In the 11 days before the trade deadline, the Pirates face the same issues as every other team in the mood to add -- few sellers, fewer still impact players available and a high market value on those players as a result.
"The challenge becomes, what cost are our projected current wins versus projected future wins, and that's the balance that we're always going to walk," general manager Neal Huntington said Sunday.
His team has enough current wins, 52 after sweeping the Colorado Rockies this weekend, to put them in the race for the National League Central Division title and the NL wild card. Huntington did not limit the trade interests to any one position, but reports and common sense indicate that they will focus on pitching.
San Diego Padres right-hander Ian Kennedy would make sense, and Fox Sports reported that the Pirates had a scout watching his most recent start. Kennedy is under team control through 2015, his final year of arbitration, and is owed only a pro-rated portion of his $6.1 million salary through the end of this year. Kennedy, 29, has a 3.62 ERA and 137 strikeouts in 1291/3 innings this season.
Three-fifths of the Philadelphia Phillies' starting rotation could interest teams in search of pitching. They could move left-handers Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels, or right-handed A.J. Burnett, but the large contracts of Lee and Hamels will factor into the trade talks.
Burnett, 37, has a complicated mutual/player option for next season but is pitching through a hernia that might require offseason surgery. The Pirates sent a scout to watch his start Friday, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The Pirates made two August trades in 2013, acquiring Marlon Byrd in one and Justin Morneau in another, but Huntington said they don't look ahead to August at the expense of July. Lee and Hamels might clear waivers and be traded in August because of the money they are owed. Lee is on the disabled list because of an elbow strain but is expected to return today.
Huntington said the Pirates could receive a boost from their own players, such as Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole. He also said, "There are also players out there, whether it's starting pitching, relievers, position players, role players, that can help us."
An early trade removed two worthy targets, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, from consideration. The Oakland Athletics sent top prospect Addison Russell, among others, to the Chicago Cubs July 5 for the services of those two right-handers.
"When there's one move that has a significant public impact, it impacts the future asks, but it doesn't necessarily impact the future market," Huntington said.
In the bullpen market, Philadelphia's Jonathan Papelbon, Houston's Tony Sipp and Boston's Andrew Miller reportedly have received interest around the league.
The Pirates have several talented prospects in the low minors who could help them land an upgrade, but the pickings are thinner in Class AA and Class AAA. The player who might bring the most return is outfielder Josh Bell, whom the Pirates just promoted to Class AA Altoona. The Pirates' young and contractually controlled outfield trio currently blocks Bell, though he has some time before that becomes an issue.
Class AAA right-hander Nick Kingham, the Pirates' No. 5 prospect according to Baseball America, is having a strong season but not all scouts view him in such high regard.
Altoona shortstop Alen Hanson, the organization's No. 6 prospect, is hitting .285 with 10 home runs this season. But he has committed 27 errors and has been benched two separate times due to lack of effort, and indications are that other teams took notice, making him a less desirable trade chip.
The other talented prospects, such as Tyler Glasnow, Reese McGuire and Austin Meadows, are in the low minors.
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @BrinkPG.