There have been persistent rumblings that the Pirates could respond to their disastrous 2019 season by going into a rebuild phase, and that speculation only increased after the recent trade that sent outfielder Starling Marte to the Diamondbacks for two longer-term prospects.
While changes are certainly afoot in Pittsburgh, a full-scale rebuild isn’t happening, or at least not by new general manager Ben Cherington’s definition of the term.
“If I think about the word rebuild, what comes to my mind is a team that has been doing well that you are taking apart to then rebuild it, and you’re in the process of doing that,” Cherington told Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
As an example, Cherington (who most recently worked as Toronto’s senior VP of baseball operations) described the Blue Jays’ thought process following their consecutive ALCS appearances in 2015-16. “We knew we were going to have to rebuild that roster” of increasingly aging and expensive players.
Just over three seasons later, not a single player from the 2016 Jays remain on the team’s 40-man roster, yet Cherington said such a drastic overhaul isn’t necessary for the Pirates. “A good chunk of players who were on the team last year will be on the team this year, and they really do have a chance to be part of that next winning team. We’re just trying to build toward that,” he said.
In fairness, Cherington admitted that fans may not share his specific view of what constitutes a “rebuild,” and knows that Pittsburgh supporters simply want to see a winning team on the field. As we’ve seen in recent years from teams such as the Astros, Cubs and Phillies (or, presently, by the Orioles, Marlins and Tigers), rebuilds have become most often defined as a strategy that involves a team deciding to overhaul its entire organization in a scorched-earth process. That usually involves trading all veteran talent and rebuilding around younger players, and subsequently asking fans to be patient through four or five years of losing baseball until the club is again competitive.
This type of total remake isn’t necessary in Pittsburgh, Cherington feels. "We’re not tearing something down to start over," he says. "We are simply taking a team that wasn’t good enough or wasn’t as good as we wanted to be last year, but has a group of players with a chance to be much better, and we’re trying to build on that. If we had made four or five other trades (besides the Marte deal) involving more established Major League players who were on last year’s team, then maybe I’d think about it differently.”
These comments aren’t far removed from the recent statements from Pirates owner Bob Nutting, who said that one of the primary focuses of the new front office would be discovering how to better develop and get the best out of their current players. While adding more talent to the roster is also a chief priority, Cherington may not feel compelled to trade such notables as Josh Bell, Chris Archer, Gregory Polanco, or others, if they feel these players haven’t yet reached their ceilings.
Of course, payroll considerations will always factor into the club’s decisions. Even if more expensive players such as Archer or Polanco are eventually moved, Cherington may prefer to wait and see if either can have bounce-back seasons under the new coaching staff rather than trade them now in what could turn out to be sell-low scenarios.