Blue Jays: Is Ben Cherington a Candidate for Pirates Head of Baseball Operations?

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - MAY 13: Nick Kingham #49 of the Pittsburgh Pirates delivers a pitch in the third inning of the MLB game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on May 13, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, ARIZONA - MAY 13: Nick Kingham #49 of the Pittsburgh Pirates delivers a pitch in the third inning of the MLB game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on May 13, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images) /
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Ken Rosenthal tweets that Blue Jays VP of Baseball Operations and former Red Sox GM Ben Cherington is a candidate for the Pittsburgh Pirates GM opening.

According to MLB Network insider and senior writer at The Athletic Ken Rosenthal, Blue Jays VP of Baseball Operations – and former Red Sox GM – Ben Cherington is a candidate for the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Head of Baseball Operations opening.

Neal Huntington was recently fired as GM, with assistant GM Kevan Graves acting as interim GM. Travis Williams, former Chief Operating Officer of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins, has been hired as Team President. Other rumoured candidates include Jays Senior VP of player personnel Tony LaCava, and former Red Sox and Orioles GM Dan Duquette.

Cherington obviously has an interesting resume as Boston GM from 2011-15, including helping to build the Red Sox World Series Champion team in 2013, although he resigned from Boston in August 2015 after Dave Dombroski was hired as VP of baseball operations. His Red Sox teams finished in last place in the AL East in 2012, 2014, and 2015.

He was hired in September 2016 to collaborate with Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins as VP of baseball operations in Toronto, with responsibility for player development. Given the success of players he either drafted, signed or helped to develop in Boston, including Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Andrew Benintendi, as well as the young core developed here in Toronto of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and Nate Pearson, it’s perhaps not surprising that the Pirates may have interest.

Ken Rosenthal previously tweeted over a year ago that Cherington could be interested in a GM gig that would allow him to “build an organization from the ground up”, but that he had withdrawn his name for consideration with the Mets and Giants.

SNY’s Andy Martino also tweeted in October 2018 that Cherington was “in play” for the Orioles GM role which may still be appealing given the opportunity there to rebuild an entire organization?

Would the Pirates represent an opportunity for Cherington to completely rebuild a team and organization?  Clearly, yes. They have a proud history, winning a total of five World Series Championships, but none since 1979 when Chuck Tanner managed the “We Are Family” team to a 98 win season and a Championship over the Orioles, on a team featuring Dave Parker, Willie Stargell, Bill Madlock, Omar Moreno, Burt Blyleven, John Candelaria and closer Kent Tekulve. The Pirates haven’t been back to the NLCS since 1992, when they lost to the Atlanta Braves, although they did win 280 games between 2013-15 with three consecutive early playoff exits.

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The current team, which had a similar 2019 record as the Blue Jays at 69-93, features some pieces to build around, including 24-year old LF Brian Reynolds, 26-year old starter Joe Musgrove, 26-year old SS Kevin Newman, and 27-year old corner infielders in1B Josh Bell and 3B Colin Moran.

Potential trade chips include 31-year old CF Starling Marte (on a friendly $11.5 million dollar deal in 2020 with a club option for 2021), 28-year old RF Gregory Polanco who was on the 60-day IL after left shoulder surgery in September 2018, but is under team control until 2023, 26-year old set up man Keone Kela who will be an UFA in 2021, and potentially also 28-year old closer Felipe Vazquez (5-1, 28 saves, 1.65 ERA over 60 innings pitched with 90 Ks), although he may never pitch in MLB again given he’s facing criminal sexual assault charges and immigration issues, and his contract could be voided depending on the court ruling and league discipline. 31-year old former Tampa Bay Rays starter Chris Archer, who has been regressing since 2015, and pitched poorly for Pittsburgh in 2019, could also be moved as he is on an affordable $9 million dollar deal in 2020 with an $11 million club option for 2021.

Would Cherington be interested in rebuilding the Bucs under tighter salary constraints after working with big budgets for the larger market Red Sox, as well as with the Blue Jays at least in the earlier 2016-17 part of his tenure here?

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The low-budget Pirates opened 2019 with a payroll of $74.8mn, but Spotrac has them committing $62.1 million at present using MLBTR’s estimates for arbitration salaries. Assuming no non-tenders, and that Vazquez’s $5.75 million contract is voided, plus $6-7m for the pre-arbitration players on the 26-man roster, the incoming GM might have approximately $30 million in additional salary budget if owner Bob Nutting is willing to return an Opening Day payroll, which was over $90 million each season from 2015-17. Perhaps that’ll be enough to lure him away from Toronto.

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