“Just because a player is on an expiring contract that doesn’t mean there isn’t an opportunity to retain that player,” Pittsburgh Pirates general manager said about his philosophy at last week’s trade deadline.

“That doesn’t mean it’s the right thing just to grab a nickel if that’s all you can get. The player may have more value to us if he continues to perform. There is still a value you need to get on a deal; otherwise, it may be best to hold on to that player.”

Later, he said that the reason Francisco Liriano and Melkey Cabrera (both free agents after the season) were not traded is because of the “unacceptable return.” He said that the Pirates were a better club with them on the team than anything their trade would have brought in.

Using that logic, the trade of Dickerson made the Pirates a better club, with the return of  $250,000 in international money and the “player to be named later” being more valuable than a gold glove winning leftfielder with a .300 average, a popular player whose every game proved he knew how to play the game.

I’m sure that the trade had nothing to do with getting Philadelphia to pay the $3 million Dickerson is still owed.

And the Jordan Lyles trade for a 25-year-old AA reliever saved the team $600,000.

And certainly, the team’s DFA of Jung Ho Kang last week had nothing to do with the $625,000 bonus he would have received had he come to bat just 15 more times.

Meanwhile, the Pirates audition minor leaguers for 2020 jobs, and it’s interesting that with every pitcher brought up in the last month, none of them has been named Mitch Keller.

For years, we’ve been told how deep future Pirates pitching was going to be. Jamison Taillon, Tyler Glasnow, Nick Kingham, Gerrit Cole, and Keller were a pitching power pack just waiting for a chance. Of course, Glasnow, Kingham, and Cole have been traded; Taillon has been a one-man M*A*S*H unit, and Keller is in the minors.

After all, he leads the AAA International League with 123 strikeouts and is second with a 3.56 ERA.

And even with the Pirates’ record being better than only Miami in the National League, perhaps the luster has turned to rust on Keller’s star.

In his past six starts for Indianapolis he has pitched to a 5.13 ERA. And he was horridly underwhelming in three earlier call-ups to the Pirates this season: a record of 0-1 with a 10.50 ERA.

In the meantime, the major-league pitching roster has seen call-ups for Dario Agrazal, Geoff Hartlieb, Dovydas Neverauskas, Parker Markle, Yefry Ramirez, Rookie Davis, Montana DuRapau, Luis Escobar, Clay Holmes, Alex McRae and Angels’ castoff Chris Stratton.

But no Keller.

Surely Keller can console himself that he is 12th on the Pirates’ depth chart.

“We have Mitch Keller pounding on the door to get an opportunity in our rotation,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “The challenge is who do you clear out to put him in that rotation?”

Oh, I don’t know, Neal -- pick a pitcher…any pitcher.

“With Mitch, it’s just continuing to refine the things [at Indianapolis] that are going to allow him to be successful up here,” Huntington said. “You run down the laundry list like you do with every young pitcher. This is the same.”

Before last night’s game, the current five-man rotation had combined total of just 20 wins. After Joe Musgrove’s eight wins (along with 10 losses), the team’s starting pitcher with the second most wins was Lyles with five, now traded to Milwaukee where he is 2-0, including Monday’s win against his former team.

The team must recall Keller immediately and stick him in the rotation for the last third of the season. If not now, when? They have nothing to lose and a two-month audition should show the team if it can count on the ballyhooed righty in 2020 and beyond.

JIM SANKEY is a baseball columnist for The Allied News. 

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