White Sox outfielder Alex Rios, right, celebrates with Alejandro De Aza after both scored on a double by Adam Dunn in the first inning Tuesday against the Indians at Progressive Field in Cleveland. Rios is a potential trade deadline acquisition for the Pirates.
By Bill Brink Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Amid the hype and speculation that always accompanies the trade deadline, manager Clint Hurdle kept his explanation of the Pirates' approach simple: Find the areas of weakness and ask around.
"Then you go knock on doors and you see if there's a match and you can improve your ballclub," he said. "If you can, you do. If you can't, you don't."
Teams have until 4 p.m. today to make trades before the non-waiver deadline, and the Pirates will be active. After sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals in a doubleheader, they are 64-42 and lead the Central Division by 11/2 games.
Thanks to consistently stellar pitching, the Pirates accomplished their record with an offense that ranks 11th in the National League with 3.91 runs per game and 10th with a .310 on-base percentage. Their right fielders have a collective .226 average and a .649 on-base plus slugging percentage.
Reports Tuesday said the Pirates were interested in trading for Chicago White Sox right fielder Alex Rios, but a source said Tuesday evening that, while a trade for Rios remained possible, it was unlikely.
Rios, 32, was hitting .272 with 12 home runs, 22 doubles and a .324 on-base percentage in 430 plate appearances this season. He is making $12.5 million this year, and, if traded, he would make $13 million in 2014 with a $14 million club option for 2015.
Rios left the White Sox's game early Tuesday night after fouling a ball off his left foot.
The Pirates had an $80 million opening-day payroll, but are only paying about $66.5 million out of their own pocket because of compensation from the New York Yankees and the Houston Astros. Owner Bob Nutting said in spring training that the team would not reserve payroll for the trade deadline, preferring instead to put resources toward the opening-day roster.
A source also downplayed the possibility that the Pirates might make a trade for Astros right-hander Bud Norris, whose name surfaced as a target in media reports Tuesday. Norris has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining and is making only $3 million this season. The Astros pulled him from his scheduled start Tuesday in anticipation of a possible trade.
Norris, 28, has a 3.93 ERA in 21 starts, striking out 90 and walking 43 in 126 innings. Acquiring him would force the Pirates to remove someone from their rotation, likely Gerrit Cole or Charlie Morton. Given the Pirates' track record of retaining players when possible, they would be more likely to option Cole to Class AAA Indianapolis and preserve their starting rotation depth than to cut ties with Morton, who is out of options.
Cole has pitched well in nine starts, compiling a 3.56 ERA and walking only 1.9 batters per nine innings.
If the Pirates traded for a starter such as Norris, it would help cover for the extended absence of Wandy Rodriguez, who is still throwing off flat ground after going on the disabled list because of in early June.
Another source said New York Mets outfielder Marlon Byrd could be a target.
Some players don't pay much attention to trade rumors.
"I haven't heard too many guys talking about it in here as of late," Clint Barmes said. "Ultimately, all of that stuff's out of our control anyway."
Neil Walker said the players see updates on TV, but generally don't hear from the coaching staff regarding potential trades.
"If there's going to be a move made, guys kind of want to know what's going on," Walker said.
Players have faith in the roster that put them so far above .500, but said they understood the nature of the business of trying to improve the team.
"Obviously, we want to be the best team that we can be," Barmes said. "Everyone in this clubhouse has faith in each other. We've gotten to this point together. No reason we can't continue and finish it off the rest of the year."
Situations change almost constantly in the days before the trade deadline, so the Pirates' feelings toward Rios, Norris and others will probably vacillate before 4 p.m.
"There are some doors that literally are not opening and the asks really don't make sense for us," Hurdle said. "But that's the industry in which we deal. As the clock continues to tick, you never know what might happen."
Players mentioned as targets before the trade deadline.