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Pirates Analysis

One Year Later: Evaluating the Josh Bell Trade

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One year ago, well technically 364 days ago, the Pirates and Nationals spent the early hours of Christmas Eve finalizing a trade that sent Josh Bell to the nation’s capital in exchange for right-handed pitchers Wil Crowe and Eddy Yean. I could have waited until the actual anniversary of the trade, but does anyone really want to spend the night before Christmas reading about a trade that, well, doesn’t look all that great right now?

The Pirates decided to move Bell after a down 2020 season in which he posted an OPS+ of just 82 with eight home runs in 57 games. With the poor performance and the salary jump Bell was heading for in arbitration, the Bucs moved him, giving way for Colin Moran at first base. So, how did everything shake out?

Crowe spent the entirety of the 2021 season in Pittsburgh, leading the team with 25 starts (26 total appearances). Crowe had some good starts, but overall, it was a disappointing season for the 27-year-old. Crowe finished the season with a 5.48 ERA/5.67 FIP and allowed nearly two home runs per nine innings. He walked 57 and struck out 111 batters in 116.2 innings pitched.

Looking ahead, the Pirates have several rotation options for 2022, and Crowe could be in jeopardy of losing his rotation spot. Is he in jeopardy of losing his roster spot? I doubt it as Crowe could be a swingman out of the Pirates’ bullpen, capable of making spot starts when necessary.

Crowe could prove to be more valuable in shorter stints as a long-relief type rather than someone who is being counted on to provide five-plus innings on per appearance. His fastball velocity jumped up by over two miles per hour from his brief showing in 2020 to an average of 93.6 mph last year with the Bucs. His changeup stood out as his best pitch and the usage on that pitch could increase next year.

Yean, the prospect the Pirates received in the year, spent the season with Bradenton. Still just 20 years old, Yean scuffled to a 5.27 ERA/5.27 FIP, but there are at least some indicators to hold out hope. While the walks were high (13.2 BB%), the strikeouts (23.3%) were in pretty good shape. Yean also induced a heavy amount of groundballs, with a nearly 54% groundball rate.

The right-hander is young and needs to harness his stuff if he wants to take the next step and emerge as a legit prospect in the organization, but he does have the potential to have three “plus” pitches if he can put it all together. 2022 will be a big year for his development.

Bell rebounded from his rough 2020 to have one of his better seasons of his career. Offensively, Bell slashed .261/.347/.476 with 27 home runs and 88 RBIs. Bell also had arguably his best showing defensively at first base, though he still remains a below-average defender. Washington even utilized Bell in the outfield for a handful of games, where he picked up two defensive runs saved.

Even with the success of Bell, the Nationals had a largely disappointing season, finishing last place in the National League East.

Who “won” the trade so far? If I had to pick one team, I’d give the edge to the Nationals simply because Bell performed significantly better than anyone else involved in the deal. With that being said, for the Nationals to truly earn the victory of the swap, they will have to perform better than they did in 2021, or Bell could wind up on the trading block in July.

The Pirates’ saving grace likely comes down to Yean, who has the potential to become a legit prospect and eventually a Major League contributor, but a lot of work still has to be done. If he can take the next step and pitch effectively in Pittsburgh, the Pirates could be in a much better place regarding the trade than they are now.

Crowe likely is what he is, an inning-eating back of the rotation starter or a long man out of the bullpen. Maybe if he pitches out of the Bucs’ bullpen in 2022 he will have better results, but then again, maybe not.

One year is hardly enough time to properly evaluate a trade, but this is where things stand one year (one day shy, I know), later.

Merry Christmas and Happy holidays, everyone!

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