Andrew McCutchen is being shopped by the Pirates. He had a bad 2016, but McCutchen is only 30 and arguably still the team’s best player. He led the Pirates in home runs and runs scored and was second in RBI.
But he’s scheduled to make $14.2 million next year.
Josh Harrison is being shopped, also. The Pirates traded Neil Walker for a scrub pitcher in 2015, ostensibly because they had Harrison to play second base. Now, just a year later, the Pirates are looking to trade Harrison.
Harrison is scheduled to make $18 million over the next two seasons.
Manager Clint Hurdle’s contract runs through 2017, with a club option for 2018. Hurdle said he and the Pirates are not currently talking about an extension, even though now is the logical time for that.
One of the Pirates’ media propaganda arms cited Tom Prince as a logical in-house successor to Hurdle, even though Prince hasn’t managed above Class AA. Anyway, Hurdle is only 59, not old for a manager. Prince is just seven years his junior.
Sean Rodriguez went to Atlanta via free agency, taking 18 home runs with him. Matt Joyce departed for Oakland. He went deep 13 times. The Pirates hit just 153 homers last year, ranking 26th in MLB.
The Pirates are connected with no free agents, including their own.
What the heck is going on at PNC Park?
Just one season removed from winning 98 games, it looks like the Pirates are considering a youth movement.
Youth movements don’t cost much.
Those who support trading McCutchen point out that money saved by moving his salary could be spent on needed starting pitching. But would it?
Josh Bell is a logical replacement in the outfield, with Starling Marte moving to center field. Bell is talented, but has just 152 big-league plate appearances. Can he replace a 30-year-old former National League MVP, especially in the short term?
Austin Meadows, 21, is an outfield prospect that should arrive soon. But when will that be, exactly?
Will the Pirates ever make decisions based on right now?
The situation created by Harrison’s departure would be murky. Second-base options are Adam Frazier (146 major-league plate appearances) and Alen Hanson (33 major-league plate appearances).
Bell, Frazier and Hanson are all 24: Not at all young by the standard most organizations apply to “prospects.”
Harrison’s stats last year were disappointing, especially considering his price tag. His on-base percentage was a meager .311. But the Pirates knew what Harrison was when they gave him a four-year, $27.3 million contract in 2015.
The Pirates give deals like Harrison’s and McCutchen’s for PR purposes. Owner Bob Nutting never intends to pay the full price.
The Pirates payroll was MLB’s sixth-lowest in 2015 and 2016, but dropped $3 million this year. It is likely to be cut a lot more by opening day 2017.
Pedro Alvarez, J.A. Happ, Francisco Liriano, Mark Melancon and Walker have all gone elsewhere since the Pirates won 98 games in 2015. Once McCutchen is dealt, Marte will be the only player left from the starting lineup for the Pirates' 2013 wild-card victory over Cincinnati. That’s only three years ago.
You can debate the individual merits of each departed player. But that’s extremely high turnover from a good team, especially considering that only Happ left via free agency. Everybody else was either traded or cut.
A good baseball deal could be made using McCutchen. Same with Harrison.
But while that’s always the promise, good baseball deals weren’t made using Liriano and Walker. Melancon brought decent return, but the Pirates swapped their All-Star closer this past July 30 when they were just three games out of a wild card.
The motivation is always money. Every single time. You’re foolish to believe otherwise, and dumber still to trust the Pirates. Every single word that comes out of their mouths is horse manure.
If you still have faith, let’s see how you feel after McCutchen and Harrison depart. Where will it stop? Closer Tony Watson is also said to be available.
Fans are starting to catch on. Attendance dipped by 250K last season. That’s OK. Raise ticket prices, cut payroll, whatever. The con goes on.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).