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Perrotto: A Risk Ben Cherington Had to Take

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Marco Gonzales, Pittsburgh Pirates

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Mitch Keller might have become the happiest man in baseball late Tuesday night.

The Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander won’t have to start all 162 games next season. General manager Ben Cherington got Keller some help by acquiring left-hander Marco Gonzales and cash considerations from the Atlanta Braves in a trade for a player to be named or cash considerations.

Now the Pirates have two certain members of their starting rotation in 2024 and three spots left to fill.

Keller, of course, wasn’t going to pitch every game. This isn’t 1885.

Yet Keller was the rotation’s lone wolf after the Pirates found out last month that right-hander Johan Oviedo has a torn elbow ligament and will miss all next season while recovering from surgery.

Gonzales is coming off a lost season with the Seattle Mariners, who traded him to the Braves on Sunday night at the start of the Winter Meetings at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Resort. The 31-year-old was limited to 10 starts before undergoing surgery to repair nerve damage in his left arm.

Gonzales, though, is expected to be ready for the start of spring training.

Gonzales has been a dependable big-league starting pitcher in the past and could provide innings to a pitching staff in need of them. He worked 183 innings in 2022 and his career high is 203 innings, which he reached in 2019.

Gonzales went 16-13 in 2019 with a 3.99 ERA in 34 starts. However, his best season might have been the pandemic-affected 2020 campaign when he had a 7-2 record and a 3.10 ERA in 11 starts.

During that shortened season, Gonzales was one of four American League pitchers to rank in the top 10 in the league in wins, ERA and innings pitched. The others were Cleveland’s Shane Bieber, the New York Yankees’ Gerrit Cole and Texas’ Lance Lynn.

Of course, that was also more than three years ago. Gonzales has been below league average since then with a 24-22 record and 4.21 ERA in 67 starts.

The one thing Gonzales has consistently done well is throw strikes. His 2.26 walks per nine innings since 2018 is the 10th-best mark in the major leagues during that span.

Gonzales’ salary next season will be $12.25 million in the final year of a four-year, $30-million contract. The Mariners agreed to pay $4.5 million in offloading him to the Braves and it is unclear how much money Atlanta is eating in this trade.

So, the Pirates are also getting him at a discount.

There is also a $15-million team option in Gonzales’ contract for 2025 but it includes no buyout. It’s hard to imagine the Pirates exercising that option unless Gonzales has a phenomenal season.

Two scouts I talked with late Tuesday night at Major League’s Baseball Winter Meetings at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Resort weren’t particularly high on Gonzales.

“He really hasn’t pitched well for three years and he’s coming off surgery,” a scout from an American League team said. “Personally, I’d pass. He’s too much of a risk.”

Considering the state of the Pirates’ rotation and the always-rising cost of starters in the free-agent market, this was a shot general manager Ben Cherington had to take. After all, you can’t use one starting pitcher for an entire season.

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