Breakout Pirates pitcher probably takes trade deadline target away from Yankees
By Adam Weinrib
The Yankees have reliably plundered the Pittsburgh Pirates in recent years (well, not the Gerrit Cole year, but in other recent years!), but this season, it might not be so simple.
Bryan Reynolds, the most obvious connective tissue between the two teams, is no longer available, locked down in the 'Burgh on the extension he always wanted anyway. The Pirates reportedly pined for controllable pitchers in any trade talks. The Yankees don't have those. Apparently, Reynolds staying home was preferable to Jasson Dominguez in black-and-yellow.
Oh, and by the way -- the Buccos aren't bad now! While they've fallen off their pace from early in the season, there's still a clearly-defined future of NL Central (weak division) contention by the bridges, and the Pirates' front office is loath to give talent away like in the "Jameson Taillon for Roansy Contreras" days.
The two teams are no longer proceeding in opposing timelines which means, even if he wasn't currently the hottest pitcher in the National League, the Pirates probably wouldn't have any interest in dealing "breakout candidate" turned "actual breakout" Mitch Keller to New York. They'll just keep their Player of the Week, too, thanks.
Yankees can't afford Pirates' Mitch Keller, and he won't be available at 2023 trade deadline anyway!
For years, Keller perfectly fit the mold of "surprisingly hittable former top prospect trapped on team going nowhere." He still threw in the upper 90s, but couldn't seem to sneak his fastball by anybody. Entering his age-27 season felt like the perfect time for inquiring minds to take him off Ben Cherington's hands.
Except for one thing: The Pirates knew, probably before anyone else, that they'd finally unlocked him. Now, he's a key piece of their frisky core instead, and deadline-hungry teams will have to beg for scraps from the Rockies and Royals instead.
There's another Keller there in KC. Don't be fooled. He's not as good.
The Pirates' edition has channeled his flamethrowing into mastery this season, carrying a 2.38 ERA and 1.02 WHIP through nine starts, along with 69 Ks in 56.2 innings. Relying on five pitches (plus a rarely-used changeup), he's managed to pair his scorching fastball with the ability to change eye levels and vary his offering.
In 2021, he was one of the game's most hittable pitchers, with a 6.17 ERA and 131 hits in 100.2 innings pitched. Last season, the tide had begun to change, but he was still a bit like young Nathan Eovaldi: 3.91 ERA good, 162 hits (and 60 walks) in 159 innings quite bad.
Now? Keller's reached his full potential, which has simultaneously raised the Pirates' ceiling. Last summer would've been a nice time for the Yankees to get in on the ground floor. At this point, it's too late.
Who knows? Maybe they can get Contreras back.