Trading Vazquez could bring Bucs big return

This is a big day for the Pirates, or at least it could be.

The Bucs have one of the most sought-after players in the majors at the trade deadline in lefty closer Felipe Vazquez, and what they decide to do with him today will have major implications for the franchise in the coming years.

Vazquez is a stud. The kind of late-inning stopper who, if he goes to the right team, could end up being the key piece to a World Series run.

The Dodgers would love to have Vazquez. And if they get him, they would significantly increase their already strong championship odds. Other teams certainly will be in on the Vazquez talks, as well.

Pirates general manager Neal Huntington has a chance to swing a trade that could bring lots of riches back to Pittsburgh. He will ask other teams for a king’s ransom as return for Vazquez, and Huntington just might get it from some desperate, motivated suitor.

But Huntington absolutely cannot give away one of the trade deadline’s most valuable assets for anything less than tremendous return. If no one is willing to fork over at least two can’t-miss prospects and an already established major leaguer, then the Bucs should sit tight and hold on to Vazquez.

Why? Because they can afford to.

Vazquez is a bargain, making just $4.5 million this year, $5.75 million in 2020 and $7.75 million in 2021. His salary goes up to $10 million for 2022 and ’23, but no one believes he’ll still be with the Pirates at that point.

Vazquez is the kind of player the Pirates love: Effective, affordable and under contractual control for several years.

Huntington has great leverage with the pitcher at the deadline today, so he should be able to hold off on any deal unless the return is fantastic.

The issue for Huntington is that he knows he will never be able to afford high-priced free agents with the Pirates, and given that, he faces pressure to acquire franchise-changing talent through a deal at the trade deadline.

Vazquez gives him a great chance to do so.

My hunch is someone — again, most likely the Dodgers — will indeed offer the Pirates a hefty package today, and the reliever will be traded.

The Dodgers know Kenley Jansen is no longer the ninth-inning force he once was, so they have to sure up that spot. Published reports say the Pirates want 21-year-old prized shortstop Gavin Lux in return, and the Dodgers obviously are reluctant to give up their top prospect.

But the Dodgers have as much money as anybody in baseball. They can give up prospects because they know they’ll be able to go spend big money on stars to fill future holes.

SUBHD: Other players

A lot of people seem to think the Pirates should trade Starling Marte.

Not so fast.

Marte is batting .285 with 18 homers, 61 RBIs and an .824 OPS. He’s 30 years old and is still very good defensively. He’s making $10.3 million this year, and the Pirates have him under contract at a reasonable price for two more years — $11.5 million next season and $12.5 million in 2021.

Marte would not draw huge return in a trade. The Pirates would get some decent pieces back, but outfielders like him rarely attract major prospects.

The Bucs don’t have anyone ready to take over in center for Marte, and trading him would create a big loss in the middle of the order for the next couple of years.

Given all that, the Pirates might as well hang on to him today.

Left fielder Corey Dickerson, on the other hand, probably will be dealt today. He’ll be a free agent after this year, he’s a quality hitter and excellent fielder, and he would be a nice addition to a contender down the stretch.

Outfielder Melky Cabrera also could be traded today. He’s a free agent after this year, and the 34-year-old has hit well enough (.306) to make contending teams believe he could help them off the bench.

The problem with trading Dickerson and Cabrera is that they’d be two-month rentals for another team, so the return wouldn’t be substantial. Dickerson is a good enough player to warrant some kind of mid-level prospect, but in essence he would be a salary dump.

This already is a lost season for the collapsing Pirates, and in these situations, it’s always best to sell off what you can and try to get some quality players in return.

No matter what they do, however, the Bucs cannot settle for anything less than a great return if they decide to trade Vazquez.

Cory Giger can be reached at cgiger@altoonamirror.com.

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