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Pirates deal Robert Stephenson to Rays for prospect Alika Williams

Stephenson was 0-3 with a 5.14 ERA in 18 games this season.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Detroit Tigers Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Pirates made a surprising move just hours before their series opener with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Rob Biertempfel of The Athletic reported shortly after noon that the Pirates traded RHP Robert Stephenson to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for Minor League infielder Alika Williams.

Stephenson came to Pittsburgh last year after being designated for assignment by the Colorado Rockies, and some fans believed he could be a decent addition to a struggling bullpen. That, however, didn’t happen after a rocky start to 2023... no pun intended.

After dealing with right elbow inflammation early in spring training, Stephenson struggled to catch any spark once he was activated. In 18 games, he went 0-3 with a 5.14 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP in just 14 innings pitched.

In fairness, Stephenson wasn’t awful for the Pirates this year, despite the aforementioned numbers. He garnered average numbers when utilising off-speed pitches but his main issue stemmed from his fastball, in which hitters posted a .308 mark against.

Meanwhile, Williams has been anything but outstanding for Milwaukee since they took him in the first round of the 2020 MLB Draft. He’s slashed .237/.314/.417 with a .731 OPS in 42 games with Double-A Montgomery this season. To complement that, Williams struck out 34 times compared to 15 walks.

In his career, hit .254 with a .714 OPS.

If anything, he’s a depth piece that could possibly benefit from a change of scenery.

And in Stephenson’s place, the Pirates called up... Mark Mathias?

I’m all for second chances, but with a middle infield platoon consisting of Tucupita Marcano, Rodolfo Castro, Ji Hwan Bae, and Chris Owings, what’s the purpose? Unless they plan on getting rid of Owings, which would unite Pirates fans around the world.

The funny thing is that I predicted who the Pirates should’ve called up in Stephenson’s absence, and yet they announced the trade right after I finished. So for fun, I left the prediction below. Let me know your thoughts.

Prior to Cherington Walking with Mathias

While it’s disappointing the Pirates gave up on the Stephenson experiment early in the year, this does indicate they will call up one of a few pitchers in Triple-A Indianapolis. That being former 2020 Competitive Balance pick RHP Carmen Mlodzinski.

It makes sense. He’s 2-2 with a 3.32 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 21.2 innings pitched this season. Opposing hitters are also hitting just .230 against him. With that said, he’s settled into a reliever over the course of the year, and is deserving a shot in the big leagues.