In the worst-kept secret of baseball’s off-season, the Pirates want to get rid of Andrew McCutchen. “You’ve been the franchise’s best player in 25 years; now get out.” That’s the only way to compete with the Cubs and Cardinals next year, apparently. Sure, his first seven seasons included an MVP, a Gold Glove, and five MLB All-Star Games. But his performance dropped off last year, and that means the Pirates can no longer afford to keep around the 67th highest-paid player in the game. MVP-less players like Yulieski Gurriel, Elvis Andrus and Homer Bailey all make more money than McCutchen. So forget about any of those guys, because they must be out of our price range.
If the Pirates move McCutchen, Francisco Cervelli will assume the title of highest-paid Bucco. It’s a curse like being the world’s oldest man; the countdown to your exit has already begun. Cervelli’s $9 million contract is still less than what the Pirates paid Jason Kendall 16 years ago. The Pirates seem content running a thrift store disguised as a baseball team. Apparently, 2015, when the Pirates won 98 games, was the team’s zenith. Just 14 months later, only 11 players from that team remain. The dismantling began almost immediately, and trading McCuthchen would send a message to Pirates fans and future players: If you are the best player at your position for years, sign a team-friendly contract below your market value, and never cause any controversy, that’s not good enough. “It’s just business” is a phrase used to justify everything from job layoffs to benefits reductions to mob hits. If you use that term, you can do anything you want.
McCutchen is the only player since Barry Bonds whom fans from outposts like DuBois, Somerset, Meadville and East Liverpool, Ohio, would drive hours to see play. He’s the only Pirate your mom can identify, and the only Pirates player anyone outside of Western Pennsylvania recognizes. Thousands of kids with No. 22 jerseys would be crushed. People were a little upset when Nate McLouth was sent packing; imagine the pain when McCutchen is shown the door.
If Pirates management is going to trade the face of the team, they are going about it the wrong way. Telling everyone that you want to trade him immediately diminishes his value. Interested teams are lining up to lowball the Pirates because they look desperate. At least try to play it cool. Teams like the Nationals, Dodgers and Blue Jays are already telling the Pirates which top prospects they won’t trade for him. Hopefully, they’ll work out a better deal than they did with Neil Walker. Last year they traded their second-most popular player to the Mets for pitcher Jon Niese. Niese was terrible, so they traded him back to the Mets for Antonio Bastardo. Bastardo was a player the Pirates had let go the previous off-season because they didn’t think he was worth his contract. What if the Pirates trade McCutchen to Atlanta for a pitcher, then trade that pitcher back to Atlanta in July for new Brave Sean Rodriguez? It could happen. The precedent for stupidity has already been set.
McCutchen has been through the best and worst of times with the Bucs. In 2010, they bottomed out with a 57-105 record, but just five years later they went 98-64. Last year Cutch hit 24 home runs and drove in 79 runs; those kind of seasons put you on the Pirates’ trading block. On the bright side, maybe the Pirates have raised their standards. There can’t possibly be one Pirates fan that wants to see him leave. Unless you are heir apparent to his position, like Austin Meadows, nobody wants to see this happen.
After years of bungling high draft picks, the Pirates finally got it right when they drafted the outfielder from Fort Meade, Florida. Cutch brought the dormant Pirates fans back to the ballpark. He even got kids who identified the Pirates only with losing to start appreciating the great sport of baseball. Ticket sales and jersey sales began to boom once again. But oh, well, baseball owners worth millions of dollars can’t rest comfortably unless they find a way to save money. It’s just business, after all.