Every team in baseball knows the Pirates will be looking to add a hitter to stay in contention in the second half, and most potential trade partners are certain to ask about Curve center fielder Starling Marte in a deal.
Marte is a terrific young prospect, the Curve's best all-around player and a future every day center fielder and leadoff man in the big leagues. He's also perhaps the best trade bait in the Pirate organization.
Marte will be on display for scouts and the entire baseball world tonight at 6 in the MLB All-Star Futures Game in Phoenix. The 22-year-old Dominican will play for the World Team against American minor league stars. The game will be on ESPN2.
"I'm excited, not really nervous," Marte said of the Futures opportunity. "It's the same game. The only difference is that there will be a lot of fans and a lot of scouts there."
The scouts already know what Marte can do. He leads the Eastern League with 102 hits, is batting .314 and has 16 steals. He still makes some mistakes defensively but covers plenty of ground and has a strong arm (10 outfield assists).
In years past, when the Pirates have always been sellers at the trade deadline, there would have been no thought given to dealing a player with Marte's potential.
But the Bucs need to be buyers this season because there's a legitimate chance they can stay in the NL Central race and end 18 years of futility.
Pirates management can either go out and spend a few million dollars to acquire an established hitter, which would be the best move, or deal one of their top prospects.
Normally the latter would not be wise, but the situation with Marte is a little different.
Case for trading him
It's real simple: Andrew McCutchen looks like he will be a star center fielder for a long time, and Marte does not project to be a corner outfielder.
Secondly, the Pirates have a chance to win. Right now. And they need a bat. Right now.
Do whatever it takes to get one, within reason, of course.
Marte probably won't get to the big leagues until next season at the earliest, and maybe not even until September of next year. He will need time to establish himself at that level, so we're probably looking at 2013 before that happens.
The Bucs already have Alex Presley - who looks like the real deal - and Jose Tabata for outfield spots, so they could end up blocking Marte's path to the majors.
It's important not to mortgage the future in a trade, but let's get real here. It's been 18 miserable years for the Pirates, and the fans deserve for management to bring in immediate help.
It wouldn't be wise to trade away one of the organization's promising young pitching prospects because you can never have too much pitching. But for the right return - say Houston's Hunter Pence (.325, 10 homers, 59 RBIs) - Marte would be expendable.
Case against trading him
As good as McCutchen is in center, he could be moved to left field at some point to save his body wear and tear. That could help him get even better offensively, and with his power developing nicely, he could be a prototypical 25- to 30-homer corner outfielder.
That scenario could open the door for Marte to be a mainstay in center field.
An outfield of McCutchen in left, Marte in center and Presley or Tabata in right would provide three good hitters with a lot of speed, although not an abundance of power.
The Pirates signed Marte on the cheap, for only $85,000, and there's a degree of bragging rights for an organization to say it developed that caliber of free agent into a major league standout.
Marte has that kind of potential and, given what he's shown with the bat so far in his career, he has the look of an above-average major league center fielder.
What to expect
It's a good debate, but don't count on the Pirates trading Marte. They will do everything possible to avoid giving up elite prospects in any deal, and Marte is at the top of the organization's list when it comes to position players.
Whatever they decide about Marte or anyone else in the system, Pirates officials cannot be afraid to pull the trigger on a move that could make this a better team in the second half.
The long-suffering fans deserve at least that much. And if it means giving up a Double-A prospect, even one as good as Marte, then so be it.
Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. He can be reached at 949-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.