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Perrotto: A Winter Meetings Challenge Trade Pirates Should Make

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Emerson Hancock, Pittsburgh Pirates, Pirates trade

It seems like one common theme runs through almost every baseball trade anymore.

One team receives veteran players in the deal. The other team gets young players or prospects.

There never seem to be what used to be called challenge trades. That is the kind of deal when teams either trade an established player for another established player or a promising young player for another young player.

With baseball’s Winter Meetings set to begin Sunday in Nashville, I’d love to see a few challenge trades. They are always fun to evaluate both when the deals are made and then eventually to see if one team wins out in the long haul.

In the spirit of challenge trades, I think Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Ben Cherington should pull one off in Nashville. In this case, it would be one young player for another and maybe the Pirates could also get a lower-tier prospect thrown in.

No GM in the major leagues likes making trades more than the Seattle Mariners’ Jerry Dipoto. He would be a perfect match for Cherington on a challenge trade.

My proposal would be straightforward. The Pirates would send outfielder/catcher Henry Davis to the Mariners for right-hander Emerson Hancock and a lesser youngster.

Yes, the Pirates would be pulling the plug on Davis, a player they selected with the first overall pick in the 2021 draft from the University of Louisville.

It might seem rash to trade Davis so soon into his professional career, which includes just 62 games in the major leagues. Yet it feels like he isn’t a fit for the Pirates’ long-term plan.

The Pirates drafted Davis as a catcher. However, he has developed such a hitch in his throwing mechanics that the Pirates trusted him to play a grand total of two innings behind the plate last season as a rookie.

General manager Ben Cherington insists Davis and Endy Rodriguez will compete for the starting catcher’s job in spring training. However, Rodriguez should be considered a heavy favorite to win that battle in March. Furthermore, there are questions among talent evaluators around baseball if Davis will ever be able to catch in the big leagues.

Davis played almost exclusively in right field in his first taste of the big leagues. However, he struggled at the position and hit just .213/.302/.351 with seven home runs.

That is not to say that Davis can’t have a good career as he is still just 24. However, his value to the Pirates is lesser if he is not playing catcher.

The Mariners, meanwhile, are looking for a right-handed hitter and could be interested in Davis.

The 24-year-old Hancock also has a high draft pedigree. The Mariners used the No. 6 overall pick to select him from the University of Georgia in the 2020 draft.

However, Hancock did not take the fast track to the major leagues the way many analysts expected.

The 2020 minor-league season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which pushed Hancock’s professional debut back a year. Hancock made it to Double-A by the end of the 2021 season but also spent all of 2022 and almost all of 2023 at that level.

In three minor-league seasons, Hancock is 21-10 with a 3.77 ERA in 53 starts.

The Mariners called Hancock up to the major leagues in August during the pennant race. He made three starts, all resulting in no-decisions, while pitching just 12 innings and posting a 4.50 ERA.

Hancock is no longer considered one of baseball’s top 100 prospects. Regardless, he still has value as Baseball America ranks Hancock as the Mariners’ fifth-best prospect and MLB.com has him at No. 6.

Hancock has the type of arm worth taking a chance on. The Pirates desperately need starting pitching help for 2024, and they would have Hancock under contractual control through 2029.

So, why not pull the trigger on this challenge trade?

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