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Marte deal adds high-end talent to Bucs' farm

Pirates acquire 2 Minor Leaguers from D-backs for veteran center fielder
@adamdberry
January 27, 2020

PITTSBURGH -- Since taking over as the Pirates' general manager in November, Ben Cherington has actively avoided saying that his club is rebuilding. But on Friday, when asked how he can build a sustainable contender in Pittsburgh, he may have foreshadowed the trade he completed on Monday afternoon. "We need

PITTSBURGH -- Since taking over as the Pirates' general manager in November, Ben Cherington has actively avoided saying that his club is rebuilding. But on Friday, when asked how he can build a sustainable contender in Pittsburgh, he may have foreshadowed the trade he completed on Monday afternoon.

"We need to add to our talent base," Cherington said. "And some of that will involve … at some point, taking some chances on guys, making some bets on guys who are less proven but may have more upside."

The Pirates made that bet, trading longtime outfielder Starling Marte to the D-backs for a pair of high-ceiling, 19-year-old prospects -- shortstop Liover Peguero and right-hander Brennan Malone -- and $250,000 in additional international spending space. Pittsburgh also sent $1.5 million to Arizona to cover part of Marte's $11.5 million salary this season.

Cherington said he wanted to get a deal done by February, if only to address the uncertainty surrounding Marte. Rather than target a specific position or level, Cherington said the Pirates set a total value threshold that the D-backs eventually crossed with the offer the Bucs accepted -- one obviously built more around future value than anything that will help the 2020 club.

"We weren't going to do [trade Marte] lightly, but this opportunity with the D-backs brought to us two young players who we're really excited about, who we feel have significant potential and upside," Cherington said Monday evening at PNC Park. "Certainly in the early part of their development curve, but with significant upside, the kind of players that have a chance to make an impact on the Pirates long-term. The third piece, the spending space, gives us an opportunity hopefully to do something in the international market."

The Pirates dealt away arguably their best overall player, a consistent presence in their lineup since 2012 and the last tie to their 2013 National League Wild Card Game-winning club. They parted ways with their highest-paid player in a move that inarguably is a step back for this season. Pittsburgh also trimmed its projected Opening Day payroll to roughly $50 million.

Still, Cherington wouldn't say the Pirates are rebuilding. Even with new management and a new coaching staff, they believe they don't have to tear down their entire roster before they can contend. The Bucs think they can build around what they have, even if it's going to take some time and more moves like the one they made Monday.

"We're focused on helping our current players reach their fullest potential and also adding, in whatever ways we can, talent from outside the organization that has the kind of capability to help us win a lot of games and get to a team that's playing meaningful games in September and October as soon as we possibly can," Cherington said. "We just need more talent, and we need to add that to the players we have here with the Pirates already.

"I'm really confident we have players on our current team and in the Minor Leagues who will be part of that team I'm describing, and we're going to keep working hard to build that team. We'll do it as fast as we can. I'm not going to predict win totals and things like that, but our focus is on building a winning team."

Despite Cherington's refusal to say the word "rebuild," it's become clear the Pirates are building toward something in the future -- something that Peguero and Malone, two high-upside prospects, might eventually be part of.

In MLB Pipeline's most recent ranking of the D-backs' Top 30 Prospects late last season, Malone and Peguero ranked No. 9 and 18, respectively, in Arizona's system. MLB Pipeline will be revealing its updated rankings of every farm system in the coming weeks, and both Malone and Peguero likely would have cracked the top 10 of the new D-backs list. Both players made the top 10 of Pittsburgh's updated ranking, too.

Peguero, a 6-foot-1 shortstop, made his professional debut in 2018. Last year, he slashed .326/.382/.485 with five homers, 11 steals and 38 RBIs in 60 games for Rookie-level Missoula and Class A Short-Season Hillsboro. The right-handed-hitting infielder signed with the D-backs for $475,000 in 2017 and quickly proved himself as a promising prospect despite the club's aggressive Minor League assignments.

Peguero has shown an advanced approach at the plate for a teenager, and he is expected to stick at shortstop for the long haul.

"There's a long way to go and a lot of ground to cover. He's the type of young player that scouts get excited about and our analysts get excited about," Cherington said. "He does a bunch of things that good Major League players, when they were 19, did. We're excited about that."

The Pirates considered drafting Malone, who attended IMG Academy near their Spring Training facilities in Bradenton, Fla., with the 18th overall pick last year. Instead, they selected Quinn Priester -- another high-ceiling high school arm -- and Malone fell to the D-backs at No. 33, though he also met with a Blue Jays front office group that included Cherington and Pirates assistant GM Steve Sanders. The 6-foot-4 right-hander made seven appearances in his professional debut last season.

"He's got, as far as body type, the physical capability and the delivery traits to be a starting pitcher. He's got exceptional arm strength and velocity and the makings of good secondary stuff," Cherington said. "He's a really good kid -- smart, intelligent young man. Again, 19 years old and a long way to go and a lot of work to do. But we're excited about the ingredients he has that gives him the ability to be a starting pitcher."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.