By James “Jeep” DiCioccio
The new year will now provide Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole with new homes of beautiful San Francisco and Houston. This will be the first time in his career in which “Cutch” will be surrounded by a winning atmosphere and a legitimate chance at a World Series ring after spending eight seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates. With the acquisitions of Evan Longoria and now Pittsburgh’s MVP centerfielder, the bay area could once again reclaim dominance if all goes according to plan. On the other hand, “The Cole Train” has seemed to have fallen into a perfect situation. The Astros are looking to repeat as kings of the Fall Classic, and adding a top-level arm such as Cole will only provide their already-dominant starting rotation with more firepower.
With all of this said, you would have to wonder what the Pirates have received in return for these trades. A(n) solidified superstar(s)? Top-tier prospects? Let’s dive deeper into both deals and ask the simple question of how the Pittsburgh Pirates could’ve traded away two of the players that have led the resurgence of the ballclub.
On January 13th, 2018, Pittsburgh dealt the 27-year-old right-hander to Houston for pitchers Joe Musgrove and Michael Feliz. The Astros also received third baseman Colin Moran and outfielder Jason Martin.
The Pirates could have done a hell of a lot better for the “ace” of their starting rotation, but still accepted a young and talented arm in Musgrove. Also, the Buccos are looking to fill the hole at third base left by Jung-Ho Kang, and Colin Moran could very well do this. For those who don’t know, Moran is a free-swinging young-gun who could start on opening day and make a modest difference in the lineup. On the other hand, Jason Martin seems to be a middle-of-the-pack hitter, with his career average in the Minor Leagues sitting right under .270 and has yet to make his MLB debut He does have above-average speed and has continually improved upon his ability as a base-stealer.
As for the Astros, Gerrit Cole is the type of arm who has great promise and an extremely high ceiling, but has battled to find consistent command for his entire five-year career. To put it simply: when Cole is on, he is one of the best starters in the gamer today, but when he’s off, he looks like he belongs in AA. Coming off of his worst season yet (4.26 ERA, 31 HR), Cole will be looking to settle into the third or fourth spot in Houston’s already-loaded rotation which includes the likes of Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchal, and Lance McCullers.
I feel that this deal was sufficient for both sides, as the Pirates received a decent turnout for their top starter. As for the Astros, this will only help them, and they may even consider moving an explosive arm like Cole’s to their depleted bullpen. In my opinion, Cole’s days in Pittsburgh were coming to an end anyway, as his contract is up after the 2020 season, and with studs like Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow waiting in the realms, it would be difficult for the Pirates keep him and pay the absurd amount of money he was going to ask for.
Just two days after the Cole deal, the Pirates trade away centerfielder and former National League MVP Andrew McCutchen to the Giants for right-handed pitcher Kyle Crick, minor league outfielder Bryan Reynolds, and $500k for international bonus pool space.
For the Giants, they will get a 31-year-old centerfielder who is ultra-talented, a great clubhouse leader/teammate, and who will be looking for revenge this season. “Cutch” had one of his best seasons yet while still being in the prime of his career. He launched 28 longballs, which is the second-most of his career while hitting a solid .279. He is still performing at his “peak” and the Giants know it, as their front office has done an excellent job getting superstar-caliber players for a bargain over the past decade or so. Andrew McCutchen will have an outstanding year with his new team, as now he will be playing in meaningful baseball games while performing in a winning organization behind one of the best managers of this era in Bruce Bochy.
Pittsburgh receives Bryan Reynolds from this deal, who is an unproven but highly-touted prospect who strikes out way too much for my liking. This past season in the California League, he batted .312 with 106 strikeouts and only 10 home runs. In the bigs, this won’t cut it. He is going to have to shorten his swing if he has any chance of being a productive Major Leaguer. Kyle Crick is an explosive bullpen arm that doesn’t yet have a clue on where the hell the ball is going. He made his debut this past season and averaged 95.8 MHP on his fastball velocity, which is impressive for a young-gun like himself, and from what reports have been saying, he is a REALLY exciting arm to witness toeing the rubber that could potentially be a stud of a reliever. But, this will all lean on if he can find consistency in his location.
I simply do not like the McCutchen deal for a number of reasons. One being that the Pirates have the future of their outfield already in place. They do not need another outfielder, unless they simply know something that we do not. Austin Meadows is going to be the next home-grown superstar for Pittsburgh in a few years and already seems to be a fan-favorite. Gregory Polanco could be under team control until 2023 with a club option set for 2022, and Starling Marte is under club control until 2022. With these three in left, center, and right, I do not understand why you need to add another piece to the puzzle. Crick, on the other hand, could contribute nicely, but has too many question marks regarding his control. The Pirates undoubtedly need help in their bullpen, but Krick would not have been my go-to option. For a guy like McCutchen, it would have been a “Hunter Strickland or I’m walking” type of deal for me. The turnout for an Andrew McCutchen should have been much more than two middle-of-the-pack prospects and some international pocket-change.
Andrew McCutchen is a flat-out winner, a franchise-caliber player, and a fantastic guy to have in the clubhouse. Living a little over an hour outside of the Burgh, I spent a great deal of time watching the Pirates play, and Andrew McCutchen had this presence about him that no one else possessed in the entire stadium. Many would call it the “it” factor, but it was bigger than that. Cutch represented and was the face of the resurgence of Pittsburgh baseball. He brought his team back to the playoffs for the first time in 21 years while winning the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award in 2013, being the seventh Pirate to do so and the first since Barry Bonds in 1992. And for the front office to treat him the way that they did for the past two years or so is absolutely despicable and disgusting. There’s no wonder his numbers were down in 2016 and 2017 with all of the rumors and talk swirling around him. I blame his production (or lack thereof) solely on the front office. After what the Pirates did to Mr. Bonds in the early 1990’s, I truly believed that they wouldn’t do something as stupid as to trade away their cornerstone player in the prime of their career. I was STILL wrong. They not only traded their cornerstone player in the prime of his career, but they sold extremely low on him and received pennies instead of dollars. Let me clarify, I am in no way, shape, or form comparing Cutch to Bonds, but the impact on the team and its fanbase could very well be the same. McCutchen earned the right to be a Pirate for the entirety of his career, and management took that opportunity away from him.
Congratulations, Neil Huntington, you have just turned Pittsburgh’s fanbase entirely against you (if you haven’t already) and traded away the best player you have been blessed with in over 20 years. To call this betrayal is an understatement, because this is treason. It’s no wonder why this team doesn’t consistently win games year-after-year. Huntington pulls the “small-market team” card and does not pursue any worthwhile free agents in the offseason while dealing promising players that have (or could have) a tremendous impact on the franchise. With as much talent as they possessed, the Pirates could have very well been a perennial playoff contender from 2011 through 2017, but the front office continued to hoard their money, thus providing fans with a mediocre team.
The McCutchen Era has ended in Pittsburgh, and it looks like more deals to disband the team could be on the way.