Jon Lester Makes Sense for the Pirates

The Pittsburgh Pirates don’t have much of a recent history of buying. This is because the Pirates don’t have much of a recent history of winning. But the team was somewhat active during each of the past two seasons. In the middle of 2012, the Pirates added guys like Wandy Rodriguez, Gaby Sanchez and Travis Snider. In the middle of 2013, they added guys like Marlon Byrd, Justin Morneau, John Buck and… Robert Andino? The Pirates were happy to make some tweaks, but they didn’t want to do anything too big, because they’ve been thinking longer-term. They haven’t been positioned to give up prospect talent.

Well, it’s 2014. And the Pirates are good again. They’ve been rumored to be in the mix for some smaller bits, but Tuesday brought word of a potential blockbuster:

The Pittsburgh Pirates are a fast-emerging dark horse in the Jon Lester sweepstakes, joining the Los Angeles Dodgers in pursuit of the Boston ace as the Red Sox decide whether to trade him before Thursday’s deadline, major league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Lester’s a big fish. Arguably the biggest fish out there. He’s also a rental fish, in whatever kind of market it is where you rent fish. The Pirates haven’t previously targeted moves like this, but this season not only are they in the mix — they seem like a perfect match. The Pirates check off all the boxes on the Jon Lester trade-partner checklist.

Competitive team

Let’s start with the obvious one. It wouldn’t make sense for the Houston Astros to trade for Jon Lester because the Astros are terrible. Lester’s a stretch-run rental, and at this writing, the Pirates have seven more wins than losses. They’re not far back from having the best record in the National League, and they project to win more than half their games the rest of the way. Right now, they’re projected for about the same rest-of-season record as the Giants and Braves, with whom the Pirates are competing. If you flip to season-to-date stat projections, the Pirates look a bit worse, but they’re still in a big pack of pretty good teams, all of which would like to get better in the coming days.

With division and wild-card chances

Teams focusing on the wild card would be made better by adding Jon Lester, but they’d face an excellent chance of not getting to use Lester at all in the playoffs. The playoffs are where a lot of his value could come from, so ideally an acquiring team would have a good path to the Division Series. The page I’m looking at tells me the Pirates have a 28% shot at the division and a 24% shot at one of the wild cards, yielding about a 40% shot at the DS. Lester would only make those odds better, and while he wouldn’t guarantee anything but the existence of Jon Lester Pirates jerseys, every move that’s ever been made in baseball has been about playing the odds, and there’s million-dollar value in improving Division Series odds by several percentage points.

With a need

The Dodgers are looking at Lester too, but that’s a team with Zack Greinke, and Hyun-Jin Ryu, and the best starting pitcher in the world. So while Lester would fit in every rotation, he fits certain rotations better than others. The Pirates, to this point, rank last in starting-rotation WAR, and they’re in the bottom tier in starting-rotation RA9-WAR. They’re projected to have a bottom-tier rotation the rest of the way, and while you can see the upside in guys like Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano and Jeff Locke and even Vance Worley, Lester’s better than all those guys. He’d immediately become the staff ace, and he’d be positioned to throw more postseason innings than anybody. He’d get up to two starts in the Division Series. He’d get two or maybe even three starts in the Championship Series. He’d probably get the nod in the one-game playoff, if things lined up right. Few rotations in baseball would be more improved by adding Jon Lester. This isn’t just about Lester replacing the No. 5 for the final two months. It’s also about what he’d mean for a staff in October.

With prospects

According to Baseball America’s midseason top 50, the Pirates have names at No. 21, No. 24, No. 35, No. 37 and No. 43. Marc Hulet’s midseason top 25 gave the Pirates No. 16. The Pirates have prospects you could stomach trading for a guy like Lester. They’ve promoted Gregory Polanco and they’re not going to move him because he’s upper-tier, but there’s a lot of depth remaining of the good-but-not-elite sort. Jeff Passan and Tim Brown reported the Pirates and Red Sox have talked about Josh Bell. Bell was No. 35 on the BA list, and that values him around $20 million – $30 million. Different people will have different interpretations of Lester’s stretch-run value, and some of that depends on how far the Pirates could go, but there’s a lot of sense in a Lester/Bell swap, maybe with another guy coming from the lower end of Pittsburgh’s organizational top 10. On paper it might sting to trade two of your top ten prospects, but the value of guys at the top greatly exceeds the value of guys near the bottom, so really, Lester should cost one good prospect and one talented and intriguing prospect. The Pirates are very well stocked.

With a sense of urgency

The Pirates, right now, aren’t leading their division, nor do they possess one of the wild-card slots. They’re in an extremely tight multi-team race, and this isn’t just a choice between Lester or no Lester; if the Pirates don’t get him, he could instead land with the Brewers or Cardinals, which would make the Pirates worse off. Now, the Pirates are a team that wants to win consistently and sustainably, but we also have to recognize that they’re a lower-budget operation, and teams that don’t spend a lot of money will have greater difficulty contending year in, year out. So there’s a greater incentive to seize the opportunities that do present themselves, and right now the Pirates are in a spot where they could make themselves World Series contenders. There’s no certainty they’ll be back in 2015 or 2016, so this is a time to move.

With limitations

Even if David Price were available, the Pirates probably wouldn’t get involved, because they wouldn’t want to give up that much youth, and they wouldn’t be able to afford Price’s 2015 salary. The same idea applies to Pittsburgh getting Cole Hamels, and word is the Pirates have cooled on A.J. Burnett because of his expensive 2015 option. The Pirates should actually like the idea of a rental, because there’s no commitment for 2015, and the lack of future value and compensation reduces the current asking price. Some teams want to have a guy for more than two months. The Pirates can’t really look for those guys, so Lester’s appeal is that much stronger.

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Obviously, there’s a point where Lester costs too much. Josh Bell and change? Seems acceptable. Josh Bell and Tyler Glasnow? Probably not acceptable. The Pirates can’t get Lester for less than the Red Sox are willing to sell him for, and they’d also have to out-bid their competition. But they can do so much prospect mixing and matching, and the Pirates with Lester might well be the best team in the National League Central. At the moment they’re projected in the NL’s second tier, but add Lester in there and they might fall short only of the Nationals and Dodgers. And again, there’s the factor where not getting Lester could mean a rival gets Lester, which does the opposite of improve the Pirates’ odds.

The Pirates are well positioned to make a big splash. They’re almost a perfect match for Jon Lester, and because of his contract situation, the organization wouldn’t have to mortgage all the future to bring him in. For Neal Huntington this deadline shouldn’t be Jon Lester or bust, but there’s an opportunity here for the Pirates to make their biggest move in decades. It’s a move that would make all kinds of wonderful sense.




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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


128 Responses to “Jon Lester Makes Sense for the Pirates”

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  1. DG Lewis says:

    You had me until “there’s a lot of sense in a Lester/Bell swap, maybe with another guy coming from the lower end of Pittsburgh’s organizational top 10.”

    You put Bell’s value at $20M-$30M. The “lower end of Pittsbugh’s organizational top 10″ are borderline top-100 prospects (Hanson and McGuire, 6 and 7 per MLB’s top 10, are 80/81 overall), so a reasonable value for a guy in the lower end of Pittsburgh’s top 10 is around $5M.

    Lester’s ROS projections on this here website are 1.3 to 1.6 WAR. Let’s use 1.5, and assume that is really an improvement in 1.5 expected wins for the Pirates as Volquez gets bumped to the bullpen and someone like Frieri gets bumped off the 25-man.

    So the Pirates are paying $25M-$35M in expected value for 1.5 wins. That’s somewhere between $16.5M and $23M per win.

    Taking Nate Silver’s original curve (from 2005, when the average cost of a win was $2M) and scaling it by a factor of 3, the marginal value of a win peaks at around $13.5M. There is NO point on the win curve where $16M+ per win is justified.

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    • Soxfan says:

      The compensatory pick would likely be worth more than Bell. I don’t do this if I’m Cherrington for a middling prospect like Bell in his age 23 season getting his first taste in AA. I would rather draft an 18 year old with athleticism that might make AA before becoming a grandfather, and with more athleticism and a lower k% to boot. You are right with your math but the marginal improvement Lester brings needs to be greater in return than what Boston gets for just letting Lester walk.

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      • Soxfan says:

        Sorry age 22 season, still behind the curve.

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        • I’d do Bell and Heredia or Tony Sanchez for Lester and Middlebrooks (dreaded change of scenery)

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        • Justin says:

          Remember that when the likely comp pick never makes it to AA.

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        • Soxfan says:

          John Lester has the second most pitcher war in baseball this year behind King Felix. He is an elite player and even for a 2 month rental you need a higher ceiling player than Bell. Look at the Oliver projections for Bell, they are terrible. Better off either resigning Lester (like they should) or letting him walk and drafting a player with serious potential, not acquiring spare parts like Bell.

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        • Justin says:

          Why exactly are you looking at Oliver projections made before the season for a guy who was in A-ball last year as your evaluation?

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        • Soxfan says:

          Because they are the only projections currently available to the public, they run for 5 years, and the player hasn’t made significant statistical changes in this current season.

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        • Justin says:

          Moving up a level and improving output in every offensive category? Yeah, that’s nothing. It’s not like the FSL is an offensive league either, he was leading the league in wRC+ when he got promoted.

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        • Soxfan says:

          He improved his k%, his .iso dropped but remained in range of similar to previous year at lower level, and the increase in woba/obp/ba can all be attributed to his 60 point babip increase as they all increased by fewer than 60 points. Was that babip increase due to better contact? Certainly possible, but he wouldn’t be the first player to see a spike in numbers with inflated babip. As to wrc+ yeah he profiled very well as anyone playing A ball in age 22 season should. Same reason JBJ masqueraded as a competent hitter in lower minors, older players tend to perform well when playing against kids.

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        • Justin says:

          You say that like he has no pedigree and is repeating the level, neither of which are true.

          .45 pts babip and it’s not like .364 is ridiculous, or he even has a long track record pointing otherwise.

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        • Soxfan says:

          I never said either. I said he is old for the level (A+) and that his numbers there were similar to another player who dominated A+ at age 22 but can’t hit, Jackie Bradley Jr.

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        • DG Lewis says:

          He actually doesn’t turn 22 until August 14, so I believe most would consider this his age 21 season. Which puts him (per BB-Ref) 1.6 years younger than the average age for A+, which is sort of the opposite of “old for his level”.

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      • DG Lewis says:

        A comp round pick has an expected value of around $5M, because your 18 year old with athleticism might bust out at high A.

        You can prefer the comp pick to Bell – but all the accepted valuations of draft picks and prospects would say that you’re mistaken.

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        • Soxfan says:

          Most now put that number in 8 figures, the $5 million label is very much in dispute. I just don’t think Bell is worthy of his prospect status given athelticism age at level and projections. He is worth 30m if he really is a top 30 prospect. Projection systems don’t see that, some human evaluators do. Joc Pederson? Done and done. I’d even take a chance on someone like Tavaras. Bell is much more likely to be a 1 tool type with gap power negative defensive values and negative baserunning values. Even with power he only managed a .160 ISO and rode a >.360BABIP as a 21/22 year old at high A ball this season. That is a future role player not a future all star and Boston isn’t Tampa the money value in young players doesn’t hold the same real world value with a payroll ceiling of $200 million.

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        • Roto Wizard says:

          @Soxfan Pederson or Tavaras? I think you’re confused on how much value 2 months of Lester really has.

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      • A. Lane says:

        What compensatory pick are you talking about?

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        • Soxfan says:

          The pick Boston gets for letting him leave after he declines the qualifying offer.

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        • A. Lane says:

          I was under the impression that Boston was attempting to resign him, and a trade may not effect that, thus the QO would be to just suppress his market.

          You are certainty entitled to you valuation but Bell lost significant time to a knee injury, was still below the average age for A+. Are you really knocking him because a high BABIP, I thought it was understood the distribution of talent is greater in the minors thus outliers more likely. League average ISO is .112 in the FSL.

          I’d pefer Joc Pederson too, but isn’t that asking a little much?

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        • Soxfan says:

          I’m talking about the Red Sox. They would get the comp pick letting him walk. They have 0 intention to resign him, offered 4/$70, and apparently are hesitant/refusing to go past 4 years. I would rather have the comp pick than Bell. Higher potential ceiling. I’m knocking Bell for producing lesser numbers in age 22 season at A+/AA level than Jackie Bradley Jr, a non prospect(who was also listed way too high given age at levels). Garciaparra, Pedroia, Bogaerts, Betts were all in majors age 21 season. Players who reach the majors as non pitchers at age 24 or later rarely become All Stars, or even above average regulars. The Red Sox intend to compete every year, and Betts’ ceiling is much higher than Bell, so is Rusney Castillo’s, who only costs money. I don’t see the point in acquiring Bell for the Red Sox. As a 1st division team if he isn’t a borderline All Star there is no point in acquiring him. His absolute ceiling seems more like Brandon Moss, which is unlikely given his age and performance, he is more likely a 4th outfielder type. Let Lester walk and take the 2% chance on a superstar from the draft pick instead of the 30% chance at a major league regular someone like Bell represents.

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        • Andrew says:

          I was not aware of that concerning Lester, i thought 4/$70 was Boston’s starting offer. I see your point about upside, though don’t SS/CF prospects have earlier debut ages as a population? And the Jackie Bradley comparison reeks of availability bias. I just consider cavalier to dismiss a 30% 2.0 WAR/600 for admittedly a 2% chance at a 6.0 WAR/600.

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        • King Buzzo's Fro says:

          If the Red Sox want to resign Lester, why are they concerned about the comp pick? Obviously Lester could sign anywhere, but if THEY want him, they could obviously afford him. It will be interesting to see if they hold the line on contract years for him and not end up with Hamels 2.0 situation, letting someone else give him 6-7 years.

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      • Steinbrenners Calzone says:

        The Pirates will not get a comp pick for Lester. He has not played for the same team all year and they would not make him a qualifying offer. He would just walk.

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      • LukeNalooshe says:

        He’s 21 years old as of today. He crushed in A+ to a 156 wRC+ in ~360 PA’s, and he had a highly impressive 11.8% K% in the process, well below league average.

        He’s 21-years old right now in AA. He’s an impressive prospect.

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      • Bell rung? says:

        Josh Bell is still 21, and will be 22 in AAA next year. I think your “grandfather’s” clock on prospects is starting to lose the ability to tell time.

        Also, Bell is a Top 30 prospect now, so not sure what your definition of “middling” is and, finally, Josh Bell’s K rate this year is 12.6%.

        Are you sure you’re participating in the right Comments section? Please advise.

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      • jdbolick says:

        A compensatory pick probably wouldn’t come close to the value of Josh Bell, who was considered one of the top talents in his draft and only fell due to signability, then has shown reasonable progression as a minor leaguer. Bell would have a significantly higher ceiling and a significantly higher chance of becoming some sort of major league contributor than a compensatory pick.

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    • Carlos says:

      You forget to include the value of WAR in the post-season which is the main point of getting Lester, especially that one game in a potential wild card face off.

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      • munchtime says:

        I was about to make this same point. Its a gamble, but if you get into the playoffs… how much is a win in the playoffs worth?

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    • Arc says:

      Terrible analysis. The goal is not to win enough games to make the playoffs – or even to make the playoffs by itself. The goal is win the World Series. That is the only value the Pirates see in Lester and it is the value you elect out entirely.

      I don’t have a model for the value of postseason wins or the value of a World Series. If you do, you should present it. Even if you don’t, you need to acknowledge it as the single biggest missing variable in the question of his value balanced against e.g. Bell’s. Historically, very smart, better-informed baseball executives have generally valued those things more than prospects like Bell.

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      • Johnston says:

        Terrible analysis. Winning the WS is a goal. There are many. Making money, increasing attendance, reaching the playoffs, remaining playoff competitive, rebuilding the team – these are also goals.

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  2. Jason Bacherman says:

    In my opinion it would probably take more than Bell and change for the Sox to pull the trigger on this deal. Using the Garza to Texas deal as precedent, I would say Boston would have to get at least that and maybe more.

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    • using a deal a GM has publicly called a mistake is… probably a mistake.

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    • LukeNalooshe says:

      I don’t think it’s good business practice to use publicly admitted mistakes as the benchmark for business deals. The Cubs got lucky, the market will correct itself.

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    • Morton says:

      Re: publicly called a mistake. Daniels may have smarts and an inside view, but that trade from the get-go was quantity over quality. Two of the pieces have already busted, one appears to top out as an injury-prone RP, and the only value piece is dealing with all the risk you’d expect from him — e.g. he’s injured in AA. Garza may have been a mistake because he alone couldn’t — playing as well as ever by xFIP — carry that team to the playoffs. But three pieces of 40-man filler and the kind of good prospect with the worst risk profile isn’t exactly earth shaking.

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      • Sparks says:

        Daniels called it a mistake and regretted it. Not just the public. Ramirez has had a strong year thus far, Grimm has potential, other than being injured, no one has said Edwards stuff has soured. Olt could still develop even though he likely won’t. Daniels made a mistake and admitted to it.

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  3. I said the same thing about David Price in the offseason when it seemed like it was certain Price would be traded. Pittsburgh is in that rare situation where they have a good enough farm system to make a big move while also being *just close* to good enough at the major league level to make a deep playoff run. Given the recent history of the franchise, it really seems tough not to want to pull the trigger on a move like this

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  4. Don't Do It Bucs says:

    “There’s no certainty they’ll be back in 2015 or 2016, so this is a time to move.”

    There’s no certainty of anything, but as players like Cole and Polanco continue to develop, and prospects like Taillon and Glasnow come up, I don’t think it’s nuts to say the Pirates have good years ahead of them.

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    • Shut up, bat sixth and get your arse in left says:

      Prospects

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    • Garth Vader says:

      There’s no certainty of anything, but as players like Hosmer and Ventura continue to develop, and prospects like Zimmer and Myers come up, I don’t think it’s nuts to say the Royals have good years ahead of them.

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      • David says:

        Yes but they traded Myers, and their playoff odds only climbed to 20% for 2013 or 2014, skewed toward a WC spot. The Pirates have a 60+% chance of making the playoffs this year.

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    • Arc says:

      A bird in the hand.

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  5. 20longyears says:

    As a Bucs fan, I’m really loathe to trade Bell. He could be in the majors as early as next year, and while they don’t need an outfielder, first base remains a black hole with no prospect of getting better, unless you believe Davis/Sanchez will turn things around miraculously. The speculation has long been that the Pirates would turn Bell into a first baseman, as his bat is strong enough for the position. It goes without saying that Bell could bust. But he’s also a year or so away from filling a serious organizational need.
    Personally, I’d be far more willing to part with Meadows, McGuire, or Hanson, none of whom are anything to sneeze at, either. For other talent, I wonder if perhaps the Sox would be interested in trying to revive the career of Luis Heredia. He’s still a top 10 Pirates prospect, and he’s still young, but he’s had a rough couple seasons.

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    • No way he’s in the league next year. He is a promising prospect, but he just started the season in Low-A West Virginia. Unless he’s on the Bryce Harper prodigy track, he’s not getting up till 2016.

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      • Simon says:

        No, he started the season in high-A Bradenton, and is now in AA. If he continues to hit, another year or so seems eminently reasonable.

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    • vivalajeter says:

      From what I read, it was basically a coin flip whether the Mets would trade Ike Davis or Lucas Duda. If the Pirates had chosen a better coin, they might not have this problem.

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    • AK7007 says:

      Bell isn’t close to the majors. That’s not being hateful to the pirates, that’s being realistic. Organizations shouldn’t be picking and choosing amongst their prospects based on current positional scarcity at the MLB level unless the prospects in question are close to the majors. Instead, they need to be picking and choosing based on overall talent. Bell therefore makes sense as a possible trade chip if they are interested in trading at the deadline for Lester, as he is not one of their overall best talents, but could be more valuable than what other teams can offer. I don’t think this position is unreasonable.

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      • 20longyears says:

        I agree that teams shouldn’t draft for need by position, but I disagree that the Pirates shouldn’t consider positional need when determining which prospects they make available. He’s not going to be in the majors this year, or probably even next. But 2016 is close enough to understand the extreme unlikeliness that the Pirates have another first base solution within that time frame. They don’t have the budget to buy a free agent first baseman; they don’t have positional prospects with comparable bats above low A ball; any draft pick they get would be even further away from the majors than Bell.
        Bell is the best chance for the Pirates to have anything other than a patchwork first base situation within the next three years. Better to trade some of the prospects who wouldn’t arrive till 2018 or later, when Cutch will be gone.

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  6. vivalajeter says:

    What’s Price’s trade value now, compared to the off-season? Is it comparable or far apart? If comparable, can they trade for him one, use him to hopefully get deep into the playoffs, then trade him in December for a package similar to what they gave up? They’d essentially get him without losing an elite prospect since they’d be swapping prospects.

    On the other hand, if his trade value would be comparable in December then I guess Tampa would just hold onto him.

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    • james says:

      While not totally nuts, the rays know that. It seems like the current offers are all what they think they can get in the winter, so they want to keep him for their strech run unless they are blown away.

      it does mean the bucks may be able to make a trade, overpay slightly and then get a return in the offseason to recoup the loss… it may be a lower net loss of talent, but would be a lot of risk (if price gets hurt, they get no return in the offseason)

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      • joser says:

        …they get no return in the offseason and they’re on the hook for a salary they can’t afford. Losing prospects is one thing, but blowing up your budget tends to really get owners upset.

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  7. Spa City says:

    The Pirates have not produced a quality first-baseman in… ever. Josh Bell seems like a decent prospect at 1B. His defensive limitations would be offset by moving him to 1B, which makes sense anyway because the Bucs are set at all 3 OF positions for years to come. Bell is a switch hitter with power and discipline. I would hate to see him traded for a dozen starts from Jon Lester.

    John Lester is not a great pitcher. He is a good pitcher who people like to think of as a great pitcher. A 2 month rental of Lester should be worth Casey Sadler, Luis Heredia and Harold Ramirez. I would not give up Josh Bell.

    But Huntington has earned my trust.

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    • Sean says:

      Lester isn’t a great pitcher? Are we thinking of the same guy?!

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    • Ruki Motomiya says:

      WAR from 2008 on, AKA his first full year: 5.0, 6.2, 5.4, 3.5, 3.1, 4.2, 4.6 (4.6 WAR season ongoing)

      I must pity your children if you set as high of expectations for them as you apparently do for pitchers.

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    • List of Spa City’s great pitchers: Clayton Kershaw

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    • John C says:

      Well, you’re right. John Lester, who had a 1-2 record for the Class D Chanute Owls in 1946, is not a great pitcher. But we’re talking about Jon Lester, who has a 110-63 record in the major leagues with an ERA 20 percent better than league average, and who has been an absolute beast in postseason play.

      If you’re trying to get to October and then win in October, being able to write Jon Lester’s name on the lineup card helps a lot.

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    • Shut up, bat sixth and get your arse in left says:

      Oh for god’s sake. What exactly is the difference between Lester to the Pirates and Sabathia to the Brewers in ’08. I can’t think of any noticeable difference given its less than half a year. Laporta or Bell? I’ve already noted my Sox bias below, but it can’t touch your Bucs bias.

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      • Roto Wizard says:

        This Pirates fan has no problems with Bell for Lester. I’ll even throw in Heredia if it means that much to you.

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    • Paul G. says:

      Don Clendenon does not count? He wasn’t great, but he gave them some good years.

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    • King Buzzo's Fro says:

      The same Lester who’s allowed 1 run in 21 world series innings? 2.11 ERA in 76 playoff innings. Not to mention spending his whole career in the AL East, what with 4/5 hitter’s parks.

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    • We Are Family says:

      Willie Stargell was signed by the Pirates in 1958, debuted on 9/16/62 and played with the Pirates the next 20 years.

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  8. jordangrade says:

    I’ve been wondering something since I saw the pirates (I think it was them) send a lefthanded reliever into right field for a batter, only to come back and face the next guy.

    If the pirates traded for Lester, and played in the wild card game, could they (theoretically) start Lester in the outfield and Cole on the mound, and have the pitchers switch positions so that Lester faces all the lefties and Cole all the righties?

    I’m not asking if you think it’s a bad strategy; i.e. if people think the pitchers cant stay warm and it will cause injuries, or the negative effect of having two pitchers hit and a pitcher in the outfield outweighs the pros; I’m curious if it’s allowed and or its ever been done with starting pitchers.

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    • John C says:

      Yes, stuff like that has been done before, usually with relievers, where a manager brings in a LOOGY to get a tough left-handed hitter and sends his pitcher to left field for the at-bat, then pulls the LOOGY and moves the original pitcher back to the mound.

      I don’t think anyone’s ever done it for a whole game, and I really think it would be an unwise strategy, because the cost of having two incompetent hitters in the lineup and an incompetent outfielder is a lot higher than any platoon advantage.

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  9. jardinero says:

    If I’m the Pirates, I don’t give up any of my top-5 prospects. I’d rather be competitive for 10 years than great for a season or two and then bad for the next eight. And they might not be that great even WITH Lester. I can easily see them mortgaging the future and then falling short of the wild card. Lot of holes on offense (Polanco, Pedro, Ike, Marte) and the bullpen needs another arm.

    I’d see what I can get for Harold Ramirez and Reese McGuire. It won’t be Lester, but those guys should fetch something useful.

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    • munchtime says:

      If trading one prospect dooms the Pirates to being bad for 8 years, they aren’t good enough to be considering this type of trade in the first place. And would probably be bad, even if they kept their prospects.

      There isn’t a single player in MLB who makes the difference between a team being bad and great – not even Mike Trout. To expect a prospect to be a better player than Trout seems… unrealistic.

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    • Shut up, bat sixth and get your arse in left says:

      Ever heard of Cedar Cedeno or Vada Pinson? Maybe outliers but examples nonetheless. Plus you have guys like Bautista or Encanarcion figuring it out around 30 for a few years. The equation becomes convoluted. I have no idea what Polanco or Mcutcheon have for vices or insecurities.

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    • Roto Wizard says:

      Lots of holes on offense? Remove pitchers from the equation and they are a top 3 offense. Hell, even if you don’t, they are still the second most productive hitting team in the NL.

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    • King Buzzo's Fro says:

      I liked the part of the article where Jeff points out the bucs awful starting pitcher WAR. But maybe you’re right and they should fortify the bullpen

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    • Arc says:

      It’s just that easy. Keep your prospects and be competitive for ten years.

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  10. BenRevereDoesSteroids says:

    “The Dodgers are looking at Lester too, but that’s a team with Zack Greinke, and Hyun-Jin Ryu, and the best starting pitcher in the world. So while Lester would fit in every rotation, he fits certain rotations better than others.

    I asked this in the other Dodger/Lester article. But why does a marginal increase to the starting rotation to increase a 70%+ chance of winning the division at the cost of a top prospect make sense for the Athletics, but not the Dodgers?

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    • it probably doesn’t for either — unless each team deeply believes in windows and thinks this year is it.

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    • Costanza says:

      I don’t know the rotational WAR off the top of my head, but I suspect it’s because the As rotation wasn’t as good as the Dodgers. So they upgraded a weakness (rotation depth), whereas the Dodgers would get a marginal return over their 5th SP.

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    • munchtime says:

      The A’s didn’t make a trade to get to the playoffs; they did it to improve their chances once they got there.

      Look at the back of the rotation. Beckett/Haren or Chavez/Mills? Mills was literally acquired for $1, and was promptly cut when the As made their trade.

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    • joser says:

      It has to do with who gets pushed out of the rotation, and who would be in a postseason rotation (particularly the first round). Where a guy slots in determines who gets pushed out. Lester doesn’t push down the top of the Dodgers’ rotation, but he would push down the top of the A’s (or Pirates) rotation; when the A’s made that trade it may not have pushed down the #1 but it definitely made a difference in the top 3.

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  11. Steve Z says:

    Two months of Lester is enough to acquire Bell? I don’t think so. Lester’s alleged price reflects the current market, which favors teams with players for sale. The Pirates have not had a strong year this season. And there is no sensible reason to trade Bell for a player who does not much help the organization win another WS. The Pirates ought to build their teams to win championships. Paying Bell for Lester is a fool’s bet for the Pirates.

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    • Steve Z says:

      There’s no certainty they’ll be back in 2015 or 2016, so this is a time to move.

      Ummm, there’s no certainty the Pirates will not be back in 2015 or 2016. Ergo, this is not the time to trade Bell and more for a frivolas hope.

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    • Roto Wizard says:

      Completely, utterly, absolutely disagree with that. Bell for Lester is almost too perfect. The Pirates are trending up, have a real shot at a division title and are literally an elite SP (and perhaps a bullpen arm) away from being true contenders.

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  12. Ghost of Pirates Past says:

    April 13, 2009 – Marc Hulet’s article on Pirates top 10 prospects
    1. (A+) Pedro Alvarez, 3B – 6.4 WAR
    2. (AAA) Andrew McCutcheon, OF – 31.5 WAR
    3. (AA) Jose Tabata, OF – 3.0 WAR
    4. (AA) Brad Lincoln, RHP – 0.1 WAR
    5. (A+) Brad Morris, RHP – NEG 1.4 WAR
    6. (A) Robbie Grossman, OF – NEG 0.9 WAR
    7. (AAA) Neil Walker, 3B – 11.2 WAR (at 2B)
    8. (AAA) Shelby Ford, 2B – Never made majors
    9. (AAA) Daniel McCutcheon, RHP – NEG 1.4 WAR
    10. (INJ) Jarek Cunningham, 3B – Never made majors

    Next 7 other players of note – NADA

    To sum it up, you’ve got 1 of the best players in the game, 2 above average players at 2B and 3B, and a whole lot of junk. Looking at the other top 10’s in the NL Central, there isn’t anything close to a McCutcheon out there. McCutcheon represents a lottery ticket win. Between McCutcheon, Marte, and Polanco, with Tabata as a backup, they have their OF set and paid for through 2019. Josh Bell is a luxury who shouldn’t see the light of day. And even if he does, odds are that he’s average to above average because the McCutcheons of the world are incredibly rare. Not only that, but the lower the minors level, the more risky. And he’s already had a major knee injury.

    Josh Bell is a lottery ticket that has even less value to the holder and cashing it in to get someone of Lester’s ilk seems like a no brainer to me.

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    • Djanyreason says:

      Because all organizational top 10s are created equal, and, also, in a world where that’s true (which is this one, as I just explained) we wouldn’t want a sample size greater than 1.

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    • Brian Cashman says:

      I dunno, dude. A 10% chance of getting another Andrew “McCutcheon” seems pretty valuable to me.

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    • So the Pirates top 10 in 2009 produced a net 48.5 WAR (vast majority from three players of course) or roughly 250 million in free agency value — and the Pirates have one big contract that is still either the best or second best contract in the Majors, and two Arb eligible players, so they are seeing $200 million in surplus value from their 2009 Top 10 prospects — sounds like a good risk to me.

      Sure, the median WAR is 0/not make it to majors, and the average WAR is slightly less than 5 (If we trim outliers average is ~3 WAR), but a top-10 Pirates prospect has a decent chance of producing significant surplus value over the years of control.

      It’s a risk, just like it is a risk of Lester blowing his elbow out on a warm-up pitch the first day he is traded to Team X.

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    • DG Lewis says:

      What does the Pirates’ 2009 farm system have to do with the value of Josh Bell? Unless you claim that the quality of the Pirates’ current top 10 prospects is in some way related to the quality of the Pirates’ top 10 prospects in 2009, in which case you’re just not paying attention.

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    • Give up the Ghost says:

      Comparing the Pirates Top 10 of 2009 – a snapshot coming out of their dark ages of Dave Littlefield, etc. – to the Top 10 of 2014, after the incredible changes and turn-around made to the Pirates drafting, international signings and development methods under the current FO, is silly, if not ludicrous.

      That probably wasn’t worth the time it took you to look it up and type it out, unfortunately.

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    • Schide says:

      And in addition to what everyone else said, you misspelled McCutchen…for two different McCutchens even.

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  13. LHPSU says:

    The addition of Austin Meadow does make Josh Bell more expendable and there are other ways to get first basemen. Bell for Lester straight-up is fine, but I would balk at adding another top-10 organizational prospect.

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    • Steve Z says:

      there are other ways to get first basemen.

      The Pirates haven’t had a star first baseman since Stargell retired. Bell is the best bet the Pirates have had to make his mark as a first baseman in many years. The Pirates can’t trade for established vets who are that good and they can’t buy a free agent of that quality. It’s a draft pick or IFA or nothing. Relying on the kindness of strangers is no way to build a team.

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    • Roto Wizard says:

      I’d be down with Bell/Heredia for realz. Hell, if Lester wins us the division (which 2+ wins could really do), I’d be willing to thrown in a Jaff Decker or Clay Holmes as a conditional PTBN as well! For my fellow Pirates fans balking at losing Bell+ or Bell++, I leave you with a quote: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” – Peter Drucker

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  14. tz says:

    If I’m Boston, I see what I could get for Lester plus Andrew Miller. If that combo gets you say Bell + Glasnow, you’ve done well.

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    • Roto Wizard says:

      Bell/Heredia perhaps. Bell/Kingham if you get lucky and call while NH is drunk. But Bell/Glasnow? *Mutumbo finger waggle*

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  15. Shut up, bat sixth and get your arse in left says:

    If I’m the Red Sox (biased as a fan) I want more. Bell is intriguing and maybe will be something, perhaps a power bat at first or in front of the Monster. How bout’ Lester and Coyle/Middlebrooks for Bell, Meadows, Raw upside arm type. That sounds fair to me but I have not done the math. But do remember the math is hard enough at the major league level. When we start projecting minor leaugers….in the lower levels…ugh

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    • CabreraDeath says:

      Bell/Meadows are better than any Red Sox prospect, w/ the possible exception of Owens. There is zero chance any of that deal is ‘fair’.

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    • Roto Wizard says:

      You’re over valuing 2 months of a pitcher that’s publicly declared his desire to resign with the Sox after this season ends anyways. Take Bell and thank you’re lucky stars you got a top 50 prospect.

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  16. CabreraDeath says:

    Jeff Sullivan obviously hasn’t seen Josh Bell play nor knows anything of his potential. Bell *plus* another piece is insane. Bell, alone, is foolhardy.

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  17. CabreraDeath says:

    Sullivan hated Myers/Odorizzi for 18 months of Shields.
    Sullivan likes Bell/#10 piece for 2 months of Lester.

    Translation: Jeff Sullivan has no idea who Josh Bell is, nor how good the #10 prospect in the Pirates system is.

    CD

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    • munchtime says:

      Or perhaps the Royals and Pirates are not similar situations.

      The Royals had a big hole in RF, traded a highly regarded RF prospect for SP, and were not any closer to making the playoffs after the trade. The Pirates do not have a big hole in the OF, would trade a moderately regarded OF prospect for SP, and would be closer to making the playoffs after the trade.

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      • Steve Z says:

        The Pirates have hand a big hole at first since Stargell retired.

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      • CabreraDeath says:

        Bell is much closer to a prospect of Myers as you are implying. Also, Bell fits for the Pirates at 1B, not the OF. If Pirates trade him, they still haven’t solved their 1B issue.

        Plus, Lester is for 2 months, not 18.

        If you were against the Shields trade, you should be against the Bell/#10 piece trade.

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        • munchtime says:

          Bell doesn’t play 1B, he plays OF. Maybe he can make that transition, and maybe he can’t. He certainly isn’t plug-and-play in the infield in the same way that Myers is in the outfield.

          In terms of prospect rankings, they aren’t that close. One was and MLB-ready top 10 overall prospect, who had spent 4 years ranked in the top 20 overall. The other is not MLB-ready, and has never been a top 20 overall prospect, though he has had a few seasons between 40 and 80. A good prospect, but not close to a similar prospect.

          And the Pirates and the Royals are in two very different situations. It is most certainly possible to support one and reject the other. The quality of prospects is different, the positional need at the MLB level is different, and the potential for making/succeeding in the playoffs is different.

          The Royals were trying to make a jump from losing record to winning record, shifted resources from one MLB position (RF) to another (SP), and made the move in the offseason – when they could have signed a free agent at no prospect cost. The Pirates are trying to solidify playoff positioning, would shift resources from MiLB to MLB, and there are no free agents available due to the fact that we are in-season.

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  18. Hunter says:

    See, I don’t understand why a guy like Hamels shouldn’t be on the Pirates radar, unless they’re unbelievably cheap.

    They could give up a prospect for a guy in Lester who is just going to leave it the end of the year.

    Or they could give up prospects for one of the top 15 pitchers in baseball, signed to a very reasonable contract.

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    • G says:

      If by reasonable you mean hes signed to a contract that will pay him $22.5 mil through his age 35 season with a $6M buyout on the age 36 season. You’d be nuts as a penny pinching club to pick that contract up. Hamels is entering the decline phase and if hes stinking it up 3 years from now it will severely hamper the Bucs from signing or trading for another stud when this team may just be peaking….

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    • LHPSU says:

      $22.5M per year through 2018 plus 6M buyout for 2019? That’s a freakin’ 40% of next year’s payroll, with Walker and Alvarez co.’s arbitration cases coming up beyond that. Even a moderately affluent franchise would not give up a top prospect for the chance to pay Cole Hamels like a free agent.

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  19. Lester Be Any Doubt says:

    Jeff, unfortunately not your finest work. You’r ein the belly of th ebeast at Fangraphs re: the ability to put a value on different pieces in deals like this, so for you to say that josh Bell for Lester makes sense for the Pirates value-wise is indeed a head-scratcher.

    To say it should be Bell+ for the Pirates just sounds like rushed (maybe lazy) trade-deadline-week writing for writing’s sake.

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  20. Matt says:

    Bell missed almost all of his first year in pro ball due to an injury. He will still be promoted to AAA at 22. Miguel Sano missed all of this year. He will be promoted to AAA at 22. Injuries happen. Just, because you miss a year, doesn’t mean you are too old to be considered elite.

    Bell has outstanding hands, and extremely good barrel control. He doesn’t strike out, and hit like crazy this year in a very pitcher friendly minor league. He might be the best fastball hitter in the minors. Even before he was drafted, he was squaring up fastballs in the upper 90s. He’s also a switch hitter with power from both sides. He could end up being a special player.

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  21. jdbolick says:

    Pirates fans please pump the brakes on the notion that Josh Bell is a superstar prospect. When did this come about anyway? Before the season it seemed as if I was higher on him than most, but if the comments section is representative, somehow I’m now cooler on him than most. Here’s what I wrote back in February:

    Josh Bell – OF, Pirates, 6’4” 195lbs – Medium Risk, Medium Reward

    After a torn meniscus cost him almost all of 2012, Josh Bell returned to Low-A and produced numbers that, while unspectacular, did show signs of the above average hitter he is projected to be. Much less aggressive than in his first brief professional exposure, Bell showed patience at the plate in both taking walks and looking for pitches he can drive. The power he was expected to display hasn’t appeared yet, with an ISO of only .168, but his swing is conducive to home runs and he definitely has the strength for it, so an improvement there is to be expected as he gets more confident in his knee.

    What this season has significantly changed that profile? He still looks like a hitter who should have more power than he does, but it isn’t there yet. 9.9% home runs on outfield fly balls is roughly average, and his line drive rate hasn’t been special thus far. Clearly Bell has tools, and it is encouraging that he makes contact at an above average rate, but the quality of that contact leaves something to be desired. Josh is a good enough prospect to make sense for Boston while also not being too good to make sense for Pittsburgh. It’s such a reasonable match that it probably won’t happen.

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  22. King Buzzo's Fro says:

    Tell that to his shitty start in AA

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  23. Roto Wizard says:

    I’m really curious how acquiring Lester changes the Pirates odds of making the playoffs and winning a WS.

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