We covered the American League on Friday and after a break over the weekend, it’s time to continue the series and take a look at a National League team that is perhaps the best trade fit for the Cubs.
I’m talking about the Pittsburgh Pirates, a team that finds themselves comfortably ahead in the race for one of the wild card spots. But are they that comfortable? The Pirates have shown themselves capable of playing well in the first half the past couple of years only to fade badly down the stretch and finish under .500.
They’ve been rebuilding seemingly forever in Pittsburgh but it really kicked into gear with the hire of Neal Huntington as GM, who has built a strong homegrown team centered around star CF Andrew McCutcheon. But there are still holes, particularly in their rotation and in RF, where Travis Snider continues to fall short of his potential.
The Cubs have solutions in both areas. The Cubs will probably hang on to Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood, and Edwin Jackson but there are three pitchers who are more likely to be dealt in Matt Garza, Scott Feldman, and Carlos Villanueva. I think Garza is the best fit for the Pirates right now.
The Pirates have a good rotation led by Jeff Locke and free agent pickup Francisco Liriano. Recent additions Charlie Morton and Gerrit Cole have given the staff a boost of late. But they’re no sure things with Morton just 3 starts into a comeback from an injury and Cole just a 21 year ‘old rookie with 3 starts under his belt. Adding another top starting pitcher could ease the pressure on a staff with an uncertain track record.
In RF, the Cubs have several possible solutions for the Pirates, led by Nate Schierholtz and David DeJesus if he can return from his shoulder injury. Ryan Sweeney is also an option but the guess here is that the Pirates will prefer the players with the better track records — as well as the healthier player of the two, which is Schierholtz.
But the fit isn’t just coming from the Cubs side. The Pirates have what the Cubs want as well, and that is young starting pitching. The big prize is Jameson Taillon, who is 3-5 with a 2.93 ERA (3.25 FIP) in AA right now. There is also the higher risk but equally talented young pitcher Luis Heredia, who is just starting his season in low A ball at age 18. The guess here is the Cubs would want Taillon, who is closer to the majors and fits their timeline better.
If the Cubs were to trade two productive regulars like Matt Garza and Nate Schierholtz in the same deal, then they will certainly want more than one prospect, even one as good as James Taillon.
Aside from the two front line pitching prospects, the Pirates have a couple of intriguing position player prospects in CF Gregory Polanco (.312/.365/.476 with 27 SBs between high A and AA) and SS Alen Hanson (/297/.356/.451, 5 HRs, 20 SBs in high A ball) — and we know how much this organization loves athletic up-the-middle position players. But we’re probably dreaming here.
The Pirates aren’t likely to give up a second top prospect if Taillon is the headliner so the Cubs scouting team will have to get creative. One interesting arm is Clay Holmes who is a big, athletic kid who can reach 95 mph with a good breaking ball, but is struggling with his control in Class A. The Pirates also have a LH power arm (92-94) in Andrew Oliver, who was once a top 10 prospect with the Detroit Tigers, who has had good results in AAA (3.21 ERA) and has missed tons of bats (10.23 Ks/9 IP)but has struggled with his control with a whopping 67 walks in 75.2 innings. There’s an intriguing power reliever in Vic Black who has been clocked as high as 101 mph and has a strikeout/walk ratio of 12.38/4.18 per 9 IP. All are intriguing because of their arm strength but the control issues are a big concern, particularly with the first two pitchers.
My favorite secondary prospect, however, is Nick Kingham who throws low 90s right now but he’s big (6’5″, 220 lbs) and projectable and generates great downward plane, something the Pirates organization is very good at teaching. He was inconsistent last year but seems to have matured this season. Kingham also throws a big breaking curve ball and a change. His control has been good (1.80 walks/9 IP in high A and 2.25/9 IP in 2 AA starts) and he misses bats, striking out over a hitter per inning at each level. Here is video from the blog Pirate Prospects.
Kingham has mid-rotation potential, perhaps more if he adds to his fastball.
However the Cubs do this and maybe I’m dreaming on getting someone like Tallion, but the Pirates are in a position to do something they haven’t done in 20 years and given their recent history of fading down the stretch, perhaps they roll the dice on picking up two veteran starters in Garza and Schierholtz.
And remember that ten years ago, the Pirates sent two veterans in Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton to the Cubs that helped catapult them into the playoffs and on the brink of their first World Series appearance in almost 60 years, can the Cubs return the favor and help the Pirates end their own playoff drought?
Filed under: Rumors/Speculation