This past weekend went from bad to worse for fans of Pittsburgh sports.
It started on Friday when the Pirates dealt ace Gerrit Cole to the Houston Astros. Then Sunday comes and the Steelers lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars, eliminating them from the playoffs.
Finally, on Monday, the Coup de gras happened when the Pirates traded away the face of the franchise, Andrew McCutchen.
This did not sit well with the fans of Pirates who have grown to love McCutchen during his nine-year tenure with the team. McCutchen was the key component in turning the franchise around, including ending the 20-year postseason drought.
In 2013, the Pirates made the playoffs for the first time since 1992, where they lost in the NLCS to the Atlanta Braves. From 2013-2015, the Pirates went to the playoffs, but could never get past the Divisional Series.
McCutchen enjoyed great individual success on top of the team success since making his MLB debut on June 4, 2009. He was the 2013 National League MVP. He has a career batting average of .291 with 1,463 hits, including 203 home runs, 725 RBIs and 171 stolen bases. He was a five-time All-Star and also won four Silver Slugger Awards and a Golden Glove in 2012.
So what exactly are the Pirates doing by trading McCutchen and Cole in a three-day span? Well, they are thinking long-term and are entering a rebuild mode. This is something fans do not want, but are not foreign to the process either.
In the McCutchen deal, there was a key factor in making such an emotional trade; money. McCutchen is entering the final year of his six-year, $51.5 million deal and likely wasn’t going to be in black and yellow in 2019. Pittsburgh isn’t known for paying the bug bucks to players, so instead they get a return for a player who still has value in the MLB.
The Pirates acquired 25-year old right-hander Kyle Crick, who is coming off his first big league season. In 32 1/3 innings pitched, Crick had a 3.06 ERA to go with 28 strikeouts and a .191 opponent batting average. Three of his inherited 21 baserunners scored. Bryan Reynolds is a 22-year old switch-hitting outfielder. He spent the 2017 season with Class A San Jose, where he batted .312 with 26 doubles, 10 home runs, nine triples and 63 RBIs. He will likely be in the minors another year or two, where he will have time to develop and get better.
The Cole trade might seem a little more head scratching to some fans due to the fact that the Pirates didn’t get a top-tier prospect in exchange for the ace of their rotation. The Astros and Yankees were not willing to give up top prospects in a deal, so the Astros dealt the Pirates three MLB-ready players, which Pittsburgh needs for the 2018 season.
This was better time to deal Cole than at the Trade deadline for two reasons. The first being that there would be less team control over Cole’s contract, as he still has two years remaining. The second is the fact that the Pirates would risk the chances of him getting injured or suffer a lack of production, but he has struggled a bit since 2015.
The three players the Pirates acquired in this deal are 25-year old starter Jos Musgrove, who will be in slotted in the middle of the rotation. Michael Feliz is 24 and will eat innings out of the bullpen late in games. Colin Moran is a 25-year old third baseman, who will more than likely be the Pirates starter at the hot corner. He is a 6’4” dude that has some pop and is someone that could be holding down third base for a while.
Will second baseman Josh Harrison be the next Pirates star to be traded? Time will tell on that, but there is interest in Harrison from the Milwaukee Brewers, New York Yankees and Mets. It will be hard pressed to convince the Pirates to trade him within the division to the Brewers. Pittsburgh will pay Harrison $10 million in 2018 and then have team options for 2019 and 2020 that will pay Harrison $10.5 and $11.5 million respectively. The Pirates wont deal him unless they feel they can get a solid return.
The Fans of the Pirates are not too happy right now with the team going back to a rebuild mode. This is a fan base that is very passionate about their team, especially after the playoff drought was ended in 2013. However, this is a business and sometimes business decisions aren’t easy.
It might not seem like this right now, Pittsburgh fans, but your team is doing the right thing thinking of the future instead of the present. The front office realizes that they likely won’t contend for a World Series this season and the players they do have won’t be around after a couple of years. They had to get something for those players, as tough as it was to get rid of, in case they just dipped in free agency with no return.
Rebuild modes are never fun, but the Pirates are better off in the bigger picture. If all goes according to plan with their current farm system and the players they just acquired still having upside, then it won’t be another 20 years before seeing the postseason.