The standings tell us the Pirates have the best team in baseball. They're currently up two games on the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central and 5½ games ahead of the Reds, currently the second wild card. They look like a good bet to break .500 this year for the first time in a long time and they should be in the playoff hunt all summer.
Needs (likelihood to deal for position in italics)
Starting pitching-Low: When they've been pitching, the Pirates rotation has been really good, producing the second-best ERA in baseball. The issue here is that the Pirates' rotation is one of the worst in the league at innings pitched and it's taxing their bullpen. Francisco Liriano and Jeff Locke have been fantastic early and Gerrit Cole has been good since he's been called up.
The big story here are the injuries to Wandy Rodriguez and A.J. Burnett. There doesn't seem to be a timetable on Burnett's return and Wandy Rodriguez had a setback in his rehab Sunday when he re-aggravated his forearm injury. If the Pirates think they'll get these guys back quickly, I don't really see an obvious area to upgrade in their rotation. In a limited sample, their replacements, Jeanmar Gomez and Charlie Morton, have been fantastic, so that buys the Pirates some time. That said, if the Pirates think Burnett or Rodriguez could be out longer, they could look to add a starter.
Bullpen-Low: The bullpen has been amazing, but advanced metrics see a slide coming. That, coupled with the heavy workload that the Pirates have asked of their bullpen (second in the league in innings pitched), could lead them to look for an arm.
Shortstop-Low: Jordy Mercer has taken the place of Clint Barmes at shortstop and Mercer has been great so far. If he doesn't hold up, the Pirates could look to add here, but my guess is they'll let Mercer play himself out of that role before they do anything.
Right Field-High: Travis Snider hasn't been able to hit the last two years and it's killing the Pirates in right. This is easily the Pirates' biggest need.
Fits on the Cub Roster
Nate Schierholtz, Nate Schierholtz & Nate Schierholtz. Or maybe David DeJesus if the Pirates want to wait. Alfonso Soriano is an option too if they think Starling Marte can play right field. If they end up having to do something with their rotation, Matt Garza, Scott Feldman and Carlos Villanueva all could be options.
What's in it for the Cubs?
Sickels' Top 20 Pirates Prospects
Fangraphs' Top 15 Pirates Prospects
MLB.com Top 20 Pirates Prospects
Ranked the sixth- and seventh-best organization for talent by Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America, respectively, this farm system still has a ton of talent even after the promotion of Gerrit Cole. Cole is obviously off the table, but the Pirates have a bunch of other interesting pitching prospects. Jameson Taillon is a RHP top 10 prospect in the game and as a 21 year old he's performing very well at Double-A, putting up a 2.90 ERA and 8.7 K/9. Luis Heredia is a well-regarded 18-year-old (!) at Low-A that struggled to strike people out last year. In a small sample this year, he's improved his strikeout rate to 9 K/9, but his control has been a problem (6 BB/9). Nick Kingham has shown great control (2.5 BB/9) and the ability to miss bats (9.0 K/9) while impressing as a 21 year old in Double-A. Clay Holmes, Kyle McPherson and Tyler Glasnow (2.44 ERA, 13.3 K/9 in Low-A) are three more guys that could interest the Cubs.
When it comes to position prospects, the Pirates' strength is outfielders. Gregory Polanco is a 21-year-old Top-100 center fielder that's holding his own so far at Double-A (.800 OPS) while displaying the ability to play an excellent center field. Right fielder Josh Bell is repeating Single-A after injuries last year and has performed well so far (.809 OPS). Barrett Barnes is a left fielder in the Pirates system at Low-A, but unlike Polanco and Bell, he's really struggled so far. Allen Hanson is a top 100 shortstop that's hitting well in High-A (.792 OPS). Even though he's a great athlete, there are some questions about whether he can stay at shortstop.
Who Says No?
Nate Schierholtz for Nick Kingham
Nate Schierholtz for Josh Bell
Matt Garza and Nate Schierholtz for Jameson Taillon
Matt Garza and Nate Schierholtz for Gregory Polanco
David DeJesus for Tyler Glasnow
Overall Fit- Medium
This seems like a great landing spot for the Cubs' right fielders, but I don't really see the match that others do when it comes to starting pitching. The Pirates' injury problems (or a speed bump for touted prospect Gerrit Cole) could change that, though. My hope is that the Cubs find some deals within the division because it'd be great to take long term pieces away from some of these teams.
Next Up: St. Louis Cardinals