The Pittsburgh Pirates should explore trades for Josh Bell. While Bell has struggled out of the gate this season, he could be an offensive upgrade to a number of contenders.
Josh Bell has not had the start he would have liked for the Pittsburgh Pirates with an uncharacteristic .190/.245/.270 and 41wRC+ so far in 2020. He is just one season removed from a breakout year that saw him hit 37 dingers, have a 135 wRC+, and post a 2.5 fWAR. Teams know this and could see Bell as an attractive bounce-back candidate who, when right, can anchor an entire lineup.
One reason Bell is a more interesting trade chip this year is that the universal DH means teams that already have a 1B could utilize the switch hitter as a DH. While it is unclear if the DH will be permanent, it seems it will likely be included in the next CBA. An acquiring team will get Bell entering his second year of arbitration and have him until free agency in 2023.
There are two primary things driving Bell’s struggles at the moment. The first is his Whiff% ballooned to 38% (bottom 3rd percentile) compared to a 24% career rate. The other issue has been Bell’s performance against curve balls. Last year, Bell clobbered curves with a .426 xwOBA and 93 EV compared to just .155 xwOBA and 88.5 EV this year. Bell has retained his ability to crush the ball evidenced by his exit velocity and hard hit rate. It stands to reason that Bell will regain his form as the season goes on, possibly for a contending team. So who could have interest?
Chicago White Sox
Off to an encouraging 19-12 record tied for second in the AL Central and in possession of the second wild card, Bell would look great on the south side of Chicago. Jose Abreu is having a strong year, but the team has only managed a 78 wRC+ from its DH spot. Bell would bring a dynamic switch hitter and lengthen the lineup.
The White Sox could offer a combination of RHP Codi Heuer, Andrew Dalquist, and one of OF Micker Adolfo or Blake Rutherford. Pirates fans might feel that offer is light however, Bell is limited defensively and will be expensive in arbitration given that home runs and RBIs get paid in arbitration. Alternatively, they could just call up stud prospect Andrew Vaughn or older prospect Yermin Mercedes so they have leverage over the Pirates.
The Nats are starting the 2020 season how 2019 began and they must believe after getting hot and winning the World Series they can recapture the same magic. Ryan Zimmerman opted out of 2020 and Eric Thames’ performance has caused them to turn to Howie Kendrick and Asdrubal Cabrera.
The Nats are somewhat thin on prospect depth but have a number of intriguing arms they could offer. Talks would probably center around Mason Denaburg or Jackson Rutledge with some other lesser but quality pieces going to Pittsburgh. The Nats could end up being sellers but Bell still offers plenty of control and would be an upgrade at a position the Nats have had inconsistent production.
The Brewers have limped out of the gate and gotten little production from 1B or DH this season. They are in win-now mode with superstar Christian Yelich and inconsistent but potentially explosive pitching staff. Whether the Pirates are willing to deal within the division is a question but Bell would provide an upgrade and prospects.
The Brewers have a strong farm system with tons of depth and variety so the Pirates could go a number of ways. Pitchers Ethan Small, Aaron Ashby, Antoine Kelly, or Max Lazar could be in play. While the shine has worn off, maybe OF Corey Ray would be of interest as an MLB ready flier. The Brewers have a number of other potential trade filler as well in the minors, the Pirates just need all the talent they can get.
With the DH in both leagues, there are more scenarios for a Josh Bell trade. Bell hasn’t performed to standard just yet, but there’s strong reason he could bounce back. The Pirates won’t be contenders for several years so Bell is a waste of their limited resources and his ABs could go somewhere else.
Where Josh Bell goes, if the Pittsburgh Pirates were to trade him, remains to be seen, but he could be a huge weapon for the rest of the season and into the playoffs.