3 Pirates players GM Ben Cherington could trade before spring training
Actions rather than words eventually will tell whether the Pittsburgh Pirates rebuild, retool or re-something else under Ben Cherington.
It would seem, at least on the surface, the Pirates are headed for a shakeup of some sort after a season in which they had a 69-93 record and finished last in the National League Central for the first time since 2010.
That is in addition to multiple clubhouse incidents during the second half of the season and the arrest and jailing of All-Star closer Felipe Vazquez on child sex charges.
Cherington skirted the rebuilding question Monday when he was introduced as general manager. However, owner Bob Nutting made it clear during an interview with the Tribune-Review on Monday the new GM has free reign to make changes.
“I told Ben from the beginning that no one on the roster, no one in the minor-league system or no one on the staff is untouchable,” Nutting said, “that he needs to have the flexibility to be able to drive forward and build an organization that he is proud of and that our fans are going to be proud of and that Pittsburgh is going to be proud of.”
So could Cherington blow up the roster and start over again? Perhaps. If so, here are three players who could be on the move between now and the start of spring training in February:
The center fielder was voted the Roberto Clemente Award winner this year by the Pittsburgh chapter of Baseball Writers Association of America, symbolic of the Pirates’ MVP. Marte batted .295/.342/1.503 with 23 home runs and 25 stolen bases in 132 games.
The Pirates exercised the $11.5 million club option in Marte’s contract for next season and hold a $12.5 million club option for 2021 that can be bought out for $1 million.
While Marte is a productive player, he also is 31. The Pirates don’t appear they will be contenders during the remainder of Marte’s contract.
Thus, it makes more sense for Cherington to see if he can get a couple of prospects for Marte. The market would seemingly be robust for Marte, and trading partners could include the Chicago Cubs, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago White Sox and Texas Rangers, among others.
Trading the switch-hitting first baseman in July would have seemed preposterous. After all, he was the starting designated hitter in the All-Star Game and a fringe NL MVP candidate.
Bell did have a fine season as he hit .277/.367/.569 with 37 home runs and 116 RBIs in 143 games. However, he had a triple-slash line of .233/.351/.429 after the All-Star break with 10 homers in 55 games. Bell also was a liability again in the field with minus-5 defensive runs saved.
Bell wound up not being listed on even one of the 30 MVP ballots. Not even one 10th-place vote. A total of 22 players received votes.
The market might not be as robust for a 27-year-old who is three years away from free agency as one might expect. The Boston Red Sox are the only team with a glaring need for a first baseman or designated hitter.
With that in mind, it would be interesting if Cherington’s first trade with the Pirates came with his former team, as he worked 17 years for the Red Sox, including four as GM.
Having a new GM and manager usually means a clean slate for every player. Thus, Kela might have a fresh start despite being suspended for two games last season following a clubhouse altercation with a club staffer.
Kela is just 26 and in line to be the Pirates closer in 2020. Yet, he also is a year away from becoming a free agent and seemingly would be more valuable as a trade chip than a closer for a team that doesn’t figure to contend.
Despite the off-field incident, enough teams need bullpen help that the Pirates should be able to get something for Kela. He does have a 2.40 ERA in 48 games with the Pirates over two seasons.
John Perrotto is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.