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Tim Benz: Pirates’ ripple effect of Austin Meadows, Chris Archer

August 4, 2018

Pirates outfielders Corey Dickerson and Austin Meadows celebrate after defeating the Reds at PNC Park.

On Tuesday, the Pirates started acting like a Major League Baseball franchise. They made trades for baseball reasons, not the financial bottom line.

That’s gonna take some getting used to.

For us, and for them.

For instance, I’m on the record as writing that I loved the idea of getting Chris Archer. I’m also on record as saying that the one guy I wouldn’t have given up is Austin Meadows.

Well, that’s precisely what happened Tuesday. Archer came on board. Meadows went down to Tampa with Tyler Glasnow and a player to be named later.

Of all the young prospects this Pirates organization has recently tabbed as important components for the future, Meadows is the lone one who has gotten to the big leagues. At times he has looked like he really belongs.

Will Craig, Kevin Newman, Kevin Kramer, Ke’Bryan Hayes. These position players are just names who may or may not make it to the majors in a capacity beyond being September call-ups, let alone even giving the limited sample size of production Meadows did when he was first promoted.

It’s not the notion of giving away a first-round draft choice that makes me itchy. It’s giving away a major league starter. That’s what Meadows would have been -- in left field -- next year had he stayed in Pittsburgh because there’s no way the Pirates would’ve kept Corey Dickerson for an arbitration season with Meadows in the wings.

At least that’s what I was assuming. Because that’s what teams such as the Pirates do when they make decisions based on money instead of baseball. They’ll let affordable talent walk if there is younger and even cheaper talent ready to take over.

This is where “relearning” how to talk about the Pirates may come into play. A team that starts making baseball decisions for baseball reasons needs to continue doing so if it wants to maintain a true effort of winning.

In the instance of this trade, that ties directly to Dickerson. If Dickerson continues to perform well through the rest of 2018 and the Pirates sign him to a multiyear contract or at least keep him at his arbitration cost, then I’ll be 100 percent onboard the Meadows-for-Archer deal.

But if Dickerson continues to succeed, gets moved, then is replaced by a fringe major leaguer like Jordan Luplow or a lesser brand of himself on the 2019 free agent market, then the deal won’t look as good in my eyes.

Then the old fallback of the financial bottom line comes into play. The explanation could easily be made that they got Archer, but he was just a cheaper (and lesser) version of Gerrit Cole. And then whatever expenditure was put on the books for Opening Day 2019 by adding Archer would be softened by a low-cost replacement in left field.

However, in the spirit of giving the Pirates front office some new benefit-of-the-doubt points, let’s not condemn them for something they haven’t done yet.

That’s something I was completely willing to do as recently as 1:00 Tuesday morning, before the Keone Kela trade got announced.

I think keeping Dickerson -- or replacing him with an established major league starter -- needs to be the next domino to fall to show that the Pirates are thinking baseball long term instead of just going for a much-needed public relations pop at the trade deadline.

“We love Corey Dickerson,” Pirates president Frank Coonelly said. “He’s an important part of our team in 2018. We are thrilled that we have access to Corey in 2019. We also believe that we have other players in the system who are on the horizon that we are excited about.”

The “We Love Corey” part sounds encouraging. However, note that Coonelly said important part of the team in “2018.” Not 2019. And he pointed out that they only “have access” to him in 2109. And, hey, remember those minor leaguers still in the system!

So maybe the Pirates’ thinking hasn’t entirely changed.

By the way, those minor leaguers are Jason Martin and Bryan Reynolds. They were acquired this past winter in the Cole and Andrew McCutchen trades, respectively. So you know there’s added motivation for Huntington to show off those guys in the majors sooner rather than later.

“We do feel that we have opportunities to have a really productive outfield not only next year but into the future,” Huntington said.

The warranted enthusiasm surrounding Archer’s arrival has come with the usual pushing of the former player out the door. Now that Meadows is no longer a shiny, unwrapped toy, the internet and radio talk shows were full of reasons why “meh, Meadows wasn’t going to be that good anyway.”

I don’t buy that. I’m not going to marginalize his talents after years of propping him up just because he doesn’t play here anymore. I expect Meadows to be a very good player for years to come. I wish he could’ve proven that here.

In Huntington’s words though, Meadows was a “must have” for Tampa. So without saying “good-bye” to his future, the Pirates couldn’t say “hello” to Archer for this playoff push.

Now, because of Tuesday’s actions, I’m more willing to say “maybe,” when I wonder if the Pirates will do the right thing with their plan in the outfield now that Meadows is no long a part of it.

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