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Latest trade is part of process

PITTSBURGH — Ben Cherington is tearing it all down. All of it. It’s the only way the Pittsburgh Pirates general manager sees a way forward.

The process Cherington began when he took over 15 months ago is picking up speed after the Pirates sent starting pitcher Joe Musgrove to the San Diego Padres as part of a three-team trade that brought five prospects to Pittsburgh.

It’s a process that will likely have little short-term impact at the big-league level for a club that finished the truncated 2020 season with the worst record in the majors. Still, it’s one Cherington is convinced is the surest way to create sustainable success for a franchise that’s fallen on hard times since reaching the playoffs three straight seasons from 2013-15.

The Pirates need young talent. A lot of it. And while Cherington is well aware betting on teenagers and early 20-somethings doesn’t necessarily guarantee anything, the more of them the club has under its umbrella, the better chance some turn into impactful players in the big leagues down the road.

“We’re going to get to a time when our focus shifts, but we have to be really committed to building that talent base first,” Cherington said.

A base that Cherington considers in better shape now than it was when he took over from Neal Huntington in the fall of 2019. While the Pirates have splurged in the international free agent market — including giving 16-year-old outfield prospect Shalin Polanco a $2.35 million signing bonus last week — they’ve frequently relied on the team’s few proven players at the big league level to restock the minor league system.

In the last year, outfielder Starling Marte, first baseman Josh Bell and Musgrove have all been sent elsewhere in exchange for what the Pirates hope are players capable of eventually returning the team to contention in the NL Central.

The haul for Musgrove includes 19-year-old outfielder Hudson Head (a third-round pick in the 2019 first-year player draft whose stock has risen since), pitchers Drake Fellows and Omar Cruz and catcher Endy Rodriguez from the New York Mets. All three are 22 or younger.

“The younger they are, the further away they are,” Cherington said. “That does represent some risk, no doubt. There’s risk, there’s talent, there’s taking a subjective evaluation on the scouting side, there’s performance analysis, there’s character, there’s health. There’s just general upside, relative to that risk. We try to bake all that together into a stew and see where it leads us.”

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