Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Washington Nationals Acquire Josh Bell for Two Prospects

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Christmas came a day early for Nationals fans, as they acquired star first baseman Josh Bell from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for pitching prospects Wil Crowe and Eddy Yean. The trade came as a surprise to many since there were not many rumors of a Bell trade happening anytime soon. The Pirates, who finished dead last in MLB last year, are looking to continue their rebuild by adding some pitching depth to their prospect pool while the Nationals look to improve in 2021 after their disappointing 2020 campaign saw the team miss the playoffs.

What the Nationals are Getting

The Nationals are acquiring a high-upside first baseman in Josh Bell. With the departures of Howie Kendrick and Eric Thames, Bell will be the Nationals’ everyday player at first base, without much competition for the starting spot. Coming off of a career-best 135 wRC+ in 2019, Bell struggled in 2020, finishing with a disappointing 78 wRC+. Kyle Berger wrote about Bell and other star infielders’ struggles in 2020, and he argues that Bell’s struggles boiled down to poor plate discipline.

There are some reasons to be hopeful about Bell though, as his monthly splits had an upward progression in wRC+. This progression can be explained by the MLB’s banning of in-game video, which “Bell said hindered his ability to make adjustments on the fly.” Over the course of the year, Bell adjusted to his new routine and saw his production improve as a result. While many other aspects of his game struggled in 2020, Bell still hit the ball hard, recording an average exit velocity of 91.7 mph. If Bell can improve on his launch angle and plate discipline in 2021, he may be due for a huge year.

What the Pirates are Getting

In exchange for the 28 year old Bell, who will be arbitration eligible after the 2022 season, the Pirates acquired the Nationals’ 4th and 7th overall prospects according to Fangraphs, righties Wil Crowe and Eddy Yean. Don’t think this was a fleecing, though, the Nats’ farm system is widely ranked in the bottom third across the Majors.

Crowe, 26, was given a 45 FV tag by Fangraphs before the 2020 season and made his MLB debut this past season with a small sample of 8.1 innings that, while not encouraging (11.88 ERA, 20.7 barrel %, 17.4 BB%…) or efficient, is too small to draw any big conclusions from. Here’s his pitch mix:

Source: Baseball Savant

As you can see, he lacks big velocity, but he has the classic full starter’s mix and all of his offerings have at least solid movement, with his slider being a quality pitch. Here he is whiffing the Marlins’ Brian Anderson with it:

Source: Baseball Savant

Despite some troubles with command, he’s Major League ready at this point and projects as a 4th/5th starter, which the Pirates could always use. More importantly for the Pirates, he’s cheap and has plenty of team control left, which is what they should be looking for in their acquisitions. Just so you know, he’s been previously compared to Tanner Roark, so that should give you a decent idea of what he’s about.

Yean, on the other hand, is more intriguing. He reached Low-A and performed well there as an 18-year-old in 2019, albeit in only 11 innings. He has a low-mid 90s heater and solid slider and changeup feel but, of course, he’s still a 19-year-old arm with only 11 innings in Low-A ball. In other words, he’s a lottery ticket, with a legitimate mid-rotation ceiling if he keeps improving.


Our Summary

Mario: I think the Nats got a good deal here. Yes Bell is pretty much a DH only, yes he won’t give you value on the basepaths, and yes he had a disappointing 2020, but many good players did, and from 2016-19 he was a 118 wRC+ bat, which is nothing to sneeze at, in particular for a team like the Nats so desperate for offensive depth. Yean is intriguing, but pitchers so young and inexperienced are close to a toss up in terms of whether they’ll make an impact or not and Crowe is not a big deal to give up whatsoever for a team with so many pitchers in the upper half of their prospect rankings. I like what Mike Rizzo did here.

Owen: I think the trade makes sense for both sides. I think it may have made more sense for the Pirates to wait and trade Bell at the 2021 trade deadline with the hope of him performing better and improving his trade value, but obviously, that’s riskier. The Pirates add some much-needed pitching prospects in the deal and appear to be in a long-term rebuild, meaning Bell wouldn’t play any meaningful games for them before he hits the free agent market after the 2022 season. The Nationals add a powerful bat to their lineup without giving up any of their top prospects which could prove to be crucial for them as they look to make another run at the World Series. The trade may not look too good for the Pirates right now, but many fans felt the same way about the Starling Marte trade last offseason. After the Diamondbacks traded Marte away at the 2020 trade deadline the Pirates’ return for him looked a lot better, so it might be early to declare a winner of this trade.