With the Pittsburgh Pirates struggling without any sense of a quick fix in the near future, you have to wonder how long it will be until general manager Neal Huntington starts selling off assets.

In the case of Pittsburgh Pirates closer Tony Watson, it hasn’t been a case of if he will be dealt this season, but just a matter of when.

Watson has converted eight of nine save opportunities and has pitched to a 1.62 ERA on the season, though he does carry a 4.83 FIP. He is also giving up walks at an 3.78 BB/9 clip.

The question is will the Pirates bullpen be able to withstand a Watson trade now or should Huntington hold onto his closer until the trade deadline? How does the club properly gauge his value and strike a trade at the opportune time?

Pulling the trigger at the right time

Huntington has to pull the trigger on a Watson trade at the right time and quite frankly he may not have a better opportunity than now as quite a few teams need upgrades to their bullpens.

To maximize value, Huntington needs to create the market instead of letting the market come to him. The return on Watson may not be great to begin with as he is a free agent at the end of the season, but the Bucs are likely to get a larger return if the deal Watson early.

For one he is pitching well.

Secondly once other left-handed relievers hit the market in July, teams may move off Watson to other options if the asking price is high.

Watson has been linked to teams this season and Ken Rosenthal recently linked Watson – along With Gerrit Cole – to the Houston Astros as well. If contenders come calling, Huntington should look to cash in.

Can the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen hold up without Watson?

Dealing Watson early is the smart move on paper, but what happens to the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen if he is gone?

This would be an easier question to answer if Daniel Hudson was pitching well, but since he has been downright terrible, it would leave the pen with a gaping hole. Felipe Rivero would naturally slide into the closer role, but even though Rivero has been light’s out with his 0.87 ERA, there is no guarantee he can handle the ninth inning. Remember, everyone thought Watson would make a smooth transition to closing last season after the Mark Melancon trade and it was anything but smooth.

Even if Rivero can handle the ninth inning, the question becomes who will get him the ball?

Juan Nicasio can pitch later in ballgames and Huntington will likely look to bring in bullpen depth in any trades this summer, but as the roster is constructed now, the bridge to the ninth inning isn’t a solid one without Watson.

What if an implosion happens?

If the Pittsburgh Pirates suffer through another stretch that truly takes them out of any playoff picture, what then?

Watson’s value right now is probably as high as it is going to get all season. His metrics across the board suggest a regression is going to happen, and many believe we are seeing that regression play out in real time.

If that is the case and Watson is still in a Pirates uniform, then his trade value takes a huge hit.

We’ve seen Andrew McCutchen’s value sink as each series goes by. If he starts to struggle, the same will happen to Watson.

Sometimes it is best to cash in early.

That’s the case with Watson.

Huntington should look to deal his closer while his value is the highest and do some shuffling in the bullpen to get the ball to Rivero in the ninth inning.

Image Credit – Daniel Decker Photography

Matt Shetler

Matt is a life long Pirates fan with both a newspaper and radio background. Before coming to Pirates Breakdown he was most recently the co-owner and lead columnist for Pittsburgh Sporting News. He has been a credentialed writer for all four major sports and also has written for plenty of other sports and fantasy sports websites.