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The Washington Nationals have acquired 1B Josh Bell from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for RHPs Wil Crowe and Eddy Yean.
The Nationals did need a first baseman, as one of their 1B option last year, Howie Kendrick, just retired, and Eric Thames is a free agent, as well as Ryan Zimmerman, who opted-out last year. This might close the door on Zimmerman, who at 36 years of age could be done with his playing career. Bell is a middle of the order bat to compliment Juan Soto. The Nationals don't have a good farm system, with no top 100 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline. But, their top seven prospects were all right-handed pitchers. Two of them, Crowe (#3) and Yean (#6) are now out of the organization. Bell broke out in 2019 after he hit 37 home runs with 116 RBIs and a .936 OPS. That seems great, but Bell had a 1.042 OPS after July 5th. He declined rapidly, and that continued into 2020. The months of June, July and September were all mediocre for Bell in 2019, but a monster May increased his final stats. Hopefully for the Nats, 2020 was just a down year. Bell's strikeout rate rose, way up to 26.5%, and his walk rate decreased to under 10%. Bell hit fastballs hard this past season, but couldn't hit breaking balls or offspeed pitches, with an xBA of under .200 against both pitch types. Bell will earn $6 million in 2021, and has one more year of team control afterwards, leading to free agency after 2022.
Bell, 28, hit eight home runs with a .226 average and an OPS of .669 in 223 Plate Appearances for the Pirates in 2020. In his MLB career, all in Pittsburgh, Bell has hit 86 home runs with a .261 average and an .814 OPS in 2191 Plate Appearances.
The awful Pirates had a pretty good reason to trade Bell before he was a pending free agent. The team just is not good, and they have limited talent on a tiny payroll. They get two pitchers ranked highly in a weak Nationals system in Crowe and Yean, who are polar opposites on the prospect spectrum. Crowe is barely a prospect and is two years younger than Bell. He debuted last year, and MLB Pipeline says that scouts view him as a 4th or 5th starter in the future. Yean is still a teenager with a lot of development needed before he can become a big league starter.
Crowe, 26, struck out eight batters with an 11.88 ERA in 8.1 innings for the Nationals last year. In 2019 between AA and AAA, the 2017 2nd rounder had a 4.70 ERA with 130 strikeouts in 149.1 innings, leading Nats minor leaguers in innings pitched and finishing second in strikeouts.
Yean, 19, spent 2019 between Rookie League and Low-A Auburn. He had a 3.50 ERA with 43 strikeouts and a WHIP of 1.165 in 46.1 innings.