Earlier today, the Washington Nationals acquired first basemen Josh Bell from the Pittsburgh Pirates for pitching prospects Wil Crowe and Eddy Yean. Bell, an All Star in 2019, is set to become a free agent after the 2022 season while Crowe has only pitched 8.1 innings at the Major League level and Yean has yet to appear in a Major League game.
Since making his debut in 2016, Bell has a .343 wOBA and 114 wRC+ at the plate but he has been dreadful defensively with -32 DRS, -19.9 UZR, and -4 OAA while accumulating a 3.5 fWAR (about 1.0 per 150 games). Bell’s best season came in 2019 when he had a .378 wOBA, 135 wRC+, and 2.5 fWAR across 143 games. After his career season in 2019, the Pirates and Bell discussed an extension but nothing materialized. In 2020, Bell took a major step back from his 2019 season as he had a .286 wOBA (career-low), 78 wRC+ (career-low), and -0.4 fWAR. Considering the Pirates most likely won’t be contenders by the end of the 2022 season (the last season of Bell’s contract) and that they couldn’t sign him to an extension, it makes sense why the Pirates decided to deal their former starting first basemen.
After winning the World Series in 2019, the Nationals were not able to reach the Postseason in 2020 as they finished in last place of the NL East with a 26-34 record. Besides star players Juan Soto and Trea Turner, no player on the Nationals had a wRC+ of at least 110 in 2020. If Josh Bell is able to have a 2021 campaign similar to the one he had in 2019, the Nationals would be receiving much needed offensive production behind Soto and Turner.
In order to acquire Bell, the Nationals sent young right-handed pitchers Wil Crowe and Eddy Yean to the Pirates. Entering the 2020 season, Crowe was ranked the Nationals’ fourth best prospect and given a 45 FV (Future Value) by Fangraphs. A 45 FV player is a player that Fangraphs projects to be a #4/5 starter with an about 4.20 FIP. According to Fangraphs’ prospect report in 2020, Crowe has a 55/55 Fastball, 50/50 Slider, 50/55 Curveball, 55/55 Changeup, and 45/50 Command. In 8.1 Major League innings in 2020, Crowe struggled mightily with a 12.31 FIP, 7.75 xFIP, 6.64 SIERA, 0.0 K-BB%, 6.2 SwStr%, and 5.40 HR/9. Crowe is 26 years old which is relatively old for a prospect/rookie. Entering the 2020 season, Yean was ranked the Nationals’ seventh best prospect and given a 40+ FV by Fangraphs. A 40+ FV player is a player that Fangraphs projects to be between a back-end of the rotation and #4/5 starter with a FIP between 4.20 and 5.00. According to Fangraphs’ prospect report in 2020, Yean has a 50/60 Fastball, 50/55 Slider, 45/55 Changeup, and 40/50. Yean is only 19 years old so he definitely has a few more years to fully develop.
I’d give the Pirates a B+ for this trade. Although Bell was one of the better players on the Pirates’ roster, I currently view him as a fringe top 20 first basemen. Whether Bell was on the Pirates roster or not for the next two seasons, the team most likely won’t make the Postseason so there was no need to potentially let him walk after 2022 for nothing. Additionally, I think both Crowe and Yean have Major League upside. With some good player development, both pitchers have the chance to be fine starters for the Pirates for years to come. As for the Nationals, I’d also give them a B+ for this trade. While Bell does come to DC as a bit of a question mark, the reward definitely out-weighs the risk. The Nationals lineup desperately needs some help behind Soto and Turner and Bell could be a huge help. If Bell has another underwhelming season in 2021, the Nationals can non-tender him and move on. Additionally, it didn’t seem as if Crowe had a spot in the 2021 rotation and Yean isn’t a huge loss to their farm system at the moment.