Just as the Pirates/Reds game was ending on Friday night, Alex Rios and Alen Hanson were concurrently pulled from their respective games. For 20 minutes, a bunch of Pirate fans had their jump-to-conclusions mats out. It became apparently pretty quickly that Rios had been pulled for not running out a double play (which is apparently something that Robin Ventura has done all season, so this news shouldn't have surprised anyone) and that Hanson had been pulled because Bradenton was up big late in the second game of a double-header.
Of course, by that point it didn't matter. There were a bunch of Pirate fans demanding that the trade get made, and there were a bunch of people angry with me for saying that Rios didn't have much trade value and that the Pirates should never, ever trade a player like Hanson for a player like Rios. This week is very likely about to get crazy (the Wandy Rodriguez trade happened on July 24th last year), so I think now's a good time to take a look at what the Pirates are or aren't likely to do at the trade deadline.
First off; it's certainly likely that the Pirates will be interested in a rental player similar to Alex Rios. I don't think that Rios is a whole lot better than Jose Tabata at this point in his career, but it's also apparent that he's better than Travis Snider and that a Rios/Tabata platoon might be stronger defensively and offensively than Tabata playing right field alone. There are a few concerns about this trade from my perspective, though. One is that Tabata isn't really a platoon player; he has virtually no career platoon split and this year he's actually hit much better against righties. A small sample-size caveat applies, of course, (Tabata's only got 39 plate appearances against lefties this year, which seems wild), but the point is that Tabata's not likely to play much better just by managing his matchups. The other is that there's a pretty good chance that Alex Rios will not be the Pirates' best right fielder at the All-Star Break next year, because Gregory Polanco will be just about ready by then. This isn't important to this year's pennant race — and this year's pennant race is the paramount concern — but given that Rios will be due $13 million after a trade next year and has a $1 million buyout on 2015, it's worth at least considering.
The rub here, of course, is that those concerns are concerns to the White Sox, too. That's why Rios doesn't have a ton of trade value despite being a relatively decent player over the last two years; someone has to pay that contract. Any Alex Rios trade involving the Pirates is going to end up looking similar to the AJ Burnett trade. The Pirates are going to give up fringe players with a smidge of upside (think Phil Irwin, or maybe even Travis Snider himself) and take on about half of that salary, which gives the White Sox a few guys to plug into their lineup for next year that might work out, plus a bunch of salary relief. You, as a Pirate fan, know how this trade works because the Pirates have functionally been on the other end of it quite a few times. This is, for all intents and purposes, the Jason Kendall trade for 2013. (Remember: the Pirates got Arthur Rhodes — who was flipped for Matt Lawton almost immediately — and Mark Redman and salary relief for Kendall. Also remember that Dave Littlefield sucked and that Rios will probably cost a little more than that, because, come on.) Alen Hanson won't be a part of an Alex Rios trade, because Alen Hanson is one of the 50 or so best prospects in baseball and the Pirates just don't need to part with that much to get Rios.
All of that being said, I wouldn't be surprised if the Pirates make a big trade at some point in the next year or two. They have a lot of young, talented outfielders (besides McCutchen and Marte in Pittsburgh, there's Polanco, Josh Bell, and Austin Meadows). They have a lot of good young pitchers (besides Cole and Locke in Pittsburgh, there's Taillon, Glasnow, Kingham, Heredia, plus a few breakout candidates that could become next year's version of Kingham). There's a decent chance that Hanson and Dilson Herrera's skillsets overlap, particularly if Jordy Mercer proves that he can hit well enough to be a regular big leaguer. There's the weird and intriguing anomaly of Stetson Allie that could be at a sell-high point.
If the Pirates trade a promising young prospect, though, you can be certain that a promising or proven young player will be coming back in return. Everyone can stamp their feet and say that prospects aren't sure things and that the point of having a good farm system is having a good big league team and that the time is now to make a run, but the reality is that small market teams don't find extended periods of success by trading very good prospects for rental players and that the Pirates have a good team already without doing anything rash (there is wiggle room on the edge here for a pitcher like Matt Garza, I think, but that's a bridge only worth crossing if we come to it). It's possible that a deal like this could happen in the next week (the Marlins and Royals are always ready to be stupid on the shortest of notice), but big deals like this tend to happen in the winter.
In summary: the Pirates might trade for Alex Rios, and they might trade Alen Hanson, but those two almost surely won't be in the same deal unless Chris Sale is coming along with Rios (Important Note: I am not predicting that Chris Sale will be traded to the Pirates, I'm just saying). As things stand right now, it seems like the trade market is going to be a bit slow this year. Then again, it seems like we say that on July 22nd every year. I have a feeling the next ten days are going to be pretty interesting.