The rumors have been increasing in recent days as baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline approaches. Because the Pirates are five games below .500 and in fourth place in the National League’s Central Division they are considered to be in selling mode. Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole are the names most often mentioned in discussions about the Pirates’ bargaining chips on the trade market.
The biggest problem for general manager Neal Huntington is figuring out if his team is still in playoff contention or not. The NL Central is a division filled with flawed teams. The Pirates are seven games behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers. It might be wise for Huntington to have some patience before deciding if the Pirates will be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline.
There is still reason to watch baseball, especially for the next week, when the Pirates play NL Central opponents. Pittsburgh opens the season’s second half with seven home games against division rivals, three this weekend against St. Louis and four next week against Milwaukee.
The Pirates will get outfielder Starling Marte back from suspension next week, so Huntington should show some patience and see if his team plays its way further into the playoff race or out of it.
By this time next week, the Pirates could be well out of the playoff picture, so then it would be wise for Huntington to consider planning for the future. If they are within five games of first place, then Huntington should be a buyer at the trade deadline.
• The Wild Things have a 28-22 record and are 50 games into their 96-game Frontier League season, which means they’re in the no-man’s land portion – the middle third – of the year. It’s too early to get excited about a playoff race – Washington would have the final wild-card spot if the postseason began today – and it’s beginning to get a little late to overhaul the roster.
This also is a time when teams can’t win a division title or playoff berth, but they sure can lose one with an extended losing streak.
Washington and Windy City are tied for second place in the East Division, six games behind first-place Schaumburg. The Wild Things have pitched well – they are third in the league in team ERA at 3.37 – committed the fewest errors and turned the most double plays. The trouble spot this season – as it has been for each of the past six years – is the offense. Washington is eighth in team batting average and seventh in runs.
The middle of the season is a good time for tinkering with the roster before the final stretch run and the Wild Things will be trying to find another hitter to pump life into the offense. Could that difference-maker be outfielder James Harris, a former first round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Rays who signed with Washington last weekend? He is only the 10th former first-round draft pick to play in the Frontier League.
Harris had a rough debut with the Wild Things Sunday, going 0-for-5 during a 2-1 loss in 12 innings to Gateway. There is no doubt Harris’ bat will make a significant impact on Washington’s playoff hopes.
• Word circulating around the Frontier League is that an East Division team – not Washington – and possibly one in the West will leave the 12-team independent league after the season. The East Division team appears headed for a college wood bat league because costs for those leagues are reportedly at least $200,000 less per year than for a Frontier League team. College summer leagues do not have player salaries, per diems and the teams do not pay expensive worker’s compensation. Worker’s compensation premiums for minor-league baseball teams have skyrocketed in recent years and are one of the biggest financial concerns for the Frontier League.
• The Pony League World Series is less than a month away from its opening night Aug. 11 at Lew Hays Pony Field in Washington Park. Two zone champions already have been determined. A team from the Netherlands will be playing in Washington for the first time because it won the European Zone. The Netherlands will play host Washington County in the opening round Aug. 12. The Mexico Zone was won by Guasave, Sinaloa.
Sports editor Chris Dugan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.