Before we get into this too deep, there is a belief that Josh Bell is a better DH option than First Baseman, the evidence is pretty clear if you watch him play everyday but most GMs won’t have that intimacy. They’ll know he has made errors and nobody will confuse him with Anthony Rizzo over there, but if a GM believes in the bat, that’s what will matter most.
I say this because it’s so easy to lock out the National League should they shun the DH as a place for Josh to land, but plenty of clubs might be open to an affordable potential offensive upgrade at the position while knowingly sacrificing the defensive side of the game.
Now, if you want to argue he isn’t an offensive upgrade, I’ll hear that, cause he certainly hasn’t shown the consistency you’d expect from a ‘star’. If you’re trying to move him, you have to hope, and help convince, that the potential is well worth the risk, and at the same time explain why you couldn’t unlock it. Cherington could get around that question pretty easily by simply saying he won’t be here when the club is competitive. True or not he can simply talk to what he inherited versus what his vision is. Most people will see through it but they’ll also know the Pirates aren’t likely to pay what he would command so it would remain plausible.
Another thing we have to look at is who else is available, or could be available. The position competition is just as important as the player himself. Keep in mind, shedding salary is going to be a common theme this year, even for some of the big guys.
The free agent market figures to be soft for first basemen, I fully expect the Indians to pick up the option on Carlos Santana and the Cubs to do the same for Anthony Rizzo, that leaves the next tier. Mitch Moreland has a club option but San Diego I believe will let him walk. Jake Lamb figures to be on the market and Ryan Zimmerman might just retire should the Nationals not offer him a year.
Potential trade pieces are obviously subjective. I look at who is approaching the final year of their deal and balance that with who is likely to be moved. I have to believe Atlanta will find a way to keep Freeman for instance, but the young Giants might want to shop veteran Brandon Belt. Colorado could want to see what they can get for Daniel Murphy and his position flexibility could help. Travis Shaw could be an option for Toronto (especially if they find a replacement).
OK, so that’s the competition. Mitch Moreland, Jake Lamb, Brandon Belt, Daniel Murphy and Travis Shaw. I think that’s a reasonable list at this point and of course we must leave room for teams to move guys with more control, obviously since we’re discussing the Pirates doing exactly that.
So what type of team would want Josh Bell? Are we talking about a competitor, a rebuilding team, someone who wants a placeholder? This is so tough, a competitor likely isn’t looking for a project, and rest assured, that’s what Josh Bell is. A rebuilding team could look at Josh as young enough to be part of it and be attracted to the two years of control, but they might be concerned they can afford to retain him should he take off. The league is littered with journeymen who have been little more than placeholders, Matt Joyce, Jed Gyorko, Travis Shaw, are all good examples. Does Josh fit into that category? Well, maybe.
The point here is in order to try to find a home for Mr. Bell, we must first understand what we’re selling, and who the customer base is. It’s easy to say for instance the Yankees in exchange for their version of Josh, Clint Frazier. But why would the Yankees want to make that move? They’re in the business of winning right now, will they believe Bell get’s that done? In that lineup he’s a 7 or 8 hitter and I’d have to imagine they would pay as such.
Now let’s talk to who I see out there as potential landing spots.
The Philadelphia Phillies
Yes, I know, they have Rhys Hoskins, but the Phillies fall into that bridge player category. Rhys missed part of 2020 and underwent Tommy John surgery, not commonly talked about for a non-pitcher but he could very well miss a large chunk of the 2021 campaign. Josh Bell could slot right in and stem the tide. A team that sprung for Bryce Harper is mentally always going to be in win now mode and losing Hoskins and potentially J.T. Realmuto in the same off season won’t sit well with a team struggling to keep up with the talent rich Braves. They have some nice prospects and if they manage to retain Realmuto the Bucs could ask about Rafael Marchan a switch hitting catcher who has already made his MLB debut but is listed by MLB as their number 7 prospect. In the lower levels they have some nice pitching options they might be willing to part with.
The Washington Nationals
The Nationals still have the pitching to make them feel part of the contention conversation, but the bats need help. Zimmerman has done well to play wherever they’ve put him but nobody is providing any kind of protection for Juan Soto in that lineup. Erik Thames factors in as well but he could play outfield as well and make a spot for the acquisition. Their system is pitching heavy at the top as all of their top ten consist of hurlers, most of which are pretty far away. This could fit in well with what Cherington has shown us is attractive to him.
The San Francisco Giants
The Giants don’t build quite like anyone else. They don’t have fire sales, they aren’t afraid to spend and while they have a bad stretch here and there they never reach the depths of awful most of the league does as they change their identity. The Giants still have Brandon Belt and as I mentioned earlier could be willing to shop him, but power plays in San Fran and McCovey Cove has Josh Bell’s name all over it. I’d consider this a stretch but they have prospects the Pirates should be very interested in. Joey Bart isn’t going anywhere as Posey is aging but Patrick Bailey their number 6 prospect is a switch hitting catcher who profiles to make MLB by 2023, right in the window the Pirates should be hoping for. This one would take some creativity but the Giants as I said aren’t scared to spend, and Boras wouldn’t scare them away.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Jays have a window and it all lines up with Vlad Jr. First base was patrolled by Travis Shaw and while he is certainly serviceable he can’t provide what a good Josh Bell can. The competitive landscape in the AL East is arguably the toughest in baseball, but if the Jays are to compete with the Rays and Yankees they’ll need to find magic in a bottle somewhere. The young core is exciting but they’re missing something, is Josh Bell what they’re missing, who knows, all we have to do is hope they think so. The Jays have two catchers in their top 10 prospects and a pitcher I’ve had my eye on Alex Manoah. The familiarity between Cherington and the Jays make this possible and perhaps could even open up to package deals. Something like Bell and Musgrove for Manoah and Alejandro Kirk. The Bucs could even get more than that in return, in fact they better, but those would be my centerpieces.
The Texas Rangers
The Rangers had almost just as horrible a season as the Pirates did, so it seems odd that they’d want to bring in a player like Bell, but they have a gaping hole at first base and they’ll spend money happily. They’re definitely rebuilding so prospect capital means more to them than others but if this helps them solve a problem at the same time I could see it. Bell is a Texas boy and that might just mean something to both him and the Rangers. Texas would be foolish to part with Sam Huff so get that out of your head but they have a diverse mix of position and mound talent in their top prospect list. As is the case with many teams at their stage of rebuild, 5 of their top 10 prospects are currently in MLB so in many ways the Pirates might have to settle for talent a bit lower on the list.
That’s my list of top contenders for the services of Josh Bell. I know many have suggested the A’s but I just don’t see it, I think that move just isn’t in their DNA. The Angels are a team I pondered because Albert Pujols will be in his last year of his ten year deal, but they already have Ohtani as a DH option. They can probably hold off and see what other options crop up in the next off season. The Mariners don’t need a 1B, the Astros just re upped Gurriel for a season, the Red Sox clearly want to build their team internally. Tampa rarely makes moves like this and I’m not sure he fits their philosophy anyhow. Baltimore is building and that’s not a fit. Yup, I’m going to leave it at those five.
Given all my self imposed criteria, these are the most likely to me, but through this exercise I’ll tell you what I learned, don’t be too shocked if we see Josh Bell in a Pirates uniform come 2021 in Bradenton.