The Pittsburgh Pirates are again in the midst of a playoff race, but can they actually clinch a postseason spot? We asked our experts to assess their chances and see what they would do if they were sitting in the GM's chair.
1. Do you think the Pirates can win the NL Central or make the playoffs as currently constructed?
Christina Kahrl (@ChristinaKahrl
), SweetSpot: No. Even if you count Starling Marte as part of "currently constructed" and he comes up and he's the bee's knees, this is a lineup that needs better bats in both outfield corners, so that they can put Garrett Jones back in a platoon at first base. Because as hard as finding good help in the outfield might be, finding first-base bats in this market might be even harder.
Matt Philip (@mattphilip
), Fungoes: Can they? Sure. I'm still not sold, though they have continued to produce offensively and their Pythagorean record (47-41) now supports their claim to legitimacy. The Cardinals have a health liability, and the Reds may fade, but with the second wild card this year, the Bucs don't even need either foe to fail.
Matt Meyers (@mtmeyers
), ESPN.com: I don't think so. While I'd love to see the Bucs make the playoffs, I think their lack of offense beyond Andrew McCutchen will be exposed over the next couple of months. If they want to make the playoffs, they need to make a move.
2. If you were their GM, would you sell the farm for Justin Upton?
Kahrl: With three years and $38 million left on his contract, I wouldn't. Even last year, when Upton "broke out," all you got outside of the bandbox he calls home was a .767 OPS, which is below average for a right fielder (.794). Career, he's at .742 outside of the ballpark formerly known as BOB. If the Snakes want real prospects, they'd need to offer cash back to help his new team afford a good-not-great outfielder. If they can't offer that, their shot at multiple blue-chippers dwindles.
Philip: It depends on whether the Pirates are looking for a one-year fix or a long-lasting jolt that makes them a perennial wild-card hopeful. If the former, I'd first want to see what it took to go the "cheaper" route with someone like Carlos Quentin. If the latter, then Upton makes sense, being under team control until 2015. The lack of clear favorites in the league this year and possibly in 2013, coupled with the new playoff format, means that if the Pirates are ever going to contend, it's now.
Meyers: Yes, but I say that as someone who has always been bullish on Upton. The problem is that the D-backs have a lot of young pitching in their system, and what they need are bats. The Bucs' best prospects -- Gerrit Cole, Luis Heredia and Jameson Taillon -- are pitchers, so it's not a perfect match. Then again, assets are assets, and if the Snakes are serious about moving Upton, Cole would be a great haul, and I'd make him the centerpiece of an Upton deal if I were the Bucs.
3. Assuming no Upton trade, what should the Pirates do at the deadline?
Kahrl: Target a better rental choice than Ryan Ludwick was last year, and help yourself at an up-the-middle position. How? By calling up the Padres to get Quentin to play left field, and see if you can get healed-up free-agent-to-be Jason Bartlett chucked into the deal to help out at shortstop. Maybe one of the mid-tier outfield prospects the Bucs have -- maybe Mel Rojas Jr. or Robbie Grossman -- plus Tim Alderson gets it done.
Philip: Rent a bodyguard for McCutchen, who has created nearly 25 percent of the team's runs so far.
Meyers: I'd see if the Cubs would be willing to give me Alfonso Soriano for basically nothing, which they just might do if the Bucs pay even a small portion of his salary. He still hits for power, and he would cost less in terms of talent than Quentin while providing comparable production.