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No Surprises, Just Business

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“Josh Bell? Peanuts next to three guys who collectively made a quarter of a billion.”
Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

In the short time that I’ve lived in Pittsburgh and the even shorter time I’ve been writing about the Pirates, Josh Bell’s trade to the Nationals is by far the most polarizing Bucs-related event I’ve seen. I’m sure it’s not on the same level as when Andrew McCutchen got dealt, considering that three years later, arguments for and against that trade still get intensely heated. Still, it gives me an idea of what it must have been like around here when that particular bomb detonated.

Like pretty much everyone, I like Josh personally. By all accounts, he’s a stand-up guy, and he repped the Pirates well. However, the days of one player staying with one team his whole career are long gone. Someone like Derek Jeter or, for an example closer to the Pirates, Ryan Braun, is the exception now, not the norm. Anyone who’s looked at Josh’s career, both in the majors and the minors, knows that he didn’t come by the nickname Tinker because he liked to dress up in fairy wings in his downtime. He always seemed to be messing with his swing or his stance, to the detriment of both, although he did occasionally come through with spectacular splashing-in-the-Allegheny results.

Cutch was far better in his time here than Josh—and the Pirates had little trouble cutting ties with him. Since the trade and three teams later, he’s been injured a lot, and his numbers have dropped. It might be a coincidence, or it might not be.

When Ben Cherington was named the Pirates general manager, two things went through my mind—first, that he was a good choice, and second, Pirates fans were going to be saying goodbye to a lot of familiar faces. Like all good general managers, Cherington knows that any sport's cardinal rule is to get the most and pay the least. This is a man who chopped almost $300 million off the Red Sox’s payroll in a single day when he realized that the 2012 team was going nowhere. With the money he saved by getting rid of Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Josh Beckett, Cherington was able to get lower-priced but still effective free agents like Stephen Drew and Shane Victorino without sacrificing draft picks. Combined with a few deft trades and key players healing, the Red Sox were World Series champions in 2013. While the major league team stuttered in the next few years, Cherington was drafting and trading for the thriving core that would be the Red Sox in the later 2010s.

No, Cherington doesn’t have the money to play with in Pittsburgh as he did in Boston. What he does have is an eye for talent. I believe that he wants to build a hometown base, then, as he did with the Red Sox, surround them with effective rentals. If he gets the base, I think that he and Travis Williams won’t have a lot of trouble convincing Bob Nutting to pay someone to come in and get the Pirates over the no-playoff-wins-lately hump.

If the Tampa Bay Rays can do it even without the rentals, why not the Pirates?