While many National League teams have positioned themselves well for a run at a Wild Card spot, the Pittsburgh Pirates are an exception.
With the team six games out of the second Wild Card entering play Tuesday night, general manager Neal Huntington would seem likely to trade a player or two in order to bolster its roster for 2020.
The Pirates’ slide in the standings coincided with reports that the Los Angeles Dodgers are interested in talented young closer Felipe Vazquez.
The otherwise-juggernaut Dodgers badly need an elite left-handed reliever. Vazquez fits the description perfectly, with a 1.91 ERA over 42 innings in 2019. He also made the 2018 and 2019 National League All-Star teams, both of which were managed by Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts.
Yet Huntington publicly shot down the idea of trading Vazquez soon after the Dodgers’ interest in the closer was first reported publicly.
That has not stopped more rumors and speculation connecting the Dodgers to Vazquez. However, Huntington is still insisting that Vazquez will be a part of the Pirates for the foreseeable future, per MLB.com’s Adam Berry:
“But we always have to entertain ways to make this organization — and ideally this current club — better. Sometimes you make the future clubs better, but we fully anticipate Felipe will be closing the next playoff games that we’re a part of.”
In fact, Huntington envisions a Pirates team that could contend as early as next season:
“If we were expecting to lose 100 games next year, then it’s a different approach,” Huntington said. “But our expectation is to be right back in this — if we don’t get there this year — to be right back in this next year, and to have a guy like that in the back end is really important.”
Vazquez’s current contract runs through 2021 with team options for 2022 and 2023. The Pirates’ expectation that they will return to the playoffs in a competitive NL Central by the middle of the next decade does not seem unreasonable.
Given the years left on Vazquez’s contract, Huntington faces no pressure to trade him before the July 31 midseason deadline. After all, a seemingly shortsighted move helped the Pirates end up with Vazquez in the first place.
Vazquez, then known as Felipe Rivero, was dealt to the Pirates in a 2016 midseason deal that sent Mark Melancon to the playoff-bound Washington Nationals. While Washington did make the postseason that year, they lost to the Dodgers in the NL Division series.
Melancon left in free agency that offseason and Washington’s bid to replace him with Kenley Jansen failed when Jansen chose to re-sign with the Dodgers.