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Perrotto: Once-Promising Trade Keeps Getting Worse for Pirates

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Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Roansy Contreras walks off the field after being taken out the game in the third inning of a spring training baseball game against the Detroit Tigers Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Lakeland, Fla. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

An old saw among baseball people is that it takes five years before a trade can be properly evaluated.

More than three years have passed since the Pittsburgh Pirates traded right-hander Jameson Taillon to the New York Yankees for four prospects. While it might not be fair to pass a final judgment on that deal, it increasingly looks bad for the Pirates.

Taillon hadn’t pitched since May 1, 2019, as he underwent Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery and missed the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. General manager Ben Cherington seemed to do well to get four players for a pitcher coming off surgery and a long layoff.

Three of those players have made a minimal impact at the major-league level. The fourth has gone from a potential cornerstone of the organization’s long rebuilding process to barely hanging on in the big leagues.

Right-hander Miguel Yajure made four starts and 12 relief appearances during the 2021 and 2022 seasons. He had a 1-3 record and an 8.69 ERA before being lost off waivers to the San Francisco Giants.

Outfielder Canaan Smith-Njigba played in 18 games over the last two seasons and hit a paltry .135/.250/.243 with no home runs and one stolen base.

Smith-Njigba hit 15 home runs and stole 21 bases last season at Triple-A Indianapolis, but the Seattle Mariners claimed him off waivers last month. Less than two weeks later, the Pirates claimed Smith-Njigba back. Yet he doesn’t seem to be in their long-term plans.

Middle infielder Maikol Escotto has yet to make it past Class A. Though it might be unfair to write him off at 21, Baseball America does not rank Escotto among the Pirates’ top 30 prospects.

Then there is right-hander Roansy Contreras. It once seemed like he could be part of the Pirates’ rotation for many years following a solid rookie season in 2022 when he had a 5-5 record and a 3.79 ERA in 21 games (18 starts).

However, it has all been downhill since then.

Last season, Contreras went 3-7 with a 6.59 ERA in 19 games (11 starts). Things got so bad that the Pirates sent Contreras to their spring training facility in Bradenton, Fla. in early July to get things back together before having him report to Triple-A Indianapolis.

There was more bad news when manager Derek Shelton said Thursday night that the Pirates now view Contreras as a relief pitcher. It’s not surprising, though, as Contreras has had an awful spring training with 13 walks and 14 hits allowed in 13.1 Grapefruit League innings.

The Pirates can try to spin this as a positive development by saying how helpful Contreras could be out of the bullpen. The truth of the matter is that Contreras is now a failed starter despite being just 24 years old.

The Pirates are in a tricky situation with Contreras.

Going to the minor leagues would be the best way for Contreras to get his career back on track. However, he is out of minor-league options and the Pirates are justifiably concerned that he would be lost on waivers if they tried to outright off the 40-man roster.

Maybe Contreras can still salvage his career with the Pirates. I doubt it, though, as pitching coach Oscar Marin has shown he can only rehabilitate veteran left-handed starters during his five-year tenure.

Starting pitchers are the best trade commodities in baseball. General managers can get a whole lot in return.

Cherington certainly got quantity for Taillon but it’s turning out to be not much quality.

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