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One way or another, Josh Bell will be the key to returning the Pirates to respectability.

The Pirates will enter 2020 with new leadership. They will bring with them a new plan in hopes of returning the Pirates to prominence. I believe Josh Bell holds the key to that plan, and it may involve the new general manager trading the new Pirates’ star.

Newly announced team president Travis Williams doesn’t have a baseball background. However, he DOES have experience with winning organizations.

As COO of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Mr. Williams was an integral part of that franchise’s success. He knows what it takes to build a winner, he understands a winning culture, and he brings that wealth of knowledge and a fresh perspective to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Hiring a general manager will be his first priority and that person will, undoubtedly, have a track record of success with a small market operation.

This club has a number of young, talented players on the roster so a total rebuild will be an unlikely scenario. With a roster that includes Kevin Newman, Brian Reynolds, Cole Tucker, and Mitch Keller, and with a farm system that includes corner infielders KeBryan Hayes and Will Craig, there are pieces that fit in the short term.

Josh Bell, after his breakout season in 2019, is the key to unlocking the future for this franchise, however.

Bell’s numbers in his age 27 season were All-Star caliber:. 277 average, 37 home runs, and 116 runs batted in. Any team would consider Bell a key piece with those numbers.

So, the logical thing to do would be to offer Bell a long-term deal such as the deals offered to Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco.

Not so fast.

Bell’s agent is none other than Scott Boras, who has little to no interest in having a client sign for well under market value. Unless the Pirates offer Bell a deal in, say, the $20-22 million a season range, he isn’t signing anything.

The next logical move, despite likely fan reaction, is to trade Bell THIS off-season for a haul of pitching prospects.

Bell, not Marte, is the Pirates’ best trade chip and the new general manager will be well aware of this.

The timing could not be better, either.

After a promising start to his major league career in 2016 and 2017, Bell struggled in 2018. He lacked the power projected of him. His average hovered in the low to mid. 200s. He was, by all accounts, a disappointment.

Rick Eckstein was brought in by the previous regime as hitting coach last season and did wonders for Bell. His stance was simplified. His timing improved. The results speak for themselves.

Bell will be entering his age 28 season in 2020, which is considered his prime. He is coming off a career year and is under team control through 2022. His trade value could not be higher.

With Jameson Taillon out for next season, the pitching staff needs an influx of talent. Musgrove, Williams (Trevor, not Travis), Archer, and Keller are decent. However, the jury remains out on most of them. Williams has shown himself to be a solid third or fourth guy in a rotation. Same for Joe Musgrove. Perhaps a new pitching coach can harness something out of Chris Archer and perhaps hasten the development of Keller. I used ‘perhaps’ twice in that sentence. I think you get the point.

The bullpen was in shambles as well. As I see it, the Pirates have three dependable arms: Keone Kela, Kyle Crick, and Richard Rodriguez.

Perhaps.

Bottom line is this: the Pirates cannot afford to head into 2020 with anything resembling the staff of 2019.

Josh Bell provides the club with an opportunity to cash in on his stellar 2019 season by flipping him for a bounty of pitching.

The Pirates actually have options at first base that, while unlikely to compare to Bell’s 2019 season, will provide solid production. Colin Moran could move to first in a platoon with Jose Osuna. Moran is below average defensively at third base so moving him across the diamond would limit his deficiencies in the field. Osuna is solid defensively at third or first and provides plenty of power from the right side of the plate. A platoon here makes sense because neither player should be overexposed regularly. Is it unreasonable to expect 30 home runs and close to 100 RBI from these two?

Also, Will Craig is worth mentioning as well. He’s close to being ready for the show and would immediately provide a defensive upgrade at the position, with his Gold Glove in tow to attest for his prowess at the position.

Josh Bell holds the key to the Pirates’ future in 2020 and beyond. The old cliche “strike while the iron is hot” comes to mind. The fans may not be happy, but they may be more understanding with a new regime calling the shots than they had with Neal Huntington.

The new general manager will get a honeymoon of sorts his first year or two. He needs to take advantage of the situation and trade Josh Bell.

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