The Pittsburgh Pirates are in first place in the NL Central. In July.
Take a minute to let that sink in.
July is the month when rival GM's are usually calling Neal Huntington to see which established major league players are available for trade. Not this year. The Pirates are in a position to be buyers rather than sellers at the trade deadline.
This far into the season, it is obvious the Pirates are not a fluke. As the trade deadline approaches, Pirates management needs to quickly make a decision about the direction they want this season to go in. The Pirates can stand pat at the trade deadline and see how the season plays out, or they can become buyers for the first time in 20 years.
With their rivals for the division title, Milwaukee and St. Louis, certain to make an impact trade, the Pirates cannot afford to get left behind at the trade deadline.
The Pirates have been buoyed by their starting pitching this season, as Charlie Morton, Kevin Correia, Jeff Karstens and Paul Maholm have finally developed into legitimate top of the rotation pitchers. The Pirates rotation has become the best in the division, outperforming the highly touted Brewers rotation. The bullpen, led by Joel Hanrahan, has also impressed. Hanrahan is perfect in save opportunities
But the offense has lagged behind. With the exceptions of Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker, the Pirates have not gotten consistent production from any of their hitters.
The Pirates have been hurt by a lack of production from their corner infield and outfield positions, traditionally a team's source of power. The Pirates cannot continue on with Lyle Overbay as their everyday first baseman. Overbay has never been more than a role player and should not be expected to produce everyday.
There are several targets the Pirates could pursue who would allow Overbay to return to the utility role he is meant to play
The Cubs would love to unload Carlos Pena, as it is obvious he is not a part of their long term future. Acquiring Pena would give the Pirates a power hitting first baseman who is also handy with the glove. Another potential target for first base would be the Twins Michael Cuddyer, who also plays third base and outfield—two other troubling positions for the Pirates. Padres outfielder Ryan Ludwick and Toronto outfielder Adam Lind could also be available.
Acquiring any one of these players would ease the pressure on McCutchen. McCutchen is an excellent young player, but he cannot carry an offense by himself. He needs protection in a lineup that is currently sorely lacking.
The Pirates, Brewers and Cardinals all have major flaws. Whichever team does the most to correct those flaws at the trade deadline will give themselves the best chance to win the division. The Pirates have the best starting pitching of the bunch and appear to be one big bat away from the playoffs.
The Brewers have already made big news in acquiring Francisco Rodriguez. The Pirates cannot afford to fall behind.
The citizens of Pittsburgh love their sports teams perhaps more than any other city in America. They have been waiting 20 years for a chance to be excited about the Pirates. They have been rewarding the Pirates with increased support, filling up beautiful PNC Park, including 10 sellouts already this season.
By doing whatever it takes to stay in the playoff hunt, the Pirates would ensure interest in baseball in the Steel City does not wane.