Bob Smizik: Buy or sell?

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It’s June 17 and the Pirates are coming off an open date. What better time to play the most popular summer game of the baseball crowd: ''Buyer/Seller“?

It might be a bit early, but speculation is rampant even if the actual fruition of most of these possible deals is probably at least a month away.

After years of selling at the deadline, the Pirates have been in the acquisition phase the past three years and brought in good talent without giving much in return. General Manager Neal Huntington deserves credit for his buying tactics.

2011: The Pirates acquired Ryan Ludwick and Derrek Lee, two much-needed bats, for almost nothing. Ludwick flopped; Lee was excellent but missed close to a month with an injury.

2012: Wandy Rodriguez was acquired from Houston for a package that had Prospect Nation wailing. But the players -- Robbie Grossman, Rudy Owens and Colton Cain -- did not figure large in the team’s plans. Gaby Sanchez was acquired for Gorkys Hernandez and a late first-round draft choice.

2013: Justin Morneau was acquired for Alex Presley, and Marlon Byrd was acquired for Vic Black and Dilson Herrera, a second baseman who might have helped the Pirates in the years ahead. Byrd was a major factor in the team advancing to the postseason.

It’s hard to know what needs the Pirates will have a month from now. Within the space of a couple of weeks, for example, starting pitching has gone from a weakness to a strength. The starters’ ERA this month is an excellent 2.49. At almost the same time, the bullpen has gone from a strength to a question mark. No one should be surprised if both of those groups return to their previous form in the weeks ahead.

The Pirates are not likely to be looking for help, unless there is a serious injury at catcher, second base, third base and all three outfield positions. At shortstop, Jordy Mercer is showing signs of coming alive at the plate with an .816 OPS this month. There’s no telling what might be expected from first baseman Ike Davis, who has been unpredictable. But he has a .782 OPS vs. right-handed pitching.

This much is certain: If the Pirates are in contention in mid to late-July, they will need improvement somewhere. Most contenders do and fans will be demanding upgrades, if only to the bench.

It has been suggested that the Pirates get in the mix for a big name, such as right-handed starter Jeff Samardzija of the Cubs. That’s not likely. Huntington doesn’t like to give up top prospects. Outfielder Josh Bell, who the Pirates gave a $5 million bonus to in 2011, has been mentioned as a candidate to be traded for a high-end pitcher. Anything is possible, but such a move does not seem like something Huntington would do.

The player to be named in the Ike Davis deal was Blake Taylor, a 2013 No. 2 draft choice. But he was only the Pirates’ 20th-ranked prospect by MLB.com, which now has him as the Mets’ 19th. Herrera has advanced to ninth with the Mets. It would take more than prospects like Taylor and Herrera to get Samardzija.

If the season turns bad and the Pirates become a seller, they’ll have plenty to put on the market: pitchers Francisco Liriano, Edinson Volquez and Jason Grilli and catcher Russell Martin.

At the moment, Martin has the most value of that group. But most contenders already have a good catcher. The few that do not would not likely pay dear for a two-month rental of Martin. Volquez, Grilli and Liriano, if he’s healthy and productive, he will have a market, but it’s not going to be a big one.

For example, at the deadline last year, San Diego got Ian Kennedy from Arizona for left-handed reliever Joe Thatcher, prospect Matt Stites (0-1 with a 3.85 ERA in Class AAA this season), and a competitive balance draft selection. Baltimore got Bud Norris from Houston for outfielder L.J. Hoes (.742 OPS at AAA), lefty pitching prospect Josh Hader (6-0 with a 2.34 ERA in high Class A and the Astros’ 14th-ranked prospect by MLB.com), and a competitive balance draft pick.

Texas did pay the Cubs heavily for Matt Garza. The fact Garza failed to produce for the Rangers -- 4-5 with a 4.38 ERA -- could make teams back off even further in giving up quality talent. The Pirates could get a Dilson Herrera type prospect at the deadline, but to expect much more is dreaming.

On the field and off the field, it promises to be an interesting six weeks for the Pirates.


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