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Are the Pirates willing to pay the cost of bullpen help?

August 3, 2018

Pirates outfielders Corey Dickerson and Austin Meadows celebrate after defeating the Reds at PNC Park.

Relief pitchers usually pitch no more than an inning or two per game and often no more than two days in a row.

Nonetheless, the price of acquiring bullpen help isn’t cheap. After all, relievers often enter the game during dire situations.

That raises the question of what the Pirates might have to give up if they’re looking to bolster their bullpen before Tuesday’s 4 p.m. nonwaiver trading deadline.

An example:

The Houston Astros, who lead the American League West by four games, traded for relievers Roberto Osuna of the Toronto Blue Jays and Ryan Pressly of the Minnesota Twins. The cost was four prospects and veteran closer Ken Giles, who saved 34 games last year but was sent to the minors July 11 a day after cursing at Astros manager A.J. Hinch on the mound.

When the Pirates spoke to the Texas Rangers about reliever Keone Kela, a conversation first reported last week by the Dallas Morning News, did the name Austin Meadows emerge from the Dallas-Fort Worth end of the phone? And did the Pirates just laugh it off?

Kela, 25, would be an immediate upgrade to the Pirates bullpen. He’s a four-year veteran who has saved 24 games this season while striking out 44 in 36 2/3 innings and compiling a WHIP of 1.15.

If the Pirates get him and he helps them win seven or eight games they might have lost otherwise, would that be enough to earn a wild-card berth? And if they did earn that one-game playoff on the road and lost, what’s left? That prospect given up is now on somebody else’s roster.

Would the Pirates want to compromise the future of their outfield by trading Meadows, knowing there’s no guarantee they can sign Corey Dickerson to a contract extension?

Former Colorado Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd, an analyst for MLB Network, said on 93.7 FM on Monday that he holds Meadows in the same high regard as Gregory Polanco.

“The one I’m struggling with is whether I’d rather have Austin Meadows play right field or Polanco and whether I’d trade Polanco ahead of Meadows.”

The Pirates aren’t eager to trade either player.

Polanco has ballooned his average from around the Mendoza line (.200) to .251 while leading the team in home runs (18) and RBIs (58).

Meadows, a better defensive outfielder than Polanco, has become a major part of the team’s immediate and extended future.

He was demoted to Triple-A Indianapolis on July 15 and recalled Saturday when Dickerson (hamstring) went on the 10-day disabled list. He will share left field with Jordan Luplow, who’s hitting .206, over the next several games against the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals.

Meadows, whose average climbed as high as .455 in his first nine games with the Pirates in May, is hitting only .206 in July. He was hoping to rediscover his stroke in Indianapolis.

“It was good to go down there and get my mind back right,” he said. “I took (the demotion) as motivation.

“No one wants to get sent down. The mental hurdle was coming back stronger.”

Said manager Clint Hurdle: “He didn’t hit much when he went down, but that’s not to say he can’t bounce back here and start whacking it.

“Sometimes those recalls back to the big leagues have a way of infusing some good things in players.”

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