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Pittsburgh Pirates GM Ben Cherington Has No Choice But To Blow Up Roster

When the Pittsburgh Pirates hired Ben Cherington to be their general manager in November 2019, one word kept coming up over and over from his former co-workers as they described him.

Patient.

Cherington has shown as much patience as could be deemed possible in his situation.

He took over a team that had a 69-93 record in 2019 and basically left it untouched except for trading center fielder Starling Marte to the Arizona Diamondbacks for two well-regarded prospects.

Cherington wanted to see exactly what he had on the before deciding to blow everything up and starting over again. It is safe he was underwhelmed by what he saw during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

The Pirates had the worst record in the major leagues at 19-41. Their .317 winning percentage was the fourth lowest in the franchise’s 129-year history.

The only redeeming part of the season is that it was 60 games. The Pirates played at a clip that projected to a 51-111 record in a normal 162-game schedule.

Cherington’s patience has finally been expended this offseason, at least with the roster he inherited. He has hit the plunger three times, pressing down on it again Monday night.

The Pirates shipped right-hander Joe Musgrove to the San Diego Padres in a three-team trade that also involved the New York Mets. The Pirates got five prospects back to again signal they are gonig into a full rebuilding.

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Musgrove would have been the Pirates’ de facto ace in 2021, at least until Jameson Taillon proved he had fully recovered from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery.

The trade comes less than a month after the Christmas Eve deal that sent first baseman and face of the franchise Josh Bell to the Washington Nationals for two pitching prospects.

Trevor Williams, who led the 2020 Pirates in innings pitched, became a free agent in late November. Cherington decided not to offer him a contract rather than go through a potential salary arbitration hearing.

Many in the industry believe second baseman Adam Frazier is the next Pirates player to go.

While it should be noted that part of the motivation for the moves is so the notorious frugal Pirates and owner Bob Nutting could lower an already-low payroll, it is not the overriding reason this time.

With the Pirates going nowhere and some of their top prospects at least a year or two away from being ready for the major leagues, Cherington’s most logical step was to acquire more young talent to help build a winning team in the future.

How long it will take for the Pirates to be competitive again remains to be seen.

Right-hander Mitch Keller and third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes, both 24, could provide a couple of building blocks to the next Pittsburgh playoff team, though there are questions about both.

Keller dazzled in his final two starts of last season when he pitched six no-hit innings against the St. Louis Cardinals then five more against the Cleveland Indians. He was lifted from both starts because of pitch count issues.

Yet Keller also finished 2020 with more walks (18) than strikeouts (16). That provides reason for pause.

Hayes might have been the best player in the major leagues after making his debut Sept. 1. He batted .376/.442/.682 with five home runs in 24 games while showing off his highly regarded fielding skills.

Yet Hayes homered just 25 times in 461 career minor league games. So, it is fair to wonder whether his September performance was a power surge or sample size fluke.

Even if Keller and Hayes turn out to be above average major league players, the Pirates will need more than that if they want to eventually return to contender status.

There was heartening news Monday for the Pirates when Baseball America released its list of top 100 prospects and four of those players were from the organization – Hayes (No. 15), shortstops Oneil Cruz (No. 50) and Nicky Gonzales (No. 51) and right-hander Quinn Priester (No. 58).

Beside Hayes, Cruz is only one likely to reach the big leagues at some point in 2021. Yet he also has legal issues to resolve after being involved in an automobile accident in September in his native Dominican Republic in which three people in another vehicle were killed.

It will be a while before everyone sees how the Pirates’ rebuilding will turn out, though it seems like it’s been a way of life for the franchise for nearly three decades.

It is a course that takes a little luck and a lot of patience. Fortunately for the Pirates, Cherington has an abundance of the latter.

Phillip Malone

Phillip started his career as a freelance journalist who wanted to change the way traditional news reporting work. His venture, Feed Voice, is a move to introduce to the readers a fresh new wave of news reporting. As a learned founder of the news platform, he renders his genius news pieces based on Automobile niche.
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