A Third Asset the Pittsburgh Pirates Acquired in the Starling Marte Trade is Time
You're not going to like it. I don't really like it either, but in addition to Liover Peguero and Brennan Malone, the Pittsburgh Pirates bought themselves some time in the Starling Marte trade. By targeting two teenage prospects, GM Ben Cherington made his plans clear, the goal is compete in 2023. It doesn't necessarily mean they are "tanking" for the next three years, just that the strategy will be to stockpile talent for that window. No one wants to hear that, but that appears to be the reality.
Why not target a couple AAA or AA prospects? It's a legitimate question many on social media are asking. Those types of prospects are closer to the majors and less likely to bust, and it's not like the Pirates don't have talent at that level to build upon. Ke'Bryan Hayes, Oniel Cruz, and Mitch Keller are all names that we will hear in Pittsburgh over the next couple years and they are the #1, #2, and #3 prospects in the Pirates' system right now. So, there is talent to build around. So, why not do it? Why put the Pittsburgh fan base through more years of futility? I can't speak for Ben Cherington, but I can offer up an explanation.
Had the Pirates' decided to use the Starling Marte trade to build upon the 2020/2021 roster, they could have done so in a way that it would have amounted to a pretty fine team. Maybe the Pirates could contend for a Wild Card again, but would they have been contenders? Probably not. There would still be too many holes to fill. Assuming they got their catcher of the future in the Marte trade, they'd still have a gaping hole in the outfield, and, based upon the cooler-than-expected trade market for Marte, they wouldn't have been able to fill both needs. Even if they managed to pick a free agent center fielder like Kevin Pillar, does the rotation look like a championship-caliber group to you? What about the bullpen? They were probably the worst unit on the team last year. The point is, while there is some talent on this team, I don't see a combination of trades and realistic free agent signings that make this team a true contender in the next couple years.
Apparently, Ben Cherington didn't either. By opting for two teenage prospects, he is acknowledging that the team has serious holes. Not just in Pittsburgh, but throughout the system. There is no catcher anywhere in the minor leagues that we should be excited about. The starting pitchers, outside of Mitch Keller, are non-existent until you get to Quinn Priester and, now, Brennan Malone. The way I interpret this trade, and the implied plan that comes along with it, is that Ben knows these problems exist and he needs time to fix them well.
For those of you lamenting yet another rebuild, when was the last time this organization actually attempted and stuck to a rebuild? Consider the most recent example in 2017. After the Wild Card teams of 2013, '14, and '15 started to fade, top players like Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen were traded for near major league-ready prospects. Neal Huntington was trying a rather quick rebuild to take advantage of some talent still on the team. However, after the 2018 team outperformed expectations, that rebuild was quickly abandoned in favor of bringing in a pitcher named Chris Archer that Huntington and many others in the fan base thought could help the team win immediately. That's just a reminder that, even though the team is bad, it doesn't mean they are rebuilding. A rebuild is a process that has to be seen through. It's a process that, as much as I hate to say it, takes time.
By putting his eggs in the 2023 - 2025 basket, Cherington is giving himself time to refine and prune the minor league system so that the prospects that fit in that window are of a quality and quantity that they can compete for titles. That's what this fan base wants, so why fake it? Why trade for immediate needs when we know it won't be enough to get us over the top? I admit, I was hoping for a quicker process. Those playoff teams were fun to watch and I want that again, but they now feel like the appetizer before the meal. They tasted great, but in the end, they weren't very satisfying. It's time for the main course.
That's the just the 2023 portion. There's still the seeming inevitability of losing all those players acquired during the rebuild to free agency because of a penny-pinching owner and his self-imposed salary cap. Will this time be different? Bob Nutting has indicated it will. He said that keeping a low payroll now will allow the team to ramp it up when the time is right. You're right to be skeptical of that statement. I am too, but, as we've seen from the Starling Marte trade, we're a few years off from seeing it happen.
Right now, Ben Cherington is like the dad who packs his kids up for the long, 15-hour drive from Pittsburgh to Disney World. They aren't going to like the trip. They're going to complain and ask, "are we there yet?" over and over, but he knows the destination will be worth the trek. He just can't give up and stop off at Myrtle Beach even if the kids beg him to because they want out of the car.
If a rebuild is what it takes to bring a championship to Pittsburgh, just start it now so that, in three years, we will be able to see the destination and appreciate the pain it took to get there.
Follow Jared on Twitter: @a_piratelife