Here we are on July 21. If you're a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, you may want to grab another cup of coffee to make sure your awake when you read this: Your Pittsburgh Pirates are a half-game out of first place in the National League's Central division. Go ahead, take another sip of coffee before you read on. Make sure it's not a dream. Considering your team has had 18 consecutive losing seasons, it's completely understandable.
Now that i have your attention, you can take a deep breathe and let it sink in. The 2011 Pittsburgh Pirates are currently 51-45 in second place, just percentage points behind the Milwaukee Brewers, who have played three more games than the Pirates. Pittsburgh's baseball team is a game-and-a-half ahead of the third place Cardinals and a full four games ahead of the Cincinnati Reds, who are currently residing in the fourth spot.
This is a different summer for not only the Pirates fans, but the players and management as well. Whether management truly believed they would be in this position at this point of the year, only they know. Whatever the case may be though, the fact is the team is where they are, and with that, they are in the position of becoming buyers rather than sellers at the trade deadline for the first time in years.
Management has repeatedly promised the fans they would add payroll when the team is contending. Team owner Bob Nutting and President Frank Coonelly must now back up their promises. The organization is finally in position of acquire players to give the Pirates a chance to win the division. That's all the fans are asking for, a chance.
I would think most would understand if general manager Neal Huntington didn't want to give away the good crop of prospects that have been added since his hiring four years ago, but he must at least show he is trying.
The fans have backed up their promise, the attendance is rising with each victory. It's management's time to pay them back and bring in some players at the deadline to help this team win more games.The fans have had more than enough patience. It's time to pay them back.
Here is a list of players who Huntington could be trying to acquire before the July 31 trade deadline.
Carlos Beltran OF
While it's no secret Beltran is available, trying to acquire him won't be easy. It has been rumored that at least ten teams have shown interest in his services. One of the Mets' all-star selections, Beltran is having a bounce back year after an injury plagued 2010 season. He is on the walk year of his contract, and even though the Mets agreed to pay his remaining salary, he has a no trade clause.
It is very possible that he could say no to a deal to Pittsburgh. While the Pirates rebirth is exciting to many around baseball, Beltran may feel he has a better chance of winning a ring somewhere else. With all the teams in the mix for his services, it may be in Huntington's best interest to look elsewhere rather than give up a top prospect for a player who will, in all likelihood, walk away after this year.
Hunter Pence OF
Much like Beltran, Pence's price would be steep. There are a few reasons why the Pirates would at least consider dealing a top prospect or two for the Astros star. He is only 28 years old and under contract until 2013. More importantly, Pence isn't as injury prone as Beltran.
He would be the bat the Pirates need, and you wonder if Huntington would be willing to offer a prime prospect like Sterling Marte to make this major impact move. Though it still seems unlikely, i wouldn't necessarily rule it out completely either.
Carlos Pena 1B
Pena is one of the most likely Cubs to be traded, if the Cubs can find a taker. He is under contact for the remainder of this year, but he isn't the most consistent hitter either. He does have a very low batting average of .227, but he also has 20 home runs and 51 RBI.This would be a major upgrade over Lyle Overbay's seven home runs and 35 RBI.
Considering Overbay's batting average of .236 is just nine points higher than Pena's, this is a player the Pirates should seriously consider. The price tag would be much less than a Beltran or Pence. You could get Pena for a B prospect and at the same time not hurt your depth in the prospect pool.
Josh Willingham OF
This is a name that keeps popping up in trade rumor's involving the Pirates. While Willingham would be an acceptable veteran presence during a pennant race, i'm not so sure he is at the top of Neal Huntington's wish list. Statistically, he's not that much different than Garrett Jones. Batting average and power numbers are about the same, although Willingham does have 47 RBI.
All in all though, I believe the Pirates could go elsewhere. I know i am in the minority on this, but I would be surprised if Willingham becomes a Pirate.
Geovany Soto C
A name you don't hear often when it comes to trade possibilities, but a player I believe can be had for the right price. A number of teams are hurting at catcher, so the Pirates may have to give up a bit more than expected. Soto fits the characteristics which Huntington looks for in a catcher. He is very good defensively and is very capable offensively, with some power to boot.
As much as Michael McKenry has become a fan favorite, his offense is hurting the team in the No. 8 spot. McKenry will forever be a hero after his three-run homer just two weeks ago against the Cubs, but the bottom line remains he is just a solid backup catcher who does have an upside defensively.
Ryan Doumit is due back soon from the DL, but don't expect him to get the majority of time behind the plate. Doumit is not good throwing out runners and his defense is average at best. In a perfect world, Doumit would get some playing time in the outfield and first base, especially if the Garrett Jones trade rumors that keep popping up, come to fruition.
Craig Breslow RP
The reason you hear Josh Willingham's name in possible Pirates trades is because of Breslow. It has been reported that Huntington has been in talks with the A's regarding the left-handed reliever. Manager Clint Hurdle has made it clear many times that he would love to have an eighth inning set up man for Joel Hanrahan.
Breslow fits that description and more. He is a much-needed lefty out of the pen that Hurdle covets. If Huntington feels the asking price is fair, it is very reasonable Breslow could be in a Pirates uniform in the very near future.
It will be a fun 10 days for Pirates fans. If it is possible to finalize a trade or two before the 31st, don't be surprised if Huntington does just that. Starting Monday, the Pirates go on the road for a very difficult seven-game stretch against the wild card-leading Braves and the National League East-leading Phillies. Any additions before that road trip would be a major boost.
Whatever does happen, it is finally great to see baseball back in Pittsburgh in July.