With all the popular discourse surrounding the New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates hooking up for trade talks, combined with the notion that every former Pirates top prospect pitcher eventually goes somewhere else and succeeds, we’re very surprised this name hasn’t been brought up yet this offseason.
How have the Yankees managed to take advantage of Pittsburgh’s wheeling and dealing? They missed out on Gerrit Cole, only to eventually surrender to his contract demands anyway (and we’d do it again). They nabbed Jameson Taillon coming off yet another major surgery; Year 1 was a roller coaster success, but Taillon is rehabbing again during a pandemic/MLB lockout nightmare offseason.
Tyler Glasnow was sent within the division, and will torture the Yankees until the Rays deem him too expensive — and, post-Tommy John surgery, that day might weirdly come sooner rather than later. Joe Musgrove was a consideration, but was ultimately shipped west to San Diego for a shruggable prospect package.
Other snoozier options like Steven Brault and Chad Kuhl have gotten buy-low ink spilled on them in recent years, but we’ve chosen to stir up the discourse and aim a little higher. Is Mitch Keller available?
Back in 2018, Keller peaked at No. 12 in Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects rankings, and he’s projected to throw the most innings of anyone currently slotted into Pittsburgh’s 2022 rotation.
That doesn’t mean everything worked, though; his 2021 numbers were awful (5-11, 6.17 ERA, 1.788 WHIP), and so were his 2019 totals, with a beautiful shortened 2020 sandwiched in between.
While the results haven’t been close to viable, there’s certainly some premium “stuff” waiting to be unlocked by the right team. Is Pittsburgh ready for it to be the Yankees?
Yankees Trade Target: Mitch Keller, Pittsburgh Pirates
In addition to the unrealized pedigree and snapdragon curveball, would you believe … Keller’s fourth pitch is a changeup, per Baseball Savant, that he only uses 4.7% of the time? Matt Blake just salivated all over his tablet screen.
Keller’s results have rarely, if ever, been there, but he’s trending towards the top in both fastball and curveball spin (75th and 72nd percentile, respectively), and in a lower-pressure environment (say, New York as a No. 5 rather than Pittsburgh’s ace), Blake could begin to coax stardom out of the mercurial righty. You can only be “on the verge” so long, though, before your potential is lost.
Keller is a difficult trade target to assess. Do the Pirates really want to go through this again and sell low on a former tippy-top pitching prospect? Do they see another way forward that goes beyond running Keller out there again and hoping for the best? How will they assess his trade value? Probably a bit too high, considering they see him as their No. 1 innings-eater this year, too, which is a tough thing to waste, even if the performance isn’t there.
If the Yankees can get Keller in exchange for one top prospect (Ken Waldichuk? Trey Sweeney?) and a similarly-positioned Deivi Garcia, who might’ve simply lost it himself, they should pounce. But if premium names start getting exchanged, this could be another cautionary tale.
Come on, Buccos. You owe us one for Roansy Contreras. Do the right thing.