With the Pirates escaping St. Louis on Thursday night being able to salvage one win in a four-game series to push their record to 48-44 and 3 ½ games behind National League Central-leading Milwaukee, something became starkly clear: Now is the time to act.
Now is the time to go for it as the Pirates enter the final weekend before the All Star Break in the throes of not just the Division race, but smack-dab in the Wild Card hunt. If they are going to make a trade — there have been rumblings about a back-end bullpen guy or a starting pitcher — it simply shouldn’t wait until the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline or thereafter.
Here are the Top 5 Reasons the Pirates need to make a move sooner rather than later, and most of them are based on external happenings:
5. The Brewers have stunk.
Even as they are tied in the National League in wins (Los Angeles also has 52), Milwaukee has hit a precipitous slide as of late, getting swept by the Phillies in a four-game series and losing five in a row. They have also lost nine of their past 10. In addition, slugger Ryan Braun has been hampered by a bad back and when he’s in the lineup doesn’t appear to be 100 percent – and after the suspension, there’s little chance he will take that magic potion again to get better. Long story short, the Brewers are susceptible to being caught right now. Who knows if it will remain the same way all season?
4. The Cardinals are banged up
More to the point, catcher Yadier Molina is out with a torn ligament in his thumb, as he was placed on the disabled list. He’s projected to return in 8-12 weeks from the bum thumb as he’s set to undergo surgery today. There is no question Molina is the Cardinals’ most indispensible player (ask Neil Walker about drifting a bit too far off third base) and a player that truly makes St. Louis go. Now is no better time to step on the gas if you are the Pirates, with the Cards trying to adapt to Tony Cruz catching every day.
3. The Reds are banged up
It is also high time for the Pirates to make a hammer move in the trade market because of the Reds’ situation. Just a game in front of the Pirates in the standings at 49-43 and in third place in the division, it would seem Cincinnati is on trembling ground right now and in the coming days. Speedster Billy Hamilton is out for a few games with a hamstring injury, second baseman Brandon Phillips has a thumb injury and pitcher Homer Bailey left Thursday night’s start with a knee injury in the sixth inning. He is expected to make his next start, but I will believe he is 100 percent when I see it. Also, Hamilton’s success is predicated on his legs and his hamstring is gimpy — that’s a recipe for disaster. If you are the Pirates and want to catch the Reds, why not try to do it when they are weakest?
2. The Pirates’ July schedule after the All Star Break
The Pirates simply can’t wait until the trade deadline to make a move because it would seem the schedule doesn’t dictate it. Easily put: They have two series after the All Star Break in July they have no business losing and two that will be tough to win. For that, the spike of an additional quality player (or players) would be beneficial. After the break and before August, the club plays two three-game series’ with Colorado, a team currently 39-53. It would be embarrassing to drop a series to the Rockies. For that reason, going out and getting someone to help you win appears to be a must. Also, the Pirates have three games each with the Dodgers (52-42) and San Francisco (50-42), teams against which a hammer player – or players – added to the roster could be vital, perhaps even a must.
1. Who knows about Russell Martin’s future?
Playing out the final season of a contract with the team, it would look as if Pirates will have to make an offer exceeding $10 million per season to catcher Russell Martin or he might just get that in free agency somewhere else. We could be, if the Pirates don’t step up and make a heavy play to keep him, looking at the final stretch run with him in a Pirates uniform. To me, what he has done has been invaluable as he’s made the staff infinitely better, all the while pitching coach Ray Searage has absorbed much of the praise. If Martin were to leave at the end of this season and the Pirates didn’t make a big trade to get someone to complement him and his teammates for this stretch run, we just might be looking at one of the biggest wasted spans of time in the recent past for this club. In sum, you don’t know how long Martin will be a Pirate, so you might as well go get someone to play with him as many games as possible before you have to fully deal with that reality.