Last week marked one year since the Pirates dealt right-handed pitcher Joe Musgrove to the San Diego Padres in a three-team trade that landed the Bucs five players. Monday marks another one-year anniversary of another trade executed by the Pirates last offseason and that is the trade that sent Jameson Taillon to the New York Yankees in exchange for four prospects.
Ben Cherington and Yankees general manager Brian Cashman finalized the trade that sent Taillon to the Bronx for pitchers Miguel Yajure and Roansy Contreras, outfielder Canaan Smith-Njigba and infielder Maikol Escotto. Two clubs headed in different directions, the Yankees added Taillon to help stabilize their rotation, whereas Pittsburgh continued to add pieces as they look towards the future.
In Taillon’s first season with the Yankees, he made 29 starts which only trailed Gerrit Cole and Jordan Montgomery (both with 30) for most on the Yankees’ staff. Taillon proved to be a solid force in the Yankees rotation, finishing off the season with an 8-6 record and a 4.30 ERA/4.43 FIP (100 ERA+).
Taillon helped the Yankees reach the postseason, where New York ultimately fell to the Boston Red Sox in the American League Wild Card game. Taillon is under New York’s control for one more season before hitting the open market next offseason.
While Taillon played a role in the Yankees getting to the postseason, the Pirates also accomplished what they wanted in the trade by acquiring four promising prospects who all have the tools to become Major League contributors one day.
Of the four prospects acquired Yajure and Contreras both reached the Majors and pitched in limited capacities Pittsburgh in 2021. Yajure scuffled on the big-league mound in 2021, pitching to an 8.40 ERA albeit in just 15 innings. His minor league numbers offered more encouragement, as Yajure posted a 3.40 ERA in 11 minor league starts.
One of the biggest obstacles that Yajure faced in 2021 was a forearm injury that sidelined him for a couple months. After the injury, Yajure’s velocity seemed to take a bit of a dip, but the 23-year-old has an entire offseason to rebuild his arm strength from his time lost.
Contreras also pitched for the Pirates last season, making a single start at the end of the season. Although it was just one appearance that lasted only three innings, Contreras flashed his potential of a front of the rotation starter upside that he showed throughout the minor leagues. In his three innings of his Major League Debut, Contreras held the Cubs scoreless and picked up four strikeouts.
The 22-year-old spent the majority of the season in Double-A before a late season promotion to Triple-A Indianapolis for one start before he got his shot at PNC Park. With Altoona, Contreras posted a 3.21 ERA with 76 strikeouts and just 12 walks in 54.1 innings pitched.
Like Contreras, Smith Njigba also spent the bulk of the season with Altoona before earning a late-season promotion to Indianapolis. In 66 games with the Curve, Smith-Njigba slashed .274/.399/.406 (127 wRC+) and stole 13 bases on 14 attempts. It was a struggle for the outfielder after reaching Indianapolis who went just 2-for-21 in 7 games at Triple-A, though he rebounded with a .908 OPS in the Arizona Fall League this offseason.
The Pirates added Smith-Njigba, 22, to their 40-man roster earlier this offseason, and there’s a pretty good chance that he gets called up to the big leagues at some point in 2022.
The final piece of the trade is Escotto, who spent the season with the Bradenton Marauders. Escotto is still just 19 years old, and slashed .234/.354/.347 (100 wRC+) in 89 games with Bradenton. Escotto hit seven homers and swiped 22 bags for the Marauders. Both his walk rate (14.2 %0 and his strikeout rate (30.4%) were high. While still raw due to age and professional experience, Escotto is viewed as having a high ceiling.
For the most part. both teams got what they wanted out of this trade. The Yankees were able to add a solid presence to their rotation and reached the postseason and will look to get back there with the help of Taillon in 2022.
On paper, this very well could be Cherington’s best trade since taking over as general manager. All four prospects find themselves in the Pirates Top 30 on MLB Pipeline – Contreras (6), Escotto (20), Yajure (25), Smith-Njigba (28). I’d say the Pirates are very pleased with how this trade has worked out so far.