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Inbox: Could the Bucs have kept Cutch, Cole?

Beat reporter Adam Berry answers fans' questions
MLB.com @adamdberry

Why didn't the Pirates keep Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole and add to the team instead?
-- Charles A., Pittsburgh

Good place to start. It's a valid question, especially if they truly intend to contend, considering general manager Neal Huntington's previous statements that the Pirates' best team in 2018 would have Cole in the rotation and McCutchen in center field.

Why didn't the Pirates keep Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole and add to the team instead?
-- Charles A., Pittsburgh

Good place to start. It's a valid question, especially if they truly intend to contend, considering general manager Neal Huntington's previous statements that the Pirates' best team in 2018 would have Cole in the rotation and McCutchen in center field.

The night they traded McCutchen, Huntington said he had ownership's blessing to keep last year's team intact and run it back out. He didn't have to make either trade. But I'll point out that Huntington never said anything about his flexibility to add to the roster, much less significantly improve a 75-win team, if they kept Cole and McCutchen.

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Video: MLB Pipeline on Pirates' farm system after trades

So, they saw two paths forward: try again with last year's roster and hope everything goes right, or make changes with an eye on the future. Obviously, they chose the latter and got what they felt was the best available return, adding young talent they believe will help now and in the future.

They would need career years from a handful of young players -- not to mention health and good old-fashioned luck -- to contend immediately. But wouldn't that have been the case if they'd stuck with the status quo, too?

There's still a pretty good, contractually controlled core for 2019 and beyond built around Starling Marte, Josh Bell, Gregory Polanco, Josh Harrison, Felipe Rivero and their young starters. As it stands, they've cut their projected Opening Day payroll down to about $80 million. It's easier to imagine them competing again soon if the money they saved on the trades is invested back into the team -- perhaps even this offseason, considering the sheer number of free agents still available.

What spots are actually open to take? They'd have to be pretty set. Even with a J-Hay trade. … Just a bench spot or two? Looking for a free-agent right fielder?
-- @JustBaseball25 on Twitter

Let's take a speculative look at the roster. We'll assume Harrison is around because, well, he is now.

Lineup: LF Adam Frazier, 2B Harrison, CF Marte, 1B Bell, RF Polanco, C Francisco Cervelli, 3B Colin Moran, SS Jordy Mercer

Bench: 3B/1B David Freese, INF/OF Sean Rodriguez, C Elias Diaz, OF Jordan Luplow, INF Max Moroff

Rotation: RHP Jameson Taillon, RHP Ivan Nova, RHP Joe Musgrove, RHP Chad Kuhl, RHP Trevor Williams

Bullpen: LHP Rivero, RHP George Kontos, RHP Daniel Hudson, RHP Michael Feliz, RHP Kyle Crick, LHP Steven Brault, RHP Tyler Glasnow

Maybe Jose Osuna earns one of those last two bench spots, but Luplow is the better defensive outfielder -- which is important if they leave Polanco in right, where they've said he is more comfortable -- and Moroff provides middle-infield depth.

My sense is they want to see Brault and Glasnow in the Majors, which is why I put them in the bullpen, but anything could happen there. Other candidates include Dovydas Neverauskas, Edgar Santana, Jordan Milbrath and the more experienced A.J. Schugel, plus lefties Nik Turley and Jack Leathersich.

If they believe they can contend this year, as Huntington has said, it would make a lot of sense to acquire another outfielder. Maybe that happens through a trade -- hence the recent Brandon Nimmo rumors -- but this slow-developing offseason could leave some free-agent outfielders willing to take a one-year deal. In that scenario, a veteran could hold down a corner spot all season or until Austin Meadows is ready.

Curious if J-Hay is disgruntled enough that he HAS to be traded before Opening Day, or if he'll be all right after decompressing.
-- @OffseasonBliste on Twitter

As I've been told in the past, no player has a must-trade clause in his contract. The team doesn't have to do anything, really, but Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle said they talked to Harrison about his concerns.

Video: Huntington addresses Harrison's trade comments

It's easy to understand where he's coming from. McCutchen was his best friend on the team. He's now their longest-tenured player. He's already made All-Star teams and locked down a long-term contract. He's competitive. He wants to win, and the Pirates just traded two of their best players.

I think they will explore trades for Harrison, but they'll set a high bar due to his versatility and three flexible years of control (one guaranteed season plus two club options). If the Pirates assure him they're trying to compete -- and back up their words -- then I don't think it'll be a long-term issue.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Gerrit Cole, Josh Harrison, Andrew McCutchen