The trade deadline is getting a little more interesting by the day for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
It seemed only a little more than a week ago that the Pirates would likely be minor players with the deadline approaching at 6 p.m. on Aug. 1. Maybe flip left-hander Rich Hill for a low-level prospect or send Austin Hedges to catcher-needy teams in a bit of salary relief.
Instead, the Pirates could potentially make a couple of splash moves in the next few days. The sense I get talking with executives and scouts around baseball is general manager Ben Cherington is more receptive to trading right-hander Mitch Keller and closer David Bednar than he was as recently as two weeks ago.
It has been reported in some circles that the Pirates are shopping Keller and Bednar. That isn’t a completely true representation of the situation.
Cherington is not calling every GM in the game and gauging their interest in the duo. However, the Pirates have given other teams the impression that Keller and Bednar are not as untouchable as once seemed.
The Pirates and Keller had cursory talks about a contract extension earlier this year but tabled them until the offseason. Keller cannot become a free agent until after the 2025 season, thus lacking urgency on getting a deal done.
Bednar is under contractual control by the Pirates through 2026. Though Bednar has been selected to the last two All-Star Games, the Pirates are unlikely to buck the trend in today’s game where few relievers receive multi-year contract extensions before they become eligible for free agency.
Teams interested say that the Pirates are seeking a substantial return for both Keller and Bednar. That is quite understandable as Keller pitched in this year’s All-Star Game, Bednar is a top-shelf closer, and teams would have both players under contract for multiple seasons.
Keller and Bednar appeared to be certain long-term fixtures earlier this season when the Pirates got off to a 20-8 start and even when they were still in first place in the National League Central on June 15. The Pirates thought at that point they would contend in 2024.
However, the Pirates have now internally pushed that timetable back and are again in a full-bore youth movement. Considering Keller is 27 and Bednar is 28, it leaves the question of whether both will be past their prime when the franchise reaches a point where it feels it can be competitive.
Meanwhile, neither Hill nor Hedges figure to fetch much in a trade.
Most contenders look at Hill as a depth piece and not someone who can be part of a postseason rotation and consider Hedges to be strictly a backup.
First baseman Carlos Santana and Ji Man Choi are both become eligible for free agency at the end of the season like Hill and Hedges. However, to this point, both have generated minimal interest.
A wild card in the next week is outfielder/designated hitter Andrew McCutchen and plenty of teams have interest in him. While McCutchen did not have a no-trade clause in the one-year, $5-million contract he signed as a free agent, he has an understanding with management that he won’t be dealt without his permission.
Perhaps McCutchen will have a change of heart, though as he has yet to play in a World Series during his 15-year career.
So, the Pirates could go three different ways between now and next Tuesday.
They could shake things up with a big trade. They could make some minor deals. Or they could do nothing.