They did not get a catching prospect. They did not steal away a Triple-A outfield prospect. They didn’t even come away with a Double-A prospect a year or two away from the majors.
Instead, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded All-Star center fielder Starling Marte to the Arizona Diamondbacks for a rookie drafted in 2019 and an international signing who has never played above Low-A. This all begs the question; where are the Pirates headed? Where is general manager Ben Cherington taking them?
As numerous reports have indicated, fans should not expect to see either shortstop Liover Peguero nor pitcher Brennan Malone before the 2023 season barring a crazy ascent through the minor leagues. Neither fill an immediate need on the Pirates major league roster because of their distance from the majors (and the logjam that seems to be forming at shortstop). With their expected arrivals three seasons away, what does this say about the state of the Pirates and the direction in which they are headed?
For one, as we all know now, it appears we have a rebuild on our hands, whether Cherington is willing to admit it or not. Some have already labeled this trade as his first loss (in one attempt) as he did not succeed in prying away top Diamondbacks’ catching prospect Daulton Varsho.
I would not be too quick to judge.
Starling Marte is already over the 30 years-old hump, a death knell for many players in terms of their production. My guess is that he’s still an All-Star in 2020, but that does not help the Pirates in any way if he were still on the team; even if you would add to this current roster with free agents and trades for major-leaguers, you’ll only end up with a horrendous roster of aging vets with bad contracts in a year or so. A rebuild gives you the hope of sustained success and continuous shots at World Series with a young roster and a refilled farm system.
Marte was the first casualty in that pursuit.
Cherington appears to have a plan that centers on amassing as much talent as possible in the farm system regardless of position. He believes that if he has surpluses of talent that the major league roster can be steadily supplied with waves of talented players that fill gaps and can be traded for positions of need once the team enters their contention window. By planning for as far away as 2023, he’s hedging his bets that younger major-leaguers, such as Mitch Keller, Cole Tucker, Kevin Newman, Bryan Reynolds, and eventually Ke’Bryan Hayes and Oneil Cruz can establish themselves as help arrives.
There’s no telling if this plan will work yet or not; it all comes down to execution and development of players like Malone and Peguero. Only time will tell.