Pirates trade slugger Josh Bell to Nationals

FILE - In this July 22, 2020, file photo, Pittsburgh Pirates' Josh Bell bats during an exhibition baseball game against the Cleveland Indians in Pittsburgh. The Pirates traded the slugging first baseman to Washington on Thursday, Dec. 24, 2020, for pitching prospects Will Crowe and Eddy Yean. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)
FILE - In this July 22, 2020, file photo, Pittsburgh Pirates' Josh Bell bats during an exhibition baseball game against the Cleveland Indians in Pittsburgh. The Pirates traded the slugging first baseman to Washington on Thursday, Dec. 24, 2020, for pitching prospects Will Crowe and Eddy Yean. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

PITTSBURGH – Josh Bell embraced everything about being a Pittsburgh Pirate. He understood as the club retooled following the departure of stars Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole that he would serve as the de facto face of the franchise.

It's a responsibility Bell ran toward. He became heavily involved in the community. He developed a bond with the family of Hall of Fame first baseman Willie “Pops” Stargell. He blossomed into an All-Star in 2019 looking every bit the cornerstone the Pirates could rebuild around.

And now he's gone.

The Pirates sent the 28-year-old Bell to Washington on Thursday, giving the Nationals the middle-of-the-order bat general manager Mike Rizzo said was an offseason priority for the perennial NL East contenders.

Washington sent pitching prospects Wil Crowe and Eddy Yean to Pittsburgh for Bell, a move Pirates general manager Ben Cherington called necessary to give Pittsburgh the organizational depth it needs to build something successful down the road.

“In order to build that winning team and get to that winning team it’s going to require some difficult decisions at times, this is one of those," Cherington said.

Bell was an All-Star in 2019 following a torrid first half in which he hit .302 with 27 home runs and 84 RBIs. That form has been elusive over the last year-plus. Bell hit .233 with 10 home runs during an injury-shortened second half of 2019 and batted a career-low .226 in 57 games for the Pirates in 2020. Pittsburgh finished 19-41, the worst record in the majors.

Bell believed he could be the cornerstone for Pittsburgh as the Pirates looked to retool under Cherington and manager Derek Shelton, both of whom came aboard following the team's disastrous second-half collapse in 2019 that led to a top-to-bottom revamp in the organization.