Pittsburgh Pirates: Ben Cherington Had One Of The Best Off Seasons In Years
By Noah Wright
Ben Cherington’s active 2020-2021 off-season is the best one the Pittsburgh Pirates have had in years.
Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Ben Cherington had a very active off-season. From trading big-name veterans to acquiring many young players, the team has really built up a bright future ahead of them. It quite possibly has been their best off-season in quite some time.
The first notable move Cherington made wasn’t acquiring or trading any players. It was bringing in a new director of coaching and player development. After firing Larry Broadway, he hired former major league catcher John Baker for this role on November 10th. Baker was formerly part of the Chicago Cubs’ organization as their mental skills coach.
Then about a month later, the general manager made multiple different moves at the Rule 5 draft. Since they had the #1 overall selection, he chose flamethrowing right-hander Jose Soriano from the Los Angeles Angels. Then traded for right-hander Luis Oviedo. Oviedo was picked with the 9th selection from the Cleveland Indians by the New York Mets. The Mets then sent Oviedo to the Pirates for cash. Oviedo will look to lock down a late-inning role with the Pirates in 2021 and Soriano will work his way back from Tommy John surgery. However, both are seen as two of the Bucs’ top 30 prospects by MLB Pipeline and FanGraphs.
His first big trade of this winter came on Christmas Eve. On December 24th, Cherington traded switch hitter Josh Bell to the Washington Nationals for two right-handed pitching prospects. The headliner was Eddy Yean, but got Wil Crowe in the deal as well. Yean is currently seen as the Pirates’ 8th best prospect by MLB Pipeline and Crowe ranks as their 21st best prospect. The former though will be able to slot into the major league roster this year.
January 15th was the International Signing deadline. Cherington made a big splash signing outfielder Shalin Polanco to a $2.35 million deal. Polanco was seen as one of the best international free agent prospects available as MLB Pipeline ranked him at the 11th spot.
Cherington made the next big trade on January 19th, moving one of the best starting pitchers on the market. That move was sending Joe Musgrove to the San Diego Padres for a four-player package. The deal included Hudson Head, Omar Cruz, David Bednar, and Drake Fellows from San Diego. It eventually was revealed that it was a three-team trade involving the Mets who sent catching prospect Endy Rodriguez to Pittsburgh.
Head is seen as one of the Bucs’ highest upside prospects. He has five-tool potential and could be part of the long-term outfield picture. Rodriguez is a plus defender behind the dish who has shown great plate discipline throughout his 265 minor league plate appearances. Not only is he a good backstop, but he can also fill in at first base and both corner outfield spots.
Omar Cruz is the Pirates’ best left-handed pitching prospect. Although he isn’t a hard thrower, he’s put up great numbers throughout his minor league career and could be a very solid back of the rotation starter or swingman-type pitcher. Relief pitching prospect David Bednar will be looking to lock down a late-inning role this year as well. While Drake Fellows hasn’t played professionally yet, the 6th round pick is still a nice add-on to this trade.
Just days later on the 24th, he sent right-hander Jameson Taillon to the New York Yankees for another large package of players. The 4 player package included right-handed pitchers Miguel Yajure, the headliner, and Roansy Contreras. They were joined by outfielder Canaan Smith-Njigba and infielder Maikol Escotto. Before the trade, Yajure, Contreras, and Smith-Njigba were ranked as three of the Yankees’ top 21 prospects according to both MLB Pipeline and all 4 were within the organization’s top 25 on FanGraphs.
Yajure just ranked as the 116th best prospect in baseball by FanGraphs and has been rising ever since going pro in 2015. Contreras is a very solid right-hander who could be in the majors before the end of the 2021 season. Smith-Njigba is going into his age 22 season and has shown great tools throughout his minor league career so far. Maikol Escotto is still a very young player who’s going into his age-19 season, but he did very well in 2019, can play second base, third base, and shortstop while showing some pop, speed, and plate discipline.
Overall, Ben Cherington had one of the best and most productive offseasons the Pittsburgh Pirates have had in quite a while. In total, between the trades, in which he got the market value for each of his veteran players, Rule 5 draft, and international signings, he acquired a grand total of 14 prospects. Impressively, 12 of them ranked in FanGraphs’ top 50 and gave the Pirates an 8th prospect with a FV of 50 or higher on FanGraphs. That ties them with the Yankees for the second-most 50+ FV prospects. This puts them in a great position for future success and long-term success.