A Full Season Later, How Do Cherington's Offseason Trades Look Now? - Part 1

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The Pirates made three high profile trades last offseason.  They sent starting pitcher Joe Musgrove to the San Diego Padres, starting pitcher Jameson Taillon to the New York Yankees, and first baseman Josh Bell to the Washington Nationals.  

At the time, it was a clear message to Pirate fans.  Nobody is safe in this rebuild if they can be used to acquire young and talented prospects.  Those being dealt were also all players who would be unrestricted free agents by 2023, the year when most of these shiny new prospects are supposed to either be debuting or well established in the MLB.  If you are not protected past that year, you are not valuable to this organization.

However, instead of looking at these trades as salary dumps and purely means to clean house, the trades have actually started to look pretty great for the Pirates.  Let's grade these trades one-by-one after another season's worth of data.  This is the first of a three-part series starting with the trading of Jameson Taillon.

Jameson Taillon to the Yankees - A+

The Jameson Taillon trade to the Yankees is starting to look worse and worse for Yankees GM Brian Cashman.  Even at the time, I was absolutely shocked by the return.  A lot of that sentiment was because Taillon had not pitched since the summer of 2019 and he was extremely injury prone.  Also, even though Gerrit Cole was able to become a superstar with the Houston Astros and continue this with the Yankees after leaving the Pirates, Taillon was not as talented as Cole.  I was happy for the Pirates to get anything for Taillon at that point in his career and with his injury history.

Taillon was not terrible with the Yankees this season.  He had a 4.30 ERA with 140 strikeouts and only 44 walks.  However, in 29 starts, he only had eight quality starts.  His starts perpetually put stress on the Yankee bullpen as he did not work far into ballgames, and he did not amount to much more than a third or fourth starter for most of the season.

However, Pirate GM Ben Cherington (GMBC) didn't just get 'anything' for Taillon, he got an absolute haul.  The Pirates received right-hand pitcher Miguel Yajure, right-handed pitcher Roansy Contreras, outfielder Canaan Smith-Njigba, and shortstop Maikol Escotto.  

At the time Yajure was the Yankees 15th best prospect, Contreras the 19th, and Smith the 21st.  Currently, in the Pirates system, Yajure is 24th, Contreras is 6th, and Smith-Njigna is 27th.  Also, Escotto has actually broken into the Pirates top 30, and passed Yajure and Smith for the 20th spot.

Miguel Yajure

Yajure pitched decent enough in AAA Indianapolis this season to keep him in the Pirates top 30 prospects.  In nine starts, Yajure had a 3.09 ERA with a 1.05 WHIP.  It was enough to earn him four appearances and three starts at the big league level.  

He had one great start with the Pirates and three not so great outings.  His last start really blew up his ERA to 8.40.  Also, his inability to keep the ball in the ballpark so far is discouraging.  However, Yajure is locked up through 2026 and still very highly thought of at only 23 years old.  

Roansy Contreras

Contreras is the real prize of the trade.  He pitched well enough, at AA-Altoona that he was escalated to AAA-Indianapolis by the end of the season.  Contreras had a 2.65 ERA with 76 strikeouts in 54.1 innings pitched.  

Then Contreras made his MLB debut on September 29th of this season and looked great.  It was widely celebrated across Pirates fandom as Contreras was the youngest pitcher to start for the Pirates in 17 years.  For the first time in a long time, the hashtag used for prospect debuts was being used for a Pirates player.  #RoansyDay was trending on Twitter and the hype for his debut was real around the league.  

Contreras did not disappoint.  His fastball was consistently in the high 90's and his movement on his off-speed pitches induced many swing and misses.  He had four strikeouts in three innings and gave up no runs.  Oh, and Contreras is only 21 years old.

Canaan Smith-Njigba

Smith-Njigba did not have an outstanding year, but at 22 years of age, his slightly above mediocre batting stats have plenty of time to improve.  He started the season at the AA level where he batted .274 with an OPS of .805 for Altoona in 266 plate appearances.  Unfortunately, he did not really show off his potential power with just six homeruns and eleven doubles.  Smith-Njigba also struck out 66 times.  He also struggled mightily in his seven games at AAA-Indianapolis batting .095 and striking out 9 times in just 23 plate appearances.

However, Smith-Njigba did show off some of his other tools throughout the 2021 season.  He walked 45 times with the Curve, continuing to exhibit impressive plate discipline that he has displayed his whole professional career so far.  Smith-Njigba also stole 13 bases and is known to run a lot better than his stockier build would portray.

Maikol Escotto

Escotto is still too young to even evaluate at 19 years old.  I do not want to make any prognostications on the kid, but I think it is very encouraging for him to have risen to No. 20 in the Pirate prospect list.  I know there are a lot that go into these rankings and I am hoping his rise above Yajure and Smith-Njigba is more of a compliment to Escotto and not an indictment of the other two.  

However, he did have a great base running season at Single-A Bradenton with 22 stolen bases.  His batting average and OPS were at an unimpressive .234 and .701 respectively, but like I said, Escotto is far too young to get concerned about.  He had a very impressive rookie camp with the Yankees in 2019.

Concluding Thoughts

So I think it is clear why this trade is getting an A+ grade.  Not only did the Pirates move a veteran pitcher with a long history of injuries and an expiring contract, but they acquired four prospects who could all be a part of the Pirates future.  Additionally, Taillon did not pitch well enough for the Pirates to have seller's remorse this season.  The return appears much greater than the loss at this point in the trade.  Time will tell for many of these prospects, but I have no problem grading this as a great trade at this moment.