PITTSBURGH — When the Major League Baseball trade deadline passed Tuesday, it wasn’t so much about which players were dealt by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Instead, it was about two pitchers who they kept.
Right-hander Mitch Keller and closer David Bednar are still Pirates despite all the rumors and speculation that they could be traded so general manager Ben Cherington could gather even more young players for the Pirates’ rebuilding project.
The Pirates traded left-hander Rich Hill and first baseman Ji-Man Choi to the San Diego Padres on Tuesday while also shipping catcher Austin Hedges to the Texas Rangers. All were popular clubhouse figures and there was sadness among their teammates to bid the three of them goodbye.
However, there was elation that Keller and Bednar remained Pirates. They were the team’s two representatives in this year’s All-Star Game and seemingly a large part of the future with Keller not eligible for free agency until 2025 and Bednar in 2026.
Pirates manager Derek Shelton was happy to keep the two anchors of his pitching staff.
“Extremely relieved,” Shelton said after the Pirates beat the Detroit Tigers 4-1 on Tuesday night at PNC Park. “You are talking about two guys that are really important to the Pirates moving forward. There’s a lot of speculation, a lot of talk that goes out there. When you have two All-Stars of their caliber people are going to talk about them. People are going to inquire on them. I’m excited that both guys are still here.”
Cherington did his due diligence by listening to offers from other clubs on Keller and Bednar. However, Cherington really had no desire to trade either and did not get overwhelmed by any offers that would have caused him to part with them.
“I’ve had a chance to talk with both of those guys over the last few days,” Cherington said. “Shared that we fully anticipated we’d get phone calls about them. We did. Also shared with them that we’re trying to win here as fast as we possibly can. First priority would be to do that with them on the team.
“But we have to take the phone calls and listen. That’s part of the job. That happened. When that happens, there’s going to be rumors out there. We just wanted to get ahead of that with them. But they’re Pirates, and we’re excited about that.”
The Pirates should indeed still be excited to have the 27-year-old Keller and 28-year-old Bednar on their side.
Keller leads the team in wins with his 9-7 record to go with a 3.97 ERA and 145 strikeouts in 133.2 innings over 22 starts. Bednar has converted 22 of 23 save opportunities with a 1.24 ERA in 42 games while striking out 56 in 43.2 innings.
Keller is fifth in the National League in strikeouts and Bednar stands fifth in saves.
Rookie shortstop Liover Peguero has only been with the Pirates for a little over two weeks since his recall from Triple-A Indianapolis. Yet he clearly understands the importance of both Keller and Bednar.
“They’re very talented players,” Peguero said. “As human beings they’re extremely nice. They’re people that are going to be there to try and help you and tell you things you got to do right, the right way. They’re big pieces on this team.”
Both Keller and Bednar were also happy to stay put despite the Pirates being in fourth place in the NL Central with a 48-58 record. Keller has spent his entire 10-year professional career in the organization and Bednar grew up in Mars, Pa., as a big Pirates fan.
They also believe the Pirates are closer to contending than it looks from outside the clubhouse.
“I think you look around this clubhouse and you see some of the young guys growing up, getting their feet wet and getting some reps and continuing to grow and learn how to fail up here and then continuing to learn from that,” Bednar said. “So, it’s exciting. It’s going to be fun to watch.”
Added Keller: “I think we have a really good core, a really good group of guys, young guys coming up, too. I’m just using these last two months as experience and keep compiling experiences as a group together and getting to know each other. I think it’s going to be special.”
Time will tell if this rebuild works or crashes and burns like so many others by the Pirates over the last 30 years. However, having a couple of talented pitchers like Keller and Bednar can only help.