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Yankees potential trade partner: Pittsburgh Pirates

After the Clay Holmes fleece job, would the Pirates even pick up the phone if Brian Cashman were to give them a call?

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

As of Saturday evening, the Pittsburgh Pirates once again find themselves with one of the worst records in baseball, despite the fact that they're somehow THIRD in the NL Central. That division is so bad that their third-place 35-50 record is the sixth worst record in the majors! But, I digress. All of this to say, once again, the Pirates are poised to be sellers at the deadline. But what do they really have to give up, and what route will they go?

Let’s start with the offense, since that’s probably the biggest area of need for the Yankees this year. Bryan Reynolds is, of course, the first name that comes to mind. After a fairly rough start to the season, Reynolds has caught fire recently and his stats have started to catch up. In 81 games this season, the 27-year-old has a .263/.342/.470 triple slash with 15 home runs, 40 RBI, three stolen bases, 127 wRC+, and 1.4 fWAR. Once again, he's turning in a very good season.

Author’s note: the above highlight shows how the Pirates are in third despite their horrendous record

But would Pittsburgh even want to trade Reynolds right now? He won’t hit free agency until 2026, when he’ll be in his 30s, and he’s not really making all that much considering his level of production. With Ke’Bryan Hayes locked up long-term and Oneil Cruz making the jump to the majors early this season, and with a couple prospects knocking on the door, they might be inclined to keep their star outfielder around for at least a few more seasons to see if they can fill out a competitive lineup around those three.

If the Pirates do decide to trade Reynolds, though, he won’t come cheap. Well above-average hitters like Reynolds don’t hit the trade market very often, so it’s entirely possible that the asking price will be one of the big three prospects — Anthony Volpe, Oswald Peraza, and Jasson Dominguez — plus a couple more notable guys. If I were a betting man, though, I’d go all-in on Reynolds staying in the yellow-and-black once the deadline passes.

Beyond Reynolds, there isn’t much to write home about in terms of potential offensive targets. I guess Daniel Vogelbach and Ben Gamel are having solid seasons, but Vogelbach can’t field a position so he’d be redundant in this lineup, and Gamel doesn’t really move the needle all that much, as he is pretty much average offensively (with very little pop) and doesn’t really field particularly well. The only other option I can see is Roberto Pérez, who has posted a 102 wRC+ with solid defense behind the plate in split action so far this season, but needless to say the 33-year-old catcher (with a history of being very bad offensively, might I add) wouldn’t be the most exciting addition.

Onto the pitching! Unsurprisingly, given their record, the Pirates pitching staff isn’t much more exciting. José Quintana, who’s having his best season since 2016, is likely the most attractive target of their starters, but with an xERA that is a full run higher than his ERA, a long track record of poor performance, and a whole lot of blue on his Baseball Savant page, I think the Yankees would be wise to steer clear of him.

With no other notable starting pitchers to cover, let’s turn to the bullpen, where there are two intriguing targets: one that is pretty well known, and one that might not be. David Bednar, of course, is the known target. The 27-year-old closer has been a monster at the back end of the ‘pen for Pittsburgh this year, pitching to a 2.31 ERA (2.85 xERA) and 2.44 FIP (2.93 xFIP), with a 33.5 percent strikeout rate in 39 innings. He throws fairly hard and has a decent amount of movement on his four-Seamer, which is his money maker. It’s almost a foregone conclusion at this point that Bednar will be on another team after the deadline, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Yankees at least inquired about his asking price.

The other intriguing option is a reliever named Wil Crowe. Prior to this season, Crowe was used exclusively as a starter and pitched to very little success. In 2021, he posted a 5.48 ERA and 5.67 FIP, with a walk rate just south of 11 percent and a disappointing 21.2 strikeout rate, in 116.2 innings pitched. Since transitioning to the bullpen, however, he’s pitched to a 3.40 ERA (2.64 xERA) and a 3.15 FIP (3.95 xFIP) with a 24 percent strikeout rate in 47.2 innings. His walk rate is still hovering around 11 percent, which is way too high, but his stats aren’t what make him intriguing. His Statcast page does.

Baseball Savant

That is a whole lot of red. And you know whose Statcast chart looked a whole lot like? A certain Pirate acquired right before the deadline last season, who also had a propensity for generating soft groundball contact...

Baseball Savant

Though Crowe does’t feature the same repertoire as Clay Holmes does (notably, the best sinker on the planet), he does have a similar problem: he doesn’t throw enough strikes. Of course, it’s not fair to expect Matt Blake to turn every wayward Pirates pitcher into the best reliever in the game, and he wouldn’t have a lethal sinker to play with this time around. But given Cashman’s recent MO when it comes to acquiring relief arms — two of the last three bullpen additions, Clay Holmes and Miguel Castro, were both cheap, high upside arms with a high groundball rate and an inability to throw strikes consistently — I wouldn't be surprised to see Crowe’s name pop up, should the Yankees decide to pursue a relief arm.

At the end of the day, Bryan Reynolds probably won’t be in pinstripes any time soon, so it may be best to temper expectations when it comes to the Pittsburgh Pirates as a potential trade partner. Besides, after the heist of Holmes that Cashman pulled off last season, I’m not even sure they’d pick up the phone.