Ben Cherington Is Gambling With Pirates Young Pitchers

I’m really not much of a gambler. The last time I placed a bet on a game was 21 years ago in college, I don’t play the lottery, the only scratchers I get are from my family for Christmas and I’ve never walked into a casino with more than 50 bucks in my pocket; while most of the time I only use the comp money you get for staying in the hotel. Once the money’s gone I’m done. And actually, if I hit “big” on anything, I walk away too.

Sure, I’ve gotten involved in fantasy baseball and football over the years-spending an insignificant amount of money in order to gain bragging rights with my friends-and went through a stage in my life where I would throw down a 20 spot to play Texas Hold’em at my buddies house, but even that was short lived.

In some ways I always compared Ben Cherington to myself because of the manner in which he stockpiled prospects at nearly every position in an attempt to minimize risk. Obviously Ben has a more daring side simply based on the high ceiling players he has focused on in many of his trades, including some pure lottery ticket acquisitions. However, every prospect is somewhat of a gamble, so it’s not like he’s taking a chance above and beyond what the other GMs around the league do on a fairly regular basis.

Yet, in the case of who Cherington chose to protect-and more specifically who he chose not to-it seems like he is stepping outside of the normal comfort zone he has created by maximizing risk to some extent. As we all know by now Cherington and Company selected the contracts of Canaan Smith-Njigba (OF), Travis Swaggerty (OF), Jack Suwinski (OF) and Liover Pegeuro (SS) at deadline; while doing the same with Diego Castillo (3B/SS/2B) a couple of weeks ago due to his impending Minor League Free Agency.

That’s five position players added into an already crowded bunch, which now totals 8 outfielders and 9 middle infielders. This is something Gary already addressed the other day, and isn’t necessarily something I am totally focused on; although it continues concerns and confuses me to a certain degree. Still, there is a number that worries me slightly more. During this process Cherington decided to protect zero arms.

Immediately you might think about the comments Cherington made when speaking to the media after the final decisions.

He started out by stating, “We’re balancing a lot of things. How do we use those 40 spots to our advantage this offseason, into spring training and during the season? We have to keep in mind that there’s a major league roster to build starting in April. There are 26 spots right there. We try to do the best we can to balance all these things, and our selfish hope is always to keep as many good players as we possibly can.

He went on to say, “We feel really good about the progress that the four players we added have made.”

Clearly this is the goal. Build an Opening Day Roster, AND be able to keep as many good players as you can. Also, you would have pretty hard time proving that any of these players didn’t make progress during the shutdown, as well as in the 2021 Minor League Season. Even with Swaggerty’s injury, that only allowed him to log 48 plate appearances in 12 games, there was a noticeable increase in power; plus it’s not like any of us got to see how he performed at the Alternate Site the year before.

Nevertheless, this isn’t all about performance, as some of those left off the list could have similar arguments made about their worthiness. In the end it is all about risk versus potential reward. The risk of losing players versus the potential of the prospects they protected, along with the hope of retaining those that weren’t.

Now, as far the possibility of having players snatched from the system Cherington said, Sometimes there are good players taken in the Rule 5 draft. But it’s not a real high volume of them. There are also a lot of players taken who don’t end up doing much, so you’re trying to find the needle in a haystack a little bit.”

Even though I totally agree with Cherington’s statement about the Rule 5 Draft, I can’t help but think that maybe Cherington added a few extra needles to the haystack.

Over the past three years a total of 43 players have been selected in the Major League Portion of the Rule 5 Draft. Of those 43 players 33 have been pitchers, which works out to approximately 77 percent of the prospects added to new teams.

This is why it is so curious to me that the Pirates left the likes of Omar Cruz, Yerry De Los Santos, Hunter Stratton, Cody Bolton, Travis MacGregor, Steven Jennings, Tahnaj Thomas, Eddy Yean, Santiago Florez and Michell Miliano off the list; not that they could have protected all of them, nor would I have wanted them to.

The first few guys on this list are ones that I honestly believe could factor into a team’s bullpen from the jump, Bolton is kind of like Soriano in that he could start the season on the 60-Day IL and potentially work his way back when he is healthy-no harm no foul if he doesn’t-and the rest are Oviedo types; who’s necessary service time can be manipulated by phantom injuries and limited/sporadic usage that totals around 30 innings of ups and downs.

Obviously, going back to my own-as well as Cherington’s-overall take on the Rule 5, that not many players will be selected and even fewer work out, the chances of losing a valuable prospect are pretty low. At any rate, by the numbers, the probability of a Pirates Prospect’s name being called is nearly tripled by having it be a pitcher on the block as opposed to a position player. This truth in this assumption is almost undeniable.

So, why wouldn’t Cherington choose to protect at least one arm based on this data? Honestly, I have no idea. Will it matter? Once again, I don’t know.

I just don’t see the reasoning behind the decision; which is ultimately causing a higher level of uncertainty/anticipation than there really needed to be.

Published by Craig W. Toth

Former Contributing Author at InsidethePirates.com, Co-Host of the Bucs in the Basement Podcast and life-long/diehard Pittsburgh Pirates Fan!

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