By Jared Lankes
It’s come to everyone’s attention that a trade of Andrew McCutchen is very likely to happen. This has gotten everyone thinking about what the implications of such a trade would be. Would it be giving up? Is it a salary dump? These are all questions in the minds of people right now. Well, luckily I am here to sift through all of this and answer why a McCutchen trade would actually make the Pirates stronger.
Firstly, all implications point to the Pirates wanting a massive haul back for McCutchen, as they should. And it also doesn’t look like the Pirates are looking for a bunch of prospects that won’t make the team until 2019. No, it looks like the Pirates want some young talent that can help in 2017 while maybe being able to land a guy or two that comes in to help a couple years down the road.
Secondly, while McCutchen has an affordable contract, the Pirates cannot afford to take a risk on him tanking in 2017. While his last two months in 2016 looked encouraging and he will likely bounce back, the Pirates are in no position to take that risk and lose. If they lose that risk then they stand losing McCutchen in a real salary dump next year with his trade value super low or keeping a declining player on the roster at a high price for the Pirates standards then losing him for nothing in 2018.
Thirdly, Austin Meadows is waiting in the wings. Meadows is a player the Pirates want to be a factor in 2017, and he provides the Pirates with better defense than McCutchen while potentially being able to put up numbers the Pirates can certainly run with offensively, even with him as a rookie.
Fourthly, Pirates can backfill McCutchen’s production in the lineup with Josh Bell, a stopgap outfielder until Meadows is ready, then Meadows when he’s ready. It’s not like the Pirates cannot find production to match McCutchen, especially the 2016 version, throughout the lineup. The Pirates offense will survive. In fact, they might even be better.
Assuming they trade McCutchen for a young starting pitcher, a top prospect, and more, then use the McCutchen money to fill other needs the team has, I don’t see how the team doesn’t get stronger. They strengthen the pitching in 2017 which was a huge problem while their lineup won’t take a huge hit if they prepare properly. They would also be getting pieces that will make the team better in the future as well, meaning the Pirates can contend for more years down the road instead of going through another long losing drought.
In the end, the Pirates are not out here spending $150 million every year to contend. They have to make tough decisions like this to keep themselves consistently competitive for a long time. It might hurt to see a guy like McCutchen go because he helped bring the winning culture back to the Pirates, but we can’t be so concerned with what the Pirates did to bring the winning back. We have to be more concerned with how to keep the winning culture and unfortunately, trading McCutchen is one of the moves that has to be made for that to happen.
The “one player is the whole team” culture is long gone. Players just aren’t playing whole careers in one place anymore. No player is more important than the well-being of the entire team. There are reasons that the Pirates can be stronger after trading McCutchen, and in baseball, teams have to make moves to make the team better, not just to appease a player or two. Rosters are made of many players, not a couple.
If Pirates appeased McCutchen at cost of team’s well-being, he would have had an extension while the Pirates have no money to spend on the rest of the team. The team would win 60 games and nobody would be happy. Trading McCutchen would hurt, but if exploring trading him makes the team better, it has to be considered. These decisions made are not personal decisions, these are business decisions. Now, it’s okay to be upset about McCutchen possibly being dealt, and that is only natural, but I hope it’s realized why it is happening.