Friday, November 11, 2016

Only bottom line benefits if Pirates trade Andrew McCutchen

By Mark Madden
November 11, 2016

Icon Sportswire
(Icon Sportswire)

I was told via Twitter that I know nothing about baseball, because my only analysis when it comes to the Pirates is that owner Bob Nutting is cheap.
Thing is, that’s the only analysis I need.
The Pirates’ media partners/fanboy apologists are greasing the skids for the trade of center fielder Andrew McCutchen. The Pirates center fielder had a dismal 2016, posting career lows in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. It was McCutchen’s worst campaign at the plate, in the field and on the bases.
But trading McCutchen would make zero sense.
McCutchen is the Pirates’ best player. One bad season doesn’t change that.
McCutchen is 30. There’s no reason to believe he won’t rebound.
Move McCutchen to a corner spot, yes. Be insistent when it comes to defensive positioning, sure. Have him accept certain limitations brought on by advancing years, absolutely.
But keep him. Teams that trade a superstar rarely win the deal. The Pirates would mostly get prospects for the future.
When does the future get here? Wasn’t 2016 supposed to be a “bridge year” to a better 2017? Is a better 2017 probable (or even possible) without McCutchen?
If McCutchen departs, who hits home runs? He led the Pirates with 24. The Pirates only went deep 153 times, ranking 26th in MLB.
The Pirates control McCutchen’s contract for two more years: 2017 is guaranteed at $14 million. There’s a club option for 2018 at $14.75 mil. If McCutchen walks after that, so what? The Pirates have lost plenty of free agents before, and will again.
Keep McCutchen and make the most out of his remaining two seasons.
The odds that any good comes from dealing McCutchen are astronomical.
Except if the Pirates want to cut payroll. Don’t they always?
Yeah, I know: Starling Marte can move to center field. Josh Bell can go back to the outfield, “where he (suddenly) belongs.” Platoon John Jaso and David Freese at first. (Sean Rodriguez and his 18 home runs will also depart.) Use the money saved by trading McCutchen to get a legit starting pitcher.
It all sounds good. Except McCutchen is your best player. None of that replaces your best player. Bell is untested. Jaso and Freese are jabronis.
Anyway, the Pirates wouldn’t spend the money saved via swapping McCutchen on a legit starting pitcher. Some would be used to pay raises on existing contracts. Nutting would just keep the rest. Pay down debt, perhaps.
Are any of you suckers paying attention? The Pirates traded a “legit starting pitcher” (Francisco Liriano) to Toronto, and threw in two of the organization's top 10 prospects for the express purpose of ditching Liriano’s $13 million annual salary on a contract that runs through next season. GM Neal Huntington made that deal when the Pirates were still just four games out of a wild card.
How stupid does Nutting think the ticket-buyers are? Hey, he might be right.
Or maybe not. Attendance at PNC Park dropped a quarter-mil from ’15 to ’16. Trading McCutchen might be a tough sell.
But it’s definitely being considered. In fact, Fox Sports reports that the Pirates had serious talks about shipping McCutchen to Washington at this past season’s trade deadline. The best part of the return would have been Victor Robles, 19, the Nationals’ top outfield prospect. A teenager.
Pitcher Ivan Nova had a good late-season run for the Pirates as a rental: 5-2, 3.06 ERA in 11 starts. Some project Nova to get $75 million over five years in free agency, but $52 mil over four years may be a more reasonable guess.
The chorus immediately went up from the stooges and fanboys: “You can’t pay Nova that kind of money!”
Of course you can. Somebody will. That’s market value. That’s what a pitcher of Nova’s caliber and accomplishment gets, give or take.
But the Pirates and their mouthpieces will always conjure up excuses for not spending, and for not winning. My minimalist form of baseball analysis remains sadly and totally accurate.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9)

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