It's become the feel-good story of the summer: The Pittsburgh Pirates are contending for a division crown and playoff spot. No one saw it coming, and now with the trade deadline approaching, the question is now whether the Pirates will try to acquire pieces and improve their team for the stretch run.
As a resident of Pittsburgh, the mood here is like animals coming out of hibernation. This hibernation just happened to have lasted nearly 20 years. PNC Park, one of the best parks in the league, is finally getting the sellout crowds it deserves because of the Bucco's resurgence to contention.
Personally, I don't think the Pirates should make any moves unless it's clear as day they're getting the better of the deal. This team is so young that mortgaging part of the future could be disastrous.
However, according to mlbtraderumors.com, here are five names that have caught the interest of the Pirates.
2011 season: .238 AVG, 13 HR, 49 RBI
Josh Willingham is the first of a few Oakland A's on this list. The Pirates interest in him lies in his ability to hit the ball out of the park. His home run total is only eclipsed by All-Star Andrew McCutchen on the current roster.
As a corner outfielder, Willingham would start opposite McCutchen and Jose Tabata, and he would probably bat in the middle of the order, potentially providing protection for McCutchen.
Willingham would probably come pretty cheap, as he's 32 and is making $6 million this season. While the A's have claimed they aren't interested in dealing the eight-year veteran, minds have changed in the past once the deadline nears.
If Willingham does become a Pirate, don't expect GM Neil Huntington to give up some of his prized prospects to do so.
2011 season: .219 AVG, 10 HR, 36 RBI, .370 OBP
The Pirates are currently on their third catcher of the season after Ryan Doumit and Chris Snyder were injured earlier in the season.
Chris Iannetta, though his batting average doesn't indicate it, has been a solid catcher offensively for the past few years.
Iannetta is relatively young at 28 and is only due to make $2.55 million this season. The Rockies may ask for more than he's worth because of his youth, though.
Doumit is due to start his rehab assignment soon, and it's believed that he'll be back before September, so I doubt the Pirates will be willing to give up a ton for Iannetta when they have their Opening Day starter on his way back from injury.
Still, adding another bat with some pop to the bench certainly wouldn't hurt in the long run.
2011 season: .232 AVG, 5 HR, 25 RBI
Strictly looking at David DeJesus' numbers, one would wonder why any team would be interested in a guy like this for anything other than a trip down to Triple-A.
What DeJesus brings to the table is an older (31) veteran who can play any outfield position. His speed has decreased a bit, but defensively he's good enough. He also bats left-handed, which most teams need.
As a Pirate, DeJesus would probably be the fourth outfielder who would periodically start against right-handers (batting .270 with all five homers against them this season).
Again, it would be a shocker to see the Buccos give up anything valuable in their farm system to get this guy.
2011 season: 0-2, 43 APP, 35.2 IP, 29 K, 12 BB, 3.28 ERA
The final Oakland A's player, and it's actually a relief pitcher in Craig Breslow. Breslow has been pretty good for Oakland as a situational lefty.
The main logic behind the Pirates acquiring Breslow is because their former All-Star reliever, Evan Meek, is injured and isn't due back until mid-to-late August. Meek also struggled while he was healthy this season, so bringing in Breslow would essentially be an insurance policy if Meek continues to struggle.
Breslow would be another cheap option for the Pirates as he won't command much of a price, being 30 and only making $1.4 million this season.
2011 season: .309 AVG, 11 HR, 61 RBI, 118 H, .474 SLG
For the past three seasons, Pence has hit 25 home runs, driven in over 70 runs, and had over 160 hits. That's something we like to call consistency.
Pence's numbers are pretty impressive, and he's just 28 years old. As a right fielder, he, along with McCutchen and Tabata, would form one of the best, and youngest, outfields in all of baseball.
Now, with his All-Star status will come a much higher asking price compared to the other players that have been mentioned. GM Neil Huntington would probably have to include one or two of his best prospects (starting pitchers Brad Lincoln and Jameson Taillon come to mind).
While I'm not sure that would be the best move long term, if the Pirates are committed to contending this year, this is the guy they should go and get to improve their chances at winning the NL Central and giving their fans something they haven't experienced since a clean Barry Bonds was in town: playoff baseball.