Hunter Pence is on Pirates Radar

In blanking the Reds last night for another shutout victory, the Pittsburgh Pirates maintained their spot atop the NL Central.  It’s certainly been a while since the Pirates have been in this position with the deadline approaching, and the club may look to make some moves to bolster their chances of remaining in the playoff race as the summer continues.

Reports state that the Pirates are interested in adding bullpen depth as well as offensive production.  While Pirates relievers have been some of the best in the league, the offense has been another story.

Pittsburgh has been carried by their impressive pitching this season.  Even sitting 6 games over .500, the club ranks in the bottom third of the league in most offensive categories.

To me this would signal that adding a bat would take priority over bringing in relief help.  The problem here is that while there are a fair number of bullpen arms available, true impact hitters seem to be few and far between this summer.

As is always the case this time of year, several names have been floated as possible Pittsburgh trade targets.  The Pirates have been in contact with the A’s about outfielder Josh Willingham, and could have interest in Cubs slugger Aramis Ramirez.  The issue with the former Pirate is that it’s not yet been established that he would agree to waive his no trade clause.

Another big name with an even larger salary that’s been linked to the Pirates is Carlos Beltran.  The Mets outfielder is known to be available, but New York is telling teams it will either cost top prospects or a pretty penny to acquire Beltran.

What all of the aforementioned players have in common is that they would be short term rentals and/or payroll dumps.

One player that has come up that would fit the bill of impact bat but would also remain under team control beyond 2011 is Hunter Pence.

Pence would be a great addition to the Pirates young core of Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker and Jose Tabata.  He’s 28 and still has 2 years of arbitration left after this season, carrying him through the prime of his career.

On the year, Pence has put up an impressive line of .318/.359/.484 with 11 home runs, 24 doubles and 61 RBI’s.  The right fielder has put up a career OPS of .820 over his 5 seasons in the bigs, averaging 25 home runs and over 157 games played per year from 2008-2010.

While this may seem a match made in heaven, there are several issues standing in the way of the transaction.

Pence currently leads Houston is basically everything offensively and Ed Wade has made it known that it will take a lot to pry the 28 year away from the Astros.  This toll could be even higher for the Pirates as they share a division with the Stros.

The other question is how much are the Pirates willing to give up and take on this deadline.  Though they say they are open to trading prospects and adding salary, it remains a case of ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’ for most.

I don’t know the financial restrictions the club has, but it would certainly behoove the Pirates to make some kind of move this July.  While they don’t have to do anything astronomical like bring in a Pence or even Beltran, a solid move would go a long way towards showing Pittsburgh’s fan base that the team is serious about contending this season.

So while Pittsburgh’s climb to the top of the division has been impressive, it is yet to be seen what if anything the club will do this deadline to better their chances of remaining there.

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Tags: Andrew McCutchen Aramis Ramirez Carlos Beltran Houston Astros Hunter Pence Jose Tabata Josh Willingham Neil Walker Pittsburgh Pirates

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