he could take over as an everyday right fielder in 2015, conveniently following the last guaranteed year of Rios' contract.
The non-waiver trade deadline approaches with more buyers than sellers, so the White Sox can make high demands. However, in another ESPN Insider-only piece, Bowden reports that "they have been extremely disappointed" with the Rios proposals so far.
That makes sense. Which other contenders are desperate for a right-handed-hitting outfielder?
Heyman suggests the Texas Rangers, but they've made the hunt for starting pitching a top priority. That's clear from their intensifying talks about Matt Garza. The New York Yankees show more interest in low-cost corner infielders, while the San Francisco Giants won't buy until they get closer to the .500 mark.
The strength of the Pirates organization is its surplus of pitchers in the high minors. Even with Polanco out of the discussion, Chicago would likely accept an offer that packages one of them along with Kingham and Mercer.
What should the Pirates do prior to the July 31 trade deadline?
Luis Heredia, who turns 19 next month, is talented yet expendable. Baseball America rated him the 78th-best prospect in the sport.
The 6'6" right-hander is already in his third professional season. Heredia's first four outings at Single-A West Virginia were impressive (1.59 ERA, .196 BAA in 17.0 IP), although his stats were bloated by an ugly relief appearance on July 14.
After last year's promising Pirates team collapsed down the stretch, general manager Neal Huntington will unquestionably bolster his roster in the coming weeks. We'll soon find out what gamble he's comfortable making to end the franchise's streak of ineptitude.
Ely covers baseball extensively through this type of analysis, as well as breaking news, predictions and historical lists. He's featured all over B/R and its partner sites. And he's overdue for a haircut.