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The Pittsburgh Pirates: A Full Rebuild or Just a Step in the Cycle of Mediocrity?

The Pittsburgh Pirates have a track record of being a cheap, underwhelming franchise who seems to enjoy being stuck in the same cycle of mediocrity. Ever since Bob Nutting bought the team in 1996, the Pirates have made the Postseason all of three times. These playoff births came consecutively from 2013-15 and broke a 21-year playoff drought. 

During his almost 25 years in charge, Nutting has found new ways to cut costs and show that he does not care about winning. The Pirates have a track record of trading players away before their contacts are up because of the club’s unwillingness to spend the necessary money to keep the high-level talent in Pittsburgh. Former MVP Andrew McCutchen and eventual $336 million man Gerrit Cole are two examples of players who were shipped off in contract years.

Pittsburgh also has a bad history of front office personnel making terrible decisions. The history can be traced all the way back to the horrid Aramis Ramirez trade in July of 2003 to the Chris Archer deal at the 2018 deadline. 

Fortunately for Pirates’ fans there is a new General Manager in town. Nutting hired former Boston Red Sox GM Ben Cherington in November 2019 to rebuild the team. After his introductory press conference, the new hire went right to work.

Cherington almost immediately traded All-Star outfielder Starling Marte to the Arizona Diamondbacks for prospects Brennan Malone and Liover Peguero. Malone, a right-handed pitcher, was the 33rd overall pick in the 2019 draft and Peguero, a young shortstop, has excelled in his two years in low-A ball.

Pittsburgh headed into the 2020 season with an underwhelming roster and it showed. The Pirates finished the season with an abysmal record of 19-41. Those 19 wins were the worst total in all of Major League Baseball securing them the first overall pick in the 2021 MLB Draft. 

At the crossroads of a rebuild, Cherington decided to tear it all down. On December 24, 2020, the face of the Pirates franchise, Josh Bell, was traded to the Washington Nationals. In exchange for Bell, the Nationals sent right-handed pitchers Eddie Yean and Will Crowe. Crow, 26, is big-league ready and may crack Pittsburgh’s rotation in 2021, while Yean, 19, would be a long-term option for the club.

The Pirates were not done after the Bell trade as they dealt two more pieces in January 2021. First was starting pitcher Joe Musgrove. Pittsburgh sent the righty to San Diego for a huge haul. Five players came back to Pittsburgh in the deal: (OF) Hudson Head, (RHP) Drake Fellows, (RHP) David Bednar, (LHP) Omar Cruz and (C) Endy Rodriguez. Head, the 19-year-old centerfielder, is the headliner of the deal and has been climbing on many scout’s boards in terms of ranking minor league talent.

The most recent Pirate trade involved their ace, Jameson Taillon. Cherington traded Taillon to the New York Yankees for four prospects: (SP) Miguel Yajure, (P) Roansy Contreras, (INF) Makoli Escotto and (OF) Cannan Smith. Yajure, the headline of the prospect package, could crack the big-league squad in 2021.

Ben Cherington has turned four major league players into 13 prospects in a span of just over one year. This number could still grow as Adam Frasier and Gregory Polanco could be on the move by the July trade deadline. 

On top of all the young talent coming in via trade, the pirates have a few good prospects in the system already. Ke’Bryan Hayes is a budding superstar and one of the favorites to win the 2021 Nation League Rookie of the Year award. Mitch Keller, who has the makeup to be a true ace in most MLB rotations, will be in his first full, 162-game season in 2021. O’Neil Cruz (#59 on the MLB Top 100) is a 6’7” shortstop who is only a year away from breaking into the big leagues. 

2019 first-round pick Quinn Priester is progressing nicely through the minor leagues and 2020 first-round pick Nick Gonzales (#32 on the MLB Top 100) hit around .400 in college at New Mexico State. Finally with the 2021 first-overall pick, the Pittsburgh Pirates are in line to select the future ace pitcher out of Vanderbilt, Kumar Rocker.

The Pirates prospect pool is not only getting more talented by the day but is also getting deeper. Pirates fans have every reason to be optimistic that Ben Cherington knows what he is doing and is steering the ship in the right direction. My only concern is Bob Nutting’s willingness to pay this talent when the time comes. 

My blind optimism will say that this will be a full, effective rebuild. I cannot wait to watch the 2025 Pittsburgh Pirates contend for the Postseason once again.

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