Rebuild. There, I said it for Ben Cherington. The word in a small market town is not nearly as frightening as the last two Pittsburgh Pirates management groups have made it out to be. Dave Littlefield sullied the word for the better part of two decades, but he failed at his attempt. Neal Huntington didn’t, and hopefully Ben Cherrington doesn’t. Because the surest way to fail at rebuilding is to not admit you’re doing it, another lesson Neal should have learned in the second half of his tenure as GM.
I’ll not be proclaiming the move of sending Starling Marte to the Arizona Diamondbacks for two 19-year old prospects as good or bad. Surely, there are writers out there eminently more qualified than I to hazard a thumbs up or down, but when you’re talking about acquiring a couple of teenage prospects, everyone to a degree is guessing. No, this is a good old fashioned “we’ll see” proposition.
For the same reason I’ll avoid grading it A through F, because, again, it would be an arbitrary and semi-educated guess at the overall outcome.
For instance, I don’t recall many positive takes on the return for Andrew McCutchen and that sure has turned out to be quite possibly Neal Huntington’s very best work, albeit destroyed by the Archer deal.
In fact, I could argue that had the Archer trade not taken place we could be staring at a pretty nice-looking young team. I’d prefer not to re-litigate the past though because this is a story about today, and this group of team managers.
I’ve heard from some fans who feel moving Marte was a good move simply because he wasn’t that good. Many of these fans have passionately felt this way since his steroid suspension and perceived lack of hustle on occasion or a lack of focus at times. Essentially not using his five-tools together often enough. I understand this take, but really would like you to pretend you didn’t watch him play every day. Take a moment and cover his face with your fingers on Baseball Reference or whatever stat site you like, just look at his career numbers. If the Bucs were on the receiving end of a player like that, I can’t imagine there would be much negativity. He’s a good ballplayer. The second or third best we’ve had here in his time. A nasty downside to being a Pirate fan at times is the self-conditioning many of us engage in. We know a player is playing his way out of town and immediately start finding ways to make ourselves okay with the proposition. So, you say things about his leadership, or his hustle, or that time he let you down personally, well, we all just watched this in a truncated fashion play out with Antonio Brown for different reasons. How many times did you hear the old “addition by subtraction” uttered as fans scrambled to comfort themselves?
Bottom line appreciate the player we just traded away; this wasn’t insignificant.
Back to what the trade means. It means contention this year is absolutely off the table, at least from a functional expectation standpoint. It means that Ben Cherrington believes much more in the Single A level talent in this organization than any other level. It means a rebuild, and while they remain hesitant to utter the word to the paying customers, it remains the actual effort ongoing. If it doesn’t, in-fact, signify a rebuild, then Ben Cherington has not moved this organization forward in any meaningful way. He will have given them a chance to have a decent core in a few years, but not a nearly complete team in that time frame. That is what clubs like this must do, and they must also commit to stowing away the savings from having the lowest projected payroll in the majors to pull out at such a time that you can keep that core together or add to it when the time comes. Another important factor however is giving yourself the absolute best shot for that window to count, and that comes from moving anyone else you possibly can, right now. Anyone who won’t factor into the perceived window. Sorry, if that’s Josh Bell, he goes. Archer, Kela, Moran, Williams, Musgrove, Brault, they go. Doesn’t have to be all of them, nor does it all have to happen before the spring. That said it needs to be a decision made by the end of the season. This is the year you see who you want to bring into the future, and in some cases, who is willing to be here.
2020 just became a year of discovery, a year of mapping the future and most of all, a year of deconstruction. It won’t feel good, but neither does surgery and the scalpel is needed now in order to heal. For some, this will be a fun ride, one that they will relish as they evaluate every level of the system and, for that matter, become intimately educated on potential trade partners as well. Others will see it as Bob Nutting trying to be as cheap as possible. Full stop. While the payroll is very low, that is to be eminently expected during this process.
One way to combat that narrative could be to acquire some low to mid-level free agent veterans to fill roles not yet possible to fill with youngsters. This provides more players you could move at the deadline for more prospects, or worst-case scenario, you get nothing but a warm seat.
For now, many of us know what is happening here, we’ve seen it before. On the plus side, we’ve seen it work; almost. That said we’ve seen it fail too and the next moves will be crucial. The moves don’t have to make you feel good now, but they do need to fit with this one. For instance, if they were to move Frazier for a AAA pitcher who has struggled to make the bigs, that makes no sense in relation to the Marte move. If they move Frazier and get a Single A Pitcher, then you can honestly say that Ben has a track and he is targeting in.
These are the things I’ll be looking at, and how I’ll judge the state of the rebuild.
Some conversations probably just died with this move as well. No more worrying about the MLB level catching, it scarcely matters, and Jacob Stallings is plenty good for what they need this season. Time to stop wondering about free agents that could put them into the race. No, now it’s time to decipher weather Bryan Reynolds will be the grizzled, established star on a budding team or a distant memory who had an outstanding rookie campaign and returned the starter you’re there to see that evening.
Follow Gary on Twitter: @garymo2007