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Tim Benz

Tim Benz: Every Pirate could be traded; that should depress you

| Friday, Dec. 1, 2017, 5:33 p.m.
Pirates outfielders Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco wait out a pitching change during the eighth inning against the Cardinals Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates outfielders Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco wait out a pitching change during the eighth inning against the Cardinals Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, at PNC Park.

In an interview Wednesday on 93.7 FM, general manager Neal Huntington said his Pirates will do “everything in our power” to convince Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani to come to Pittsburgh.

In a related story, I will do everything in my power to convince Kate Beckinsale to join me on a private jet vacation to Tahiti.

I like my chances better.

And I don't even own a jet!

Huntington also was asked if anyone on his roster was “untouchable” in terms of a potential trade.

“There are players that are harder to move,” replied Huntington. “I'm not sure any small- or mid-market team can go through a situation and say ‘If (another club) offered 10 of the best prospects in the game, we wouldn't move Player X.' ”

That's a “no,” then? No one on the roster is “untouchable?”

“Untouchable is hard to define,” replied Huntington.

Actually, Neal, it's quite easy to define. Untouchable means “Player X” can't be had in a trade. It's that simple.

I'm sure Jim Rutherford would tell every other NHL team that Sidney Crosby can't be acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins at present. I'm also sure if anyone in the NFL had called Kevin Colbert about Ben Roethlisberger before the season, he would've said the same thing.

Hence, “untouchable.”

So I'm taking that Huntington non-answer response as: “No. There isn't a single person on the Pittsburgh roster that couldn't be moved in a deal.”

What does that say, exactly?

And before you assume I'm defaulting into simplistic bashing of Pirates payroll philosophy here, I'm not.

Not entirely, anyway.

The unfortunate reality to be drawn from Huntington's statement is that even within the parameters of the Pirates' own financial game plan, what they perceived to be manageable, good contracts — even by their own fiscally constrictive standards — in many cases aren't working out.

For example, Starling Marte is signed for two more years with a total price tag of $18.1 million before his two option seasons kick in. The Pirates liked that contract at the time. But now, apparently like everyone else on the roster, he's tradeable, presumably because of suspension, mental inconsistency and lack of power development.

As the 2016 season was starting, Gregory Polanco signed a five-year, $35 million contract. It was perceived to be a good deal for a player who was alleged to be a cornerstone of the franchise. Just two years into it though, it appears he could be had for the right asking price, since the Bucs must be concerned his development arc has flatlined.

Similarly, what of pitchers Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole? They are former No. 1 and No. 2 overall draft choices in their mid 20's. They still have arbitration years left. And based on Huntington's open-ended response, one could surmise they could be swapped out.

What should be smacking Pirates fans in the face while synthesizing all this, is that right now the Pirates' plan should be working out. Those players I just mentioned should be untradeable in Huntington's eyes if their production was exceeding their cost as hoped.

Even Andrew McCutchen should be “untouchable” in this affordable option year as the Pirates would, in theory, be giving one more kick at the can to win a championship with their beloved center fielder.

As referenced earlier, this isn't a case of Huntington being willing to deal anyone at any time just to save a few bucks.

Which, to be fair, of course they are.

But this feels more like a case of the Pirates being willing to trade anyone on the roster because they don't like what they bought in the first place.

Huntington's basic statement that the store is open for holiday shopping season connotes to me that his belief is:

• “Cole will likely never become an ace. So what are you willing to give in exchange for him to become a No. 2 starter on your team?”

• “We just can't keep Taillon healthy. So who is willing to take a chance and back up the Brinks truck with prospects in hopes they'll have better luck?”

• “It turns out Polanco and Marte are only going to be ‘good,' but not ‘great.' So let's replenish the pipeline in the minors and allow someone else to determine if they are worth another $30 and $18 million, respectively.”

That's the depressing part to me. Not the reality that the Pirates refuse to call anyone “untouchable” because of money. We've always known that.

Rather, it's the reality that these guys ought to be “untouchable” because the team already figured out a way to employ them on below-market value deals, and still don't seem to think they are meeting that bargain standard.

But, I know. I'm sure things will get better when Ohtani signs.

Ms. Beckinsale and I be rooting him on from Tahiti.

Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.

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