Kevin Gorman’s Take 5: After switching Josh Bell, pirates need to invest in the cornerstone of the future

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Ben Cherington has been consistent with his message that the Pittsburgh Pirates must “be aggressive and focused on adding talent”, which is a polite way of saying that the organization is deprived of it.

The Pirates general manager was also not ashamed to suggest that everyone is available to negotiate – except, perhaps, third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes – to achieve this goal.

So, that should have softened the Pirates’ blow by switching their only All-Star player, first-base man Josh Bell, to Washington Nationals on Christmas Eve for a couple of launch possibilities.

Of course not, even if Pirates fans have been warned about the switching deadline. Perhaps it is because they have not yet recovered from the Pirates who deal with their best players in the past two winters, swapping Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen in January 2018 and Starling Mars last January.

Cherington not only had to deliver a tough message to Bell, a year away from a 37-run, 116-RBI home run season, but to an exhausted fanbase who sees each deal as a stingy salary from a petty owner.

“It probably won’t be the last. There will probably be more, ”said Cherington. “I’m not saying this to predict anything, this is the realization, this is where we are.”

1. Moment of conversation: If negotiating with Bell was inevitable – and it should have been seen that way when the Pirates didn’t hire him for an extension after their 2019 season – the question is whether they did it a year later.

That same question was asked of Cherington, as Bell was entering his second year of eligibility for arbitration and due to an increase in his salary by $ 4.8 million. Bell showed the potential strength that the Pirates desperately need, but he is a .261 career hitter who fought as a designated hitter and is a defensive streak at first.

“For the past few weeks, certainly, our focus has been on examining our current group of players, where we are with them, how much time we have left and what potential paths we can take, whether to keep someone, to explore the trade or, in some cases, over time, I hope this will also include face extension. That will also be part of it, ”said Cherington.

“In that case, we just look ahead. We try to analyze, ‘OK, what are the potential paths we can take with Josh?’ And compare that to what was on the table today. We weigh all of these factors in the best possible way. We weigh the different possibilities, which can happen in months, in a year, in two years, etc. Weigh it all, compare it to what was on the table now and make the best decision we can. I think I should just say that we weigh all of that. We weighed all these factors and felt that this was the right decision for the Pirates. ”

You must ask yourself whether previous negotiations with major players were taken into account over time. The Pirates traded Mars for a pair of promising 19-year-old candidates from Arizona, who had less and less return when negotiating with Mars in Miami last summer.

When Pirates left Cole for Houston, they got three major league players at Musgrove, Colin Moran and Michael Feliz, but the Astros protected their best candidates. Sending McCutchen to San Francisco proved to be the best deal, receiving in return the soothing Kyle Crick and outfielder Bryan Reynolds.

2. Crowe’s Nest: The Pirates tried to put a positive spin on trade, noting that Bell got a pair of the top ten candidates in Washington. The other side? In September, ranked the Nationals the worst agricultural system in baseball.

If baseball fans had an adverse reaction to the Bell trade, it is that one prospect in return is a 26-year-old right-hander who fought in his first stint in the major leagues.

Wil Crowe was Washington’s third potential customer (and one of the top six candidates each year since he was drafted out of South Carolina in the second round in 2017). But he was 0-2 with an ERA of 11.88 and 2.64 WHIP in his first three games last summer, allowing for 11 runs won in 14 strokes and eight walks with eight eliminations in 8 1/3 innings.

Cherington said Crowe will compete for a spot in the initial rotation, another not-so-subtle hint that one pitcher will be the next to be traded. With Mitch Keller probably the only untouchable in the rotation, it means that the Pirates will soon be able to say goodbye to Jameson Taillon, Joe Musgrove, Steven Brault or Chad Kuhl.

All four are eligible for arbitration and it is difficult to imagine the Pirates extending any of them when all four dealt with arm or shoulder injuries last year.

“We had a lot of dialogue with the teams about many players in our squad, not just pitching, but look, it’s no secret: there are guys that if you are a team that is in a different position than ours, that they will be interested,” he said Cherington. “We’ve received a lot of phone calls and we’ll see where they’re going, but I’ll just say that to achieve our goals, which is to build a winning team and keep it in Pittsburgh, we’re going to need to continue to focus on accumulating talent and then on developing that talent and it comes from all the different paths, but commerce is one of them, and this is the time of year when these conversations take place, so let’s continue them. ”

3. Lean to the right: In the year since Cherington joined Pirates, they have acquired eight right-handed pitchers who are now ranked in the top 30 candidates by

However, there is no left-handed pitcher in the top 30.

This is not intentional.

“I promise you, we haven’t left for a year just to accumulate right-handed releases,” said Cherington. “This is not written anywhere in our plan. We left a year ago to accumulate as much talent as possible. It turns out that the opportunities have been a lot of pitches with the right hand. It’s just the way it fell. ”

What is intentional is the storage of young pitchers, as Cherington said the Pirates wants to have 30-40 talented weapons in its system to build a team that can become a permanent winner.

The Pirates acquired Brennan Malone (No. 8) in the Mars trade, summoned Carmen Mlodzinski (9), Jared Jones (14) and Nick Garcia (19) in June, added Jose Soriano (22) and Luis Oviedo (21) via Rule 5 Draft and Crowe (17) and Eddy Yean of 19 years (7) in the Bell trade.

This in addition to the first round of 2019 Quinn Priester (4), its main potential hitter, and a pair of right-handers that Baseball America ranks as the top 10 candidates in Cody Bolton (6) and Tahnaj Thomas (7), who was acquired from Cleveland in the Erik Gonzalez trade.

The good news? Everyone is 22 or younger.

The bad news? Almost all of them are at least a few years from reaching the championship, which means that the Pirates are at least a few years away from fighting.

4. Shipping: Despite all the clamor about the pirates negotiating Bell, the harsh reality is that they were the worst baseball team last season and will not increase their payroll after losing millions.

The truth is that its highest paid players did not live up to expectations. Chris Archer was a total failure. Gregory Polanco was a disappointment. And Bell has been totally inconsistent, even in the best season of his career.

Bell followed a monster in May 2019 (0.390, 12 doubles, 12 homers, 31 RBIs) with a hitting of 0.208 in June, 0.218 in July and 0.233 in the second half.

An MLB scout said in October that the Pirates needed to “take everything down,” suggesting that the Pirates should be willing to negotiate with everyone except Hayes and pitcher Mitch Keller.

Bell was his best commodity.

“Moving Bell, you know what the reaction will be, because that’s how they’re programmed, to face Nutting every time he makes a deal,” said an MLB source. “You have to make this statement to your fan base: we are doing this and we are going to do it right. It will be painful, but this is where we need to be. ”

The pirates are making that statement. Cherington is willing to blow it all up, so get ready for the eventual negotiations of Musgrove, Brault, second baseman Adam Frazier and others. Pirates is investing with the intention of building an internal winner, restructuring the minor league system with the signings of John Baker and Josh Hopper in the development of players and pitches.

“For us who work in baseball operations, this is what we wake up thinking about every day, how to build a winning and sustainable team? Because at the end of the day, this is what Pirates fans care about more than anything else, ”said Cherington. “Certainly, being honest about it and expecting a certain level of effort in that regard. For everyone who works for the Pirates and also for our players, we certainly expect that. To build that winning team that our fans deserve, it will be necessary to make some decisions like this along the way to give us a chance to build enough talent for that. This is one of them. ”

5. Key to the future: Cherington was well aware that negotiating with Bell would be exciting for everyone involved, especially doing so on Christmas Eve and for a couple of potential customers.

Still, Cheringotn shied away when asked if he was prepared for a “emotional downfall” from Pirates fans, who were attracted by Bell’s broad shoulders, big bat and relaxed smile. He was the most popular player in the Pirates and the only All-Star, a hitter who seemed tailor-made to hit PNC Park.

“Emotion, yes. Fallout, I don’t know, ”Cherington said. “Emotion, yes, because I understand that Josh is a nice guy, a nice player and did a good job with the Pirates uniform. I personally like him a lot and respect him.

“I think what I would say is that I think more than anything, I believe that what Pirates fans want is a winning team more than rooting for a single player, even if they are a very good guy and a good player. If we think about it, this is how we see it. ”

That’s where the Pirates, from owner Bob Nutting to the office, just don’t understand the Pittsburghers. Fans are attached to their stars, especially those who embrace the city. The Steelers kept Troy Polamalu and Ben Roethlisberger. The Penguins kept Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Pirates has not had a player who has spent his entire career with them since Willie Stargell, who died on the day of his debut at PNC Park in April 2001.

Pirate fans are more likely to wear the shirt of Roberto Clemente and Bill Mazeroski, investing in nostalgia instead of players who never reach a second contract.

If Pirates are going to ask fans to focus on the future, it is critical that they give them someone to focus on.

They have the opportunity to make a home run with the No. 1 overall choice in the MLB Draft 2021, be it a pitcher like Kumar Rocker from Vanderbilt or a position player like shortstop Jordan Lawlar, but its impact is years away.

Hiring Hayes for a long-term deal ahead of the season would be a sign that the Pirates see him as the cornerstone of the franchise and give fans someone to get together as they rebuild.

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for the Tribune-Review. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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