There is only way to describe the Pirates aggressively attempting to trade Andrew McCutchen, the face of the franchise.
The ultimate betrayal.
Not just to McCutchen but to Pirates fans and the City of Pittsburgh.
We deserve better than a bottom-line owner more concerned with making payroll than the playoffs, one whose words simply are lip service.
We have given Bob Nutting the benefit of the doubt. Now all that remains is the doubt.
Three years ago, Nutting promised to “compete for championships.”
Yet when McCutchen signed a six-year, $51.5-million deal in March 2012 — an absolute bargain when he won National League MVP a year later — the Pirates didn't spend the money they saved with McCutchen on complementary pieces.
Last January, Nutting told USA Today he hoped McCutchen would remain a Pirate for life.
“I'm not sure we're allowed to sign lifetime agreements, but I'd love to see him stay with us forever,” Nutting said. “He's been remarkable for the game, and for Pittsburgh on and off the field.”
So why trade Cutch now?
The Pirates will try to sell this as a baseball move.
If so, it's a bad one.
The Pirates are asking for prospects and a starting pitcher for a five-time All-Star and four-time MVP finalist.
Faster than you can say Midre Cummings, I should remind you that the Pirates' recent history of trading All-Stars (Aramis Ramirez, Jason Bay and Freddy Sanchez, to name a few) hasn't netted much of a return. Pirates fans deserved a player they could connect with and found one in McCutchen, who not only found stardom but an adopted hometown.
After averaging .313, 25 home runs, 90 RBIs and a .926 OPS the previous four years, McCutchen is coming off a sub-par season in which he batted .256 with a .776 OPS and his play in centerfield slipped. Which makes this the worst time to trade him, given that his value dipped.
It's true that two-time Gold Glove winner Starling Marte could move to center, and the Pirates could flank him in the outfield with Gregory Polanco and Josh Bell. It's true that Austin Meadows is waiting in the wings, much like McCutchen was when the Pirates traded an All-Star in Nate McLouth to the Braves to make room for McCutchen.
“Playing center field is one thing,” McCutchen told MLB.com, “but being a leader out there is another. That's something we need.”
That's something the Pirates desperately would lack without McCutchen, their first superstar since Barry Bonds left for San Francisco. A prospect drafted and developed by the Pirates, McCutchen became the cornerstone of a team that ended their 20-year losing streak and made three consecutive playoff appearances.
Let's be clear: Nutting's ownership, which has profited from taxpayers building the Pirates a first-class ballpark, wasn't at the root of that turnaround. McCutchen was the catalyst, the one who puts fans in the stands and energized PNC Park. McCutchen outperformed his contract yet never complained about being underpaid or demanded a new deal.
Even last season, when he struggled after moving to the No. 2 spot in the lineup and was benched for a three-game series in Atlanta, McCutchen never publicly pouted. Instead, he finished the final two months strong, hitting .284 with nine home runs, 36 RBIs and an .853 OPS and ended up leading the Pirates in hits (153) and home runs (24).
At 30, McCutchen is still in his prime. At $14 million this season, with a club option for $14.5 million next year, he remains a bargain. Like Ben Roethlisberger to the Steelers and Sidney Crosby to the Penguins, McCutchen is the face of the Pirates, one who gave this city hope it could win another World Series.
But Nutting is making it clear the Pirates don't want to pay the price for a superstar, let alone what it costs to win a World Series. That's a betrayal to Pirates fans and, most of all, to McCutchen.