As you know by now, Ben Cherington has left his gig as the Blue Jays’ vice president of baseball operations in order to become the new general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Good for Ben! While it sucks to lose talented members of your front office, it’s just a reality of professional sports. If your office is loaded with good people, they’ll get poached by different organizations when openings arise.
While we don’t exactly have the best view of what Cherington did with the Blue Jays, it’s known that he played a key role in building the Jays’ farm system and planning their player development strategies. His work in Toronto helping build a deep farm system coupled with his time in Boston, it’s no surprise that Cherington is getting another chance somewhere else.
Pittsburgh is a small-market team that badly needs to undergo a rebuild, so Cherington being the guy to steer the ship makes a lot of sense there. When he was promoted to GM of the Red Sox, one of the most impressive things he did was shed over $200 million in salary by sending Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez to the L.A. Dodgers after Boston’s miserable 2012 season. Of course, he also put together the team’s young core of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and Jackie Bradley Jr. that helped them win the World Series in 2018, but I bet that Pirates ownership is more excited about the former than the latter right now.
I imagine we’ll see something similar in Pittsburgh as Cherington steps into the driver’s seat. Though the Pirates don’t have hundreds of millions of dollars in bad free-agent decisions to dump as the Red Sox did, we’ll very likely see Cherington tear down what the Pirates do have on the Major League roster in order to kick-start their rebuild.
So, where do the Jays fit in here? Well, given that Cherington just spent three years building up a farm system in Toronto, he’s surely going to have prospects here that he wants to bring to the Pirates organization. These are two organizations moving in opposite directions, and, given the front office link, there might be a deal to be made.
Now the difficult part. Who plays for the Pittsburgh Pirates? Uhhhh… I mean, there’s a reason this team won 69 games last season. There’s a whole lot of junk on the roster. Did you know that Mely Cabrera was still playing? What about Francisco Liriano? Hey, look, Joe Musgrove, a guy the Jays traded for J.A. Happ in 2012, led the team in innings! Holy shit, that’s who they got back for Gerrit Cole?! Yikes!
Anyways, looking up and down the Pirates’ roster, there are a few quality players and some possible reclamation projects the Jays could be interested in.
- Josh Bell was the shining light on the Pirates last season. After three good-not-great seasons to kick off his Major League career, Bell broke out this year, slashing a .277/.367/.569 line while smacking 37 bombs. He’s the first home-grown star the team has had since trading away Andrew McCutchen a couple of years ago, and given that he’s just hitting his first arb-eligible off-season this year, he won’t come cheap. Bell would give the Jays a quality first baseman who can also play the corner outfield, but, given what it’ll likely cost to trade for him, I’m not sure it’s worth it.
- Starling Marte is probably the most likely name to be dealt and he’s the most sensible fit for the Jays. Marte is a centre fielder with a decent glove, though most of his value comes through his bat. The 31-year-old slashed a .295/.342/.503 line last season over 132 games. Given his salary, $11,500,000 in 2020 and a team option for $12,500,000 in 2021, Marte is a name I would expect the Pirates to move this winter. Adding him to play centre field and shifting Randal Grichuk to right field while keeping Lourdes Gurriel in left suddenly gives the Jays a solid outfield.
- Chris Archer has been a complete disaster in Pittsburgh. The Rays sold high on him during the 2018 season and ended up on the winning side of a hilariously lopsided deal. All three of Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows, and Shane Baz were good for the Rays last year, while Archer posted a 5.19 ERA in his first full season as a Pirate. He’s one of a few Pirates with a big cash commitment next year at $9,000,000, so the organization could look to get something for him before they’re saddled with the decision of picking up his 2021 $11,000,000 team option or letting him walk for nothing. It would be a massive buy-low for the Jays, but they have the cash to take these sorts of risks right now.
There are a few other names worth talking about, but these are the three I expect to hear talked about the most this off-season. Starting pitchers like Trevor Williams and Joe Musgrove would also be nice additions to continue adding depth to the Blue Jays’ rotation, but, given the fact they’re hitting arbitration for the first time this year, I can’t see Cherington being in a rush to move them. It’s more the expensive names like Archer and Marte I would assume get moved before next year.
But are any of them worth it for the Jays? Given how much cash Toronto has to throw around this off-season, why would they need to give up prospects for Bell or Marte when they can just spend money to sign Eric Thames or Marcell Ozuna? If the Jays do go the trade route this winter, I hope we see something along the lines of signing Yasmani Grandal and trading Danny Jansen for a starter rather than giving up prospects in order to buy cheap-ish players from a team like the Pirates.