The Pirates have finally cemented a structure in the front office, having officially hired Ben Cherington as general manager. While the club still needs to settle on a field manager, it can also turn towards restructuring a roster that endured a disastrous second half in 2019, both on the field and off. Cherington and owner Bob Nutting met with Pittsburgh media today (including Rob Biertempfel of the Athletic) to discuss the organizational outlook. As expected, changes figure to be in the works.
No player on the roster is off limits in trade, Nutting indicated. He’ll instead give Cherington free rein in player movement. As Biertempfel notes, that figures to be most relevant for the respective futures of Starling Marté, Keone Kela, and Josh Bell, all of whom are productive enough to catch other teams’ attention but are three or fewer years from free agency.
Marté and Kela, especially, figure to be bandied about the rumor mill in the coming months. The Pirates weren’t believed to be shopping Marté when the offseason began, but that always seemed likely to change and the club has since installed Cherington in place of former GM Neal Huntington. Kela, meanwhile, was seemingly part of the club’s fraught clubhouse that boiled over at season’s end. That said, he remains an extremely talented reliever (2.12 ERA in 32 appearances in 2019), so he figures to draw interest elsewhere.
A Bell trade, while perhaps not as likely, would certainly shake up the first base/DH market. The 27-year-old had a disappointing second half, but his full-season .277/.367/.569 slash line (135 wRC+) remained stellar. Neither scouts nor defensive metrics have ever loved Bell as a first baseman, but he certainly looks the part of a middle-of-the-order masher. Speculatively speaking, the Blue Jays, Rays, Red Sox, Twins, and Nationals are among the dozen or so teams who would make sense as Bell suitors. After all, he comes with three seasons of team control and is only projected for a $5.9MM arbitration salary, so he could appeal to organizations in various markets and at different stages of the competitive cycle.
Does that mean the Pirates are destined for a full rebuild? The owner did let on that a change in the organization’s outlook may be necessary. “Shooting to be an 81- or 82-win team year after year is not going to be acceptable,” Nutting told reporters, including Biertempfel. “At the same time, 69 wins is never going to be acceptable. I don’t subscribe to (the notion that) a couple of 69’s leads to a winning team.”
There’s a bit of mixed messaging there, but Nutting’s disavowal of consistently fielding average to slightly above-average rosters and hoping things break right is noteworthy. Pittsburgh has, in the past, done just that, eschewing a full rebuild in hopes of remaining on the fringes of the race each year. That served the organization well from 2013-2015, when they ripped off three consecutive Wild Card berths. It has been much less effective in the four seasons since.
No one in the organization fully committed to a teardown, it’s worth noting. As would be expected, Cherington indicated a desire to get acclimated to his personnel before making any decisions. Among those aids will be assistant GM Kevan Graves, who will return in that position, per Biertempfel. Graves served as interim GM after Huntington’s firing and was in the running for the permanent position. Nevertheless, he’ll remain on hand in his previous role, unlike Kyle Stark, who was let go from his AGM job over the weekend.
With the front office turnover now complete, the Pirates’ on-field product will start to take shape. There are many ways this offseason can go, as MLBTR’s Steve Adams noted in his Offseason Outlook, and it now seems that everything is on the table. The organization could be in for a drastic reshuffling in the coming months.