PITTSBURGH – The non-waiver trade deadline is 13 days away, and the Central Division winner very well may turn out to be the one with the general manager who makes the best move in the interim.
According to multiple reports, the St. Louis Cardinals are hot on the trail of San Diego Padres closer Heath Bell and his 26 saves. One week after the Milwaukee Brewers acquired pitcher Francisco Rodriguez, I'm told they're in the market for a veteran to shore up their infield defense, which remains a problem area.
If the Pirates are serious about an impact player, as I reported last week, they may have to be open to a two-month rental, something that did not interest them a few weeks ago.
For sure, a lot has changed since they were swept in Cleveland last month. The team won 14 of 22 games, a run that got them in the thick of the division race. They averaged 31,000-plus fans in their last 12 home dates. Three players were named to the National League All-Star team, which gave the organization more credibility.
If the Pirates were to acquire a potential free agent who interested them beyond this season, they would have a more legitimate chance to keep him.
Problem is, few difference-makers are available. Word out of Houston is that the Astros still want at least two top prospects in return for outfielder Hunter Pence, by far their most valuable trade chip. According to published reports, the Minnesota Twins have made it known that outfielder Michael Cuddyer is off limits for as long as they're in the division race. Ditto Chicago White Sox outfielder Carlos Quentin.
“We'll try to do what's best for the club,” said manager Clint Hurdle, who declined to get into specifics before the series opener against the Cincinnati Reds tonight. “If things work out, status quo is good enough. Status quo isn't a good term to use. You know what it means? As is, and you always want to improve, right? We hope that our internal players improve, and we have a number of players on rehab assignments right now that would probably put us in a better place than status quo when they get healthy.”
The Mets would agree to pay a large portion of the $6-plus million left on his contract this season, but only if an elite prospect was part of the package. That could discourage some major-market teams that would just as soon pay the freight and keep their upper-level talent.
If the switch-hitter agreed to play where his idol Roberto Clemente once patrolled right field -- he has full no-trade privileges -- then would the Mets take outfielder Starling Marte, who tailed off after an impressive start this season? And would general manager Neal Huntington agree to part with him along with a prospect on his B-list?
What message would the Pirates send to their fans and the baseball world if they landed Beltran, the target of several contenders right now?
The front office continues to sort through options at the corner infield positions as well. Chicago Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez is the most obvious one, but today the ex-Pirate reiterated his intent to exercise his no-trade privileges because of family considerations.
He has a $16-million contract option for next season, and if traded, it would be guaranteed and take him out of the free-agent market. There also is the matter of a tight left hamstring that has troubled him lately.
Also on the wish list is an upgrade at shortstop, where the pickin's are slim and none.
One of the few candidates is Los Angeles Dodgers veteran Rafael Furcal, whose $12 million contract option won't be picked up next year. Because of their unsettled ownership situation, the Dodgers aren't likely to fork over much of the $4 million that he is due this season, which means that it would take a lesser prospects to get him.
Outfielders Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp are believed to be off-limits for now, but first baseman James Loney can be had at the right price, apparently. Loney is under contract through next season.
As for the bullpen, the front office would like to add one more arm. Then again, which team doesn't want another one? The Washington Nationals will listen to offers for Tyler Clippard in their search for a center fielder,and Triple A prospect Gorkys Hernandez may interest them.
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Paul Ladewski covers the Pirates for Piratesreport.com and the Ogden Newspapers. Unless otherwise noted, the quotes were obtained first-hand, from industry sources or official Pirates media materials.