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Pittsburgh Pirates: 5 Players the Pirates Need to Target to Win the NL Central

Shane McFarlandContributor IIIJuly 18, 2011

Pittsburgh Pirates: 5 Players the Pirates Need to Target to Win the NL Central

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    For the first time in 18 seasons, the Pittsburgh Pirates are on the cusp of attaining a winning record.  For Pittsburgh Pirates fans, a mediocre season record of 82-80 would bring elation and kick-start the revival to one of the greatest franchises in the history of baseball.

    Having not been in this scenario for some time now, it is imperative that Pirates' GM Neal Huntington make a big splash at the trade deadline and find a way to land a legitimate power threat.

    While it's nice to think that the return of third baseman Pedro Alvarez will fix all the Pirates' offensive holes, there's little evidence to support that conclusion. I don't believe that it was just physical problems that limited Alvarez to a .208 average in 36 games. I have to think that mentally, his approach to hitting major league pitching was not at the level it needed to be. I do believe that Alvarez will return and be productive, but the answers for the Pirates lay outside of the organization.

    In order to make a division title run, which it seems they are ready to do right now, the Pirates will need to acquire a player who can provide experience, leadership and authority in the middle of a young Bucs lineup.

     

    *Of the players featured on the list, all have been speculated upon at MLBTradeRumors.

    You can follow me on Twitter @mcfarlands412 or e-mail me at stmcfarland5@gmail.com

Conor Jackson

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    Playing at four positions around the diamond this year for Oakland, Conor Jackson could plug into any one of the Pirates' four corner positions.

    Personally, I like him best as a first baseman. If Jackson could return to the form that he showed during his tenure in the National League with the Arizona Diamondbacks, I think there's good value here.

    Still only 29 years old, Jackson has some play left in him, I think. The power numbers certainly aren't there, as Jackson has only gone deep three times this season and five times in the last two seasons, but he would come at a relatively cheap price, prospects-wise.

    Whether he is a player the Pirates would consider on signing to a longer extension is debatable, but for the time being, he could provide some leadership and professionalism at the plate.

Josh Willingham

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    Having received a significant lack of production from the corner infield and outfield positions this season, the Pirates front office needs to position itself to acquire a player who is going to be able to hit behind Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker to provide their big run producers some protection. 

    A teammate of Conor Jackson's, outfielder and first baseman Josh Willingham has also had his name thrown into trade talks with the Pirates. The 32-year-old Willingham has shown power at every stop along his major league career. In 72 games this year, Willingham has homered 12 times. Aside from McCutchen, no other player has a double-digit home run total on the Pirates roster. A squad doesn't need to be built all the way around power, but when you can add it, it would be silly to hesitate.

    Coming into the year, the brunt of the offensive production from the middle of the lineup was going to feature third baseman Pedro Alvarez, first baseman Lyle Overbay and outfielder Garret Jones. Alvarez, who has hit only .208 in 36 games this year, has been unable to find the success he experienced at the end of the 2010 season. Overbay, regarded for his above-average defense at first and his consistent hitting, has been anything but. Finally, Garret Jones has hit for a low enough average against left-handed pitching (.162) to play himself out of the lineup. 

    With Willingham, the Pirates add a legitimate five or six hitter who can hit the ball out of the ballpark at a higher rate than they're getting now from the corners. And if it helps Pirates' GM Neal Huntington's decision at all, in 15 career games at PNC Park, Willingham has hit .294 with three homers and nine runs batted in.

    With a professional hitter like Willingham available and at a reasonable cost, Willingham could make an instant impact for a Pirates team that is starved for the long ball (23rd in MLB).

Aramis Ramirez

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    Among the recent list of players who have excelled after playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Aramis Ramirez lands himself as another player the Pirates need to consider. However lofty the chances are that Ramirez will waive his no-trade clause, the Pirates would still have to compete with a $16 million club option for 2012.

    Ramirez would be worth it, though. There could be a conflict at third base with Pedro Alvarez set to come off the DL soon, but I think if he struggles upon his return, you could see GM Neal Huntington calling Chicago to see what their price is. How great of a homecoming would that be for Ramirez?  

    At 33 years old, Ramirez is still a productive player. In 2011, he has hit .300 with 17 home runs and 58 RBI. He brings veteran leadership and a seriously feared bat in the middle of the lineup. And if his torrid pace in July has told us nothing, it is that Ramirez is heating up at just the right time (.346 BA, seven home runs, 18 RBI in July).

Carlos Beltran

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    Had it not been for the Mets' recent financial woes, would Carlos Beltran really be mentioned in the same breath as the Pirates? 

    Probably not, but looking to shed some payroll, the Mets,' by opening up to the idea of paying some of Beltran's remaining contract, have brought the 'Battlin' Bucs' into the mix.

    This could be the best fit of any player mentioned on this list. Beltran, finally feeling healthy and playing like it, is having a bounce-back season from 2010. 

    He is playing a good right field that he moved to just this year and provides the dynamic in a lineup that only a power-hitting switch-hitter can. The power numbers have dropped off a little, but Beltran has proved he is still a productive run producer, driving in 59 runs so far in 2011 (ninth in NL). He encapsulates what the Pirates need.

    I like the idea of Beltran hitting in front of or behind Andrew McCutchen. Unlike many of the players on the Pirates' roster, Beltran has been to the postseason and understands what it takes to get there. He can carry a team on his back and provide veteran leadership. If the front office can manage to pull off a deal with the Mets' for Beltran, watch out for the city of Pittsburgh to erupt.

Hunter Pence

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    The last player the Pirates need to consider might be the toughest one to land, but could pay the biggest dividends for the team in both the short term and long term.

    Houston's Hunter Pence is emerging as one of the best hitters in the National League, regardless of how unorthodox it might look. Pence is hitting .321 in 2011, good enough for fourth in the NL. His ability to hit with runners in scoring position (.394 BA) is truly invaluable to a ball club and can prove to play an important role in tight ball games down the stretch.

    With Houston's management already making it known that they will have to be "overwhelmed" in order to move Pence, the Pirates can make a statement by putting together a deal including some top minor league and major league talent (possibly Starling Marte, Jose Tabata, Brad Lincoln and/or other prospects) to acquire Pence.

    This is a player who is just entering his prime at 25 years old. While I know that the Pirates have other financial obligations with contract extension talks with Andrew McCutchen and negotiations with the first overall draft-pick Gerrit Cole, I think that by making a deal like this, you set yourself up as an organization to compete not only now, but for years to come.  He's someone worth signing to multiple years and someone that Pirates' fans would enjoy rooting for.

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