It isn’t often that we can talk about other teams in relation to the Brewers on this site, but the pivotal off-season environment of the NL Central is too important for Milwaukee and its fans not to take notice of.
Earlier this week, the Pittsburgh Pirates officially admitted defeat by trading away two major pieces of the team in RHP Gerrit Cole and OF Andrew McCutchen. Rumors swirled yet again as it became known that infielder Josh Harrison himself believed it would be best to part ways after losing two of his closest teammates. With such rumors abounding, I can’t help it as a Brewers fan to wonder what kind of impact a player of Harrison’s caliber might do to the Crew – most notably in whether or not they have the prospect/player pool that would indicate a solid match.
As a multi-faceted player, a trade for Harrison could be quite beneficial to any club. Coming up on the final guaranteed year on his 4-year, $27.3 million contract, he has two club options for 2019 ($10.5 million, $1 million buyout) and 2020 ($11.5, 500k buyout). Though his bat hasn’t been as spectacular as his breakout campaign in 2014, his .280/.326/.404 line in 1513 plate appearances in the last three seasons has been good enough for a 95 OPS+ with a power (24 HR, 80 doubles) and speed (41 stolen bases) combination. Just last season, he had procured a 104 wRC+ with a jump in home runs (16 compared to eight in previous two seasons). But his value lies in the field, where he can play second base (0.3 UZR), third (0.9), and both corner outfield positions (1.0 in left, -0.2 in right) well. Relative to his former teammate and recent Brewer second basemen Neil Walker, his overall offensive production isn’t as good (Walker hit .265/.362/.439, 114 wRC+) while his defensive production was better (Walker had a -1.5 UZR at 2B, 0.4 at 3B).
But would the Crew have ideal pieces for a Pirates rebuild? Looking at both trades so far, the Pirates have acquired 3B/1B Colin Moran (controlled thru 2024), RHP’s Joe Musgrove (2023), Michael Feliz (2022), and Kyle Crick (2024), and OF Bryan Reynolds (still a prospect, ETA = 2019). What is most important to note is how far along each player is: four of the five have already logged experience at the major league level while one will enter Double-A this season. This could indicate that they are targeting prospects who have proven themselves more, and provide a higher floor with less risk than more high-ceiling, impact prospects. With that in mind, we can take a look at their overall prospect pool and ETA’s as well to determine any holes:
Pirates Prospect Pool (52 top prospects)
|Position (52 Total)||2018||2019||2020||2021||2022||2023||Notes (Impact Prospect Arrivals)|
|1B (2)||0||1||0||1||0||0||Wil Craig expected in ’19|
|3B (5)||1||1||1||1||0||1||Moran in ’18, Ke’Bryan Hayes in ’19|
|SS (4)||1||2||1||0||0||0||Kevin Newman in ’18, Cole Tucker in ’19|
|OF (10)||2||2||1||4||0||1||Austin Meadows in ’18, Bryan Reynolds in ’19|
|RHP (20)||7||6||4||3||0||0||Mitch Keller in ’18, Shane Baz in ’21|
Some scouts and writers believe that despite the bevvy of high-end arms the team has (i.e. Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow included), starting pitching could be a weakness behind the likes of Keller and Baz. Some believe that the system lacks in offensive capabilities – especially with the struggles of Austin Meadows last season. Few also believe the system has overall depth, but little in terms of high-ceiling talent; and the few high-ceiling types have disappointed thus far.
Potential positional matchups between the Brewer and Pirate farm system could be a challenge. Catcher Fransciso Cervelli will man the backstop for the upcoming season barring any trade, and there is still a chance the Pirates land a free agent as depth behind him should they feel uncomfortable with the backup situation. However, the Crew could dangle one of their own options as a filler piece in a deal – maybe Andrew Susac as reclamation depth, Tyler Heineman as low-impact depth, or Jacob Nottingham as a buy-low prospect. The potential departure of their middle-infield combo come 2019 – Harrison by trade and Jordy Mercer by free agency – may push the Pirates into looking for a middle-infielder. However, they may slate the home-grown pair of Kevin Newman and Cole Tucker as future pieces to try out first since they could both arrive within the next two seasons. However, acquiring Harrison may close the door on INF Mauricio Dubon‘s chances in Milwaukee, which may give talks a starting point. 2B Isan Diaz may also be an intriguing piece for the Pirates, as he comes with more development time but with All-star potential should the bat and overall power materialize at the higher levels. On the Brewer end, the production of Keston Hiura has excited many, and the Crew won’t have a place for all three – or even two for that matter should Arcia become extended. Moran and Hayes at the corner infield are also a strong spot for the Pirates, and with rookie-graduate Josh Bell manning first base the team may not be looking there for an upgrade. At the corners, the Crew’s best-bet would be to offer 3B Lucas Erceg or 1B Jacob Gatewood in a deal for Harrison, but neither would be a significant upgrade to warrant them on log-jamming the position further.
Depending on where the Pirates feel on their outfield, a headliner could come in the form of one of the Brewers’ bevvy of outfield prospects. As it stands, the Pirates outfield consists of Sterling Marte, controlled thru 2019 with team options on 2020 and 2021, and Gregory Polanco – controlled thru 2021 with options in 2022 and 2023. So long as Meadows can maintain health, the center field position is poised to be his at some point this season. But down the road, the Pirates may be inclined to deal Marte depending on their rebuilding outlook, thus opening a position for a prospect to jump through. They do have Bryan Reynolds, but the Crew have a few names close to or already in the majors that could provide more potential than what they already have. A buy-low, high-ceiling prospect in OF Corey Ray might spark discussions, as he still has the makings of a special 20-20 talent despite injuries and subtle mechanical changes potentially hindering his development. Should the Pirates want a more proven prospect, Brett Phillips could tickle their fancy, as they could add to their current major league outfield pool with one of the best defensive young arms in recent memory combined with an 18+ home run potential that could still take form. However, the left-handed bat has already begun to entrench himself in the early stages of a playoff-worthy outfield rotation – as well as in the hearts and souls of fans – so a deal involving Phillips may be quite unlikely. Harrison’s multi-year control would definitely push the Pirates to ask for names such as Lewis Brinson or Monte Harrison, but Brinson’s immense floor-ceiling combination on top of a similarly skyrocketing prospect such as Harrison wouldn’t be very palatable to the Crew’s own outfield outlook.
As a whole, the Brewers might be able to swing a deal through a start of one of the lower-quality positional prospects mixed with a promising pitcher. As it stands, Mitch Keller and Shane Baz are the only ones who stand out as owning very high ceilings as starters. Though the Pirates will have a bevvy of high-ceiling pitchers on their own already in the mix (Taillon, Musgrove, Glasnow), they might be inclined to add a promising arm in the deal with a little development time through the likes of RHP’s Luis Ortiz and Cody Ponce, or Freddy Peralta and Marcos Diplan. With the former pair, the Pirates could net a bigger-bodied arm with high starting projectability, while they may target the latter since both have higher chances of falling into relief roles – potentially forming a dynamic late-inning relief tandem with closer Felipe Rivero.
If a deal were to be done, chances are high that the combination of Harrison’s controllability, versatility, and average to above-average offensive abilities will net the Pirates a decent return even with the news of Harrison’s desires to cut ties. Should the Crew get involved in such talks, I would anticipate one of the names I have listed as a lead piece that could be negotiated – perhaps even a higher-end name to net a player of such versatile and wide-ranging skill sets. However, with a mixture of still-available free agents (most notably Neil Walker), other trade candidates (i.e. SS Starlin Castro), other potential suitors for Harrison (the Pirates asked for OF Brandon Nimmo as a centerpiece for such a deal with the interested-but-reluctant Mets), and the Brewers own current options (Hernan Perez, Eric Sogard, Jonathan Villar, and even Mauricio Dubon himself), the highly-prized prospect pool the Crew have accrued might better be utilized in other such deals unless the asking price is more palatable.
NOTE: Contract information gathered from Cots Baseball Contracts. Pirates prospect information gathered from MLB Pipeline, Fangraphs, and other sites – such as Prospects1500.