The trade deadline this year is a lot murkier than in recent memory, in large part due to the fact that more teams are in contention. With eight postseason slots per league, there’s a lot more competition to make the postseason, even if some of the contending teams themselves are more or less mediocre.
Finding teams that clearly want to sell in this environment will be difficult, but that’s not the case with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates are bad — they know it, and the league knows it. They will be selling at the deadline, and there’s only one problem with that. They’re so bad that there’s hardly anything good to buy from them.
Josh Bell entered the year as the one player teams had their eye on across the Pirates’ roster, and for good reason. He had a breakout 2019, slashing .277/.367/.569 with 37 home runs and 116 RBI. However, he’s been unable to follow up on that this year. Bell is carrying a .577 OPS with just two dingers, so he’s unlikely to be added for a playoff push this season. Add on top of that the fact that Bell is arbitration eligible until 2023, and the Pirates would be foolish to trade low on him. For the Yankees’ purposes, they don’t need another first baseman/DH type anyway so this isn’t a concern for them.
So who could the Yankees target if they wanted to make a deal with Pittsburgh? If there’s one thing the Pirates could offer, it’s relief pitching.
Geoff Hartlieb has been solid in his outings this year, pitching to a 2.53 ERA and 3.74 FIP in 10.2 innings, but one concern is that he’s nearly walking a batter per inning. He’s also under team control until 2026, so New York may have to pay a decent price to acquire him. A cheaper alternative would be Nik Turley, who profiles similarly but has been a journeyman throughout his career. His only MLB appearance before this season was in 2017 with Minnesota, so Pittsburgh may be more willing to part with the reliever. Chris Stratton has an ERA north of five, but his 2.84 FIP indicates that he may be catching some bad luck right now. His 16 strikeouts in 12 innings is appealing, and he’s another player that the Pirates picked up at little to no cost, so they should be comfortable moving him.
The best reliever the Yankees could look for is Richard Rodríguez, who has a sparkling 0.563 WHIP in 10 outings, and they could have him under control until 2024 if they do. Rodríguez has 14 strikeouts in 10.2 innings so far, working primarily with a fastball and slider setup. There’s little variation in his velocity between the two pitches, so location and break is crucial to his success.
Should the Yankees want to find depth pieces for the lineup, they’d probably be better off looking elsewhere. However, there are a couple of options to look over. Jacob Stallings is little more than a singles hitter, but his 103 wRC+ would make him a decent backup catcher while Kyle Higashioka is injured. What he lacks at the plate he makes up for behind it, with four defensive runs saved this year and 14 last season, which should be the bigger priority for a backup backstop.
In the same vein, Erik Gonzalez could also be worth a glance. Gonzalez’s bat is nothing special, as he owns a .281/.281/.439 slash line, but he can play all around the infield. That could make him a viable option backing up Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada while the regulars get healthy again.
There’s no flashy move that the Yankees could pull off with the Pirates, at least not this year. It may not tip the balance of power in the playoff race if they made a deal, but there are some sensible acquisitions that could help the team get through the rash of injuries they’ve sustained.