By John Perrotto
The Pirates continue to be as aggressive as any team in the trade market in the final two weeks leading up to the July 31 deadline for making deals without requesting waivers on players.
From all indications, the Pirates have asked about just any player that might be available between now and the deadline. As one American League front office type put it earlier this week, "I hope Neal Huntington has an unlimited minutes plan on his cell phone."
The Pirates are tied for first place with Cincinnati in the National League Central and Huntington is trying everything he can to bolster his roster to make a run at the franchise's first playoff berth since 1992. That also happens to be the last time the Pirates had a winning season, the 19-year run of sub-.500 seasons being the longest in the history of North American professional sports.
Everyone likes a bargain and Huntington is no different. He is trying to find the best deals possible. However, some rival GMs are said to be getting rather peeved by what they feel are lowball offers from Huntington.
Sources close to the trade discussions say that the Pirates offered right-handed reliever Jared Hughes to the Philadelphia Phillies for center fielder Shane Victorino (.254 - 8 HR -Ã‚Â 38 RBI) and Class AAA Indianapolis left-hander Justin Wilson to the Kansas City Royals for first baseman Billy Butler (.297 - 18 HR - 56 RBI).
Hughes is having a solid rookie season for the Pirates as he is 2-0 with one save and a 2.06 ERA in 35 games. However, he also has struck out just 22 batters in 43 1/3 innings for a rate of 4.57 for nine innings, particularly low for a relief pitcher.
Victorino is eligible for free agency at the end of the season and turned down a three-year, $30-million offer from the Phillies in spring training. Thus, the Pirates would be unlikely to re-sign him and their rationale is that they don't want to give up too much for a short-term rental.
The offer for Butler, though is puzzling. He has two guaranteed years at $8 million each beyond this season left on his contract along with a $12.5-million team option for 2015 that includes a $1-million option.
Wilson's fastball has been clocked as high as 99 mph but he is not considered a premium prospect. In 19 starts with Indianapolis this season, he is 7-4 with a 4.06 ERA. The Pirates have tried to sell the Royals on the idea Wilson could be their long-term closer.
Speaking of prospects, the Pirates are also telling teams that there is almost no chance they will trade any of their top six minor-leaguers -- Indianapolis outfielder Starling Marte, Class AA Altoona right-hander Gerrit Cole, high Class A Bradenton right-hander Jameson Taillon, low Class A West Virginia second baseman Alen Hanson and outfielder Josh Bell and short-season Class A State College right-hander Luis Heredia.
"The Pirates have the chance to make some trades that could help them win their division, the Al front-office type said, "but until they start getting serious with their offers, I really don't see anyone trading with them."