Pirates trade Josh Bell to Nationals; first baseman ‘thrilled’ to play for ‘contender’

By | December 24, 2020

Once the Bell has been rung …

The Nationals went last-minute Christmas shopping on Thursday, landing Josh Bell in a deal for two pitchers.

Single A pitcher Eddy Yean is on his way to Pittsburgh along with pitcher Wil Crowe, the team said in a news release.

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Crowe made his major league debut in 2020, starting three games and allowing 11 runs, and is likely to immediately slot into the Pirates’ rotation. Yean was ranked as one of Washington’s top prospects but didn’t crack MLB Pipeline’s top 100.

With the Nationals tripping up after winning the 2019 World Series (26-34, fourth in the NL East in 2020), the trade for Bell gives the lineup more power, something the Nats somewhat lacked after the free-agent departure of Anthony Rendon last offseason. A lineup featuring Bell alongside young, budding star Juan Soto could provide some big fireworks in D.C. next season. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported that Bell is “thrilled” to be joining a “contender.”

After a down 2020, Bell’s name had surfaced in trade talks earlier in the offseason, with the Yankees reportedly interested in Bell and fellow Pirate Jameson Taillon. 

The move makes sense, but the timing is weird: The Pirates have developed a recent trend of wanting young, controllable starting pitching and the Nationals are trying to keep their championship window propped open. That’s the sense part. The timing part: Pittsburgh will come under fire for selling low on one of their top trade assets, as Bell is coming off a season in which he hit .226 with eight home runs and a 78 wRC+ per Fangraphs, good for a -0.4 fWAR. Those numbers are, shall we say, less than good. Parting with one of your best trade pieces when value is low and the franchise might be heading for a rebuild — well, one they’ve been in the middle of for a while — is head-scratching.

It is a decent return for Bell, and with the 2020 free-agent market moving even slower than we may have anticipated, maybe a Bell deal will ring the beginning of action this offseason.