Pittsburgh Pirates: Underrated Trades Ben Cherington Has Made

Toronto Blue Jays v Boston Red Sox
Toronto Blue Jays v Boston Red Sox / Jim Rogash/GettyImages
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The Pittsburgh Pirates have made many trades during this rebuild, but some under-the-radar trades could pay dividends in the long run

Everyone loves to talk about blockbuster trades. Of course, you have the big ones in baseball’s long history, like Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees, Roger Clemens to the Yankees, and Ken Griffey Jr. to the Cincinnati Reds. In recent history, you have guys like Justin Verlander getting sent to the Houston Astros, both Max Scherzer and Trea Turner joining the Los Angeles Dodgers, along with Mookie Betts, who LA acquired via trade. But there are also a ton of under-the-radar trades that go unnoticed but pay dividends later on down the line.

Yordan Alvarez was once a Dodger prospect who was traded for Josh Fields. So was Oneil Cruz, who was traded for Tony Watson (while hindsight is 20/20, I’m sure the Dodgers are kicking themselves for trading Cruz and Alvarez for two middling relievers who are now retired). All-stars like Jose Trevino, Jake Cronenworth, and Garrett Cooper this past year were acquired via trades that received little fanfare.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have made a staggering amount of trades since the start of this rebuild that kicked off at the start of the 2019 offseason. You have some big ones like Josh Bell, Joe Musgrove, and Jameson Taillon, but there are plenty more that went unnoticed that got the Pirates some potentially decent players, and that’s the trades I want to look at today.

Maybe the most forgotten trade during the rebuild that could pay dividends involved Jarrod Dyson. I’ll forgive you if you forgot Dyson was once a Pittsburgh Pirate. The longtime outfielder, who was most famous for his contributions to the Kansas City Royals (especially in 2014 and 2015) only appeared in 21 games for the Bucs during 2020, collecting a meager eight hits (none of which went for extra bases) in 55 plate appearances. Although the Pirates acquired him for his defense, he had just -2 Defensive Runs Saved in the small sample size. The Pittsburgh Pirates somehow managed to get something out of him, despite having an OPS+ of just five (meaning he was 95% worse than the league average).

What they got was international bonus pool space from the Chicago White Sox. That added international cap space went to now top Pirates pitching prospect Po-Yu Chen. Although Chen had a 4.58 ERA, he still had a solid 3.76 FIP, 1.21 WHIP, and 3.81 xFIP. Chen struck out nearly a quarter of the batters he faced with a 24.5% strikeout rate and 0.73 HR/9. On top of that, he had an 8.6% walk rate. Chen isn’t a flamethrower, averaging 90-93 MPH, but he throws decent off-speed stuff, including a great splitter. He also has good command.

Chen is ranked as the Pirates’ 24th-best prospect, per FanGraphs. But Chen is somewhat of an indirect cause of the Dyson trade. The trade wasn’t Dyson for Chen, but rather Dyson for money that was used to sign Chen. If you want a more direct example, look no further than Abrahan Gutierrez.

The 2021 trade deadline saw the Pirates trade all-star second baseman Adam Frazier and then closer Richard Rodriguez. However, nobody batted an eye when they traded minor league reliever Braeden Ogle for backstop Abrahan Gutierrez. Ogle was not considered a top prospect or even one of the Pirates’ better relief prospects. With the southpaw set to become Rule 5 Draft eligible, the Pirates decided to ship him off to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for Abrahan Gutierrez.

Gutierrez spent the 2022 season at High-A Greensboro, where he slashed .257/.356/.411. Gutierrez had a great 11.8% walk rate, and he had a dozen home runs in 441 plate appearances. However, he had a mediocre 25.4% strikeout rate which was interesting given he was highly touted for his ability to consistently make contact and keep a low strikeout rate. Either way, Gutierrez had a .353 wOBA and 112 wRC+.

Gutierrez isn’t a terrible defensive backstop, but he’s not considered a great fielder, either. He caught 26% of would-be base stealers and allowed just three passed balls in 381 innings behind the plate. He’s also added first base versatility to his resume this past season. Although he has low-tier power, he did have a solid ISO last season. If he can keep increasing his power output, or at least maintain it next season, he could become one of the Pirates’ many future catcher options.

If Gutierrez has a great season at Altoona, he could potentially see a brief major league cameo in September. He could soon have an impact in the major leagues, but one prospect that Pirate fans may have to wait to see if he makes an impact that was acquired in a somewhat under-the-radar trade is Joaquin Tejada.

During the same deadline the Pirates acquired Gutierrez, the team traded left-handed starting pitcher Tyler Anderson to the Seattle Mariners. Anderson was signed by the Pirates the previous off-season to serve as an innings eater, and that’s exactly what he did. Anderson posted about league average results (4.35 ERA/4.27 FIP) but went five or more innings in each of his 13 starts.

The Pirates received two players for Anderson. One was Carter Bins, a catcher who has some power potential and is a serviceable defender but strikes out closer to 40% of the time than 30% of the time. The real prize of the package was young right-hander Joaquin Tejada, who had just turned 18 right before the deadline.

Tejada has yet to pitch much professionally, with just 55.2 innings under his belt between two years. On the plus side, he has a 24.4% strikeout rate and an HR/9 rate of just 0.32; however, walks have been an issue on more than one occasion. His walk rate clocks in at a poor 13.6% rate. But Tejada is only entering his age-19 campaign. He has a wide arsenal of pitches, including a fastball, slider, curveball, and splitter. All of his stuff projects as average or better, and while he only sits in the low-90s right now, he could see a slight uptick in velocity later on. Not only is he still extremely young, but he’s 5’11” with a slender 160 pound frame.

However you look at it, the Pirates have made a ton of trades and have acquired a ton of prospects. While many of those prospects were acquired in big trades, there has also been a handful of under-the-radar moves that have gotten the organization prospects who could become an impactful part of the team’s future.

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