In search of a face of the franchise, at least in theory, is Josh Bell now that for the Pittsburgh Pirates?
In baseball’s financial pecking order, the Pittsburgh Pirates have come in on the low end ever since Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla departed in free agency. A resurgence to contention a few years ago was led by a new face of the franchise, outfielder Andrew McCutchen, but he was traded to the San Francisco Giants as he entered the final year of his contract in 2018.
Entering Wednesday’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks (down 8-0 as of this writing), the Pirates are fairly surprisingly above .500 at 21-18. Their sustainability as anything resembling a playoff contender is a question, along with who the new star to lead the way going forward might be.
After hitting 26 home runs and driving in 90 in 2017, Josh Bell fell to 12 home runs and 62 RBI over just 48 fewer at-bats last year. With two home runs against Arizona Tuesday night, Bell had 12 home runs, 39 RBI and a .329/.401/.692 slash-line going into Wednesday’s game.
Bell had hits in first two at-bats on Wednesday, pushing his average to .338 at that point. He extended his hitting streak to 15 games with a double in his first at-bat, continuing a torrid stretch at the plate.
Andrew Fillipponi of 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh followed by dipping his toes in some hot take water.
Bell will turn 27 in August, so he’s firmly in his prime. He’s arbitration-eligible for the first time after the season, and he won’t hit free agency until after the 2022 campaign. So the Pirates have him under team control for three more full seasons after this one, through his age-30 season. A contract extension would probably change that equation, and if the Pirates do see Bell as the new face of the franchise that might be on their radar.
There are red flags in Bell’s batted ball peripherals so far this season. Via FanGraphs (entering Wednesday), he is making slightly less contact than he did last year, swinging more (in and out of the strike zone) and his home run/fly ball rate has over-corrected (28.6 percent this year; 9.2 percent last year; 19.1 percent in 2017).
Even for a franchise like the Pirates, who may be searching for that kind of star, it’s a big step from being a productive player to being the face of a franchise. Bell needs to keep up what he’s doing, over the rest of this season and probably into next year, before he can credibly have that label put on him in any way, shape or form.