PITTSBURGH -- Andrew McCutchen represented so much during his time in black and gold. He helped spark the Bucs' on-field resurgence, starring for the 2013 club that snapped a streak of 20 losing seasons, leading them back to the postseason three years in a row. He was the face of
PITTSBURGH -- Andrew McCutchen represented so much during his time in black and gold. He helped spark the Bucs' on-field resurgence, starring for the 2013 club that snapped a streak of 20 losing seasons, leading them back to the postseason three years in a row. He was the face of the franchise, a model citizen in the community and one of the best players in the organization's storied history.
On Monday, McCutchen became the latest representation of something else: The difficult decisions the Pirates feel they must make to succeed, now and in the future. The Pirates traded McCutchen to the Giants, ending the franchise player's nine-year tenure in Pittsburgh. The Bucs received reliever Kyle Crick, outfielder Bryan Reynolds -- who was the Giants' No. 4 prospect per MLB Pipeline -- and $500,000 in international bonus pool space in the deal, while also sending San Francisco cash considerations to cover part of McCutchen's salary.
McCutchen tweeted his thanks to the Steel City: Pittsburgh. My Home. My Fans. My City. The placed that raised me and helped mold me into the man I am today. You will 4ever be in my heart. A tip of the cap to all who have been on this journey with me. With Love and respect, Cutch
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington traded No. 1 starter Gerrit Cole to Houston on Saturday, however, the decision to trade McCutchen was perhaps the most difficult decision of his decade as GM of the Pirates.
Huntington frequently said Pittsburgh's "best club in 2018" would have McCutchen in center, batting third. This trade was not about next season, however.
Rather than letting McCutchen walk into free agency or risking a steeper decline over the next year, the Pirates moved to stock up for the future and begin a rebuilding phase, one they hope is shorter than the two-decade skid out of which McCutchen led them.
"We and I believe that this is the right baseball decision for the Pirates organization as we continue to work to infuse talent, add quality players at all levels to work to get this organization back to the postseason, with our singular focus of bringing the next World Series championship to Pittsburgh," Huntington said.
This move came at the cost of a wildly popular and productive player, one of Major League Baseball's most recognizable names and faces. He leaves with 40 Wins Above Replacement as a Pirate, according to Baseball-Reference, the 14th-highest total in franchise history.
Pirates chairman Bob Nutting, who spoke to McCutchen on Monday, called the trade "one of the most emotionally agonizing decisions that we have had to make in my tenure" given McCutchen's standing in the organization.
"We had a lot of discussions about it. There's nothing easy. We have so much appreciation and respect for Andrew McCutchen," Nutting said. "He's been a great player, a great Pirate. I needed to be sure, and we as an organization needed to be sure, that this was a decision that was indeed going to make the team stronger -- stronger in the long-term, ready to compete, more able to compete.
"I have faith in the people; the process that Neal has put together. There's nothing easy about these decisions, and they went through exhaustive energy, work, options, review. We believe, he believes, I believe that we ended up in a spot that will make the Pittsburgh Pirates stronger over the long-term."
• Nutting, Coonelly statements on trade
McCutchen was drafted 11th overall in 2005 out of Fort Meade (Fla.) High School. Sporting dreadlocks that soon became his signature, he made his highly anticipated Major League debut on June 4, 2009, in the middle of an unparalleled stretch of losing seasons, and gave fans a glimpse of what they could believe to be a bright future.
McCutchen was selected to the National League All-Star team in 2011, the first of five straight trips to the Midsummer Classic. In March 2012, he signed a six-year, $51.5 million contract extension that benefited the Bucs and sent a message: He wanted to be in Pittsburgh and he believed the Pirates could win. The Bucs wound up with a losing record for the 20th straight season, but McCutchen finished third in the NL MVP Award voting.
He was even better in '13, winning the NL MVP Award and leading the Pirates to a 94-68 record. Then, in front of a packed PNC Park crowd clad in black, McCutchen and the Bucs beat the Reds in the NL Wild Card Game and celebrated Pittsburgh's first postseason victory since 1992.
The Pirates returned to the Wild Card Game in 2014 and '15, but lost both times. Even without his dreadlocks, cut and auctioned off for charity in the spring of 2015, McCutchen remained one of the game's most productive players. As the end of his contract drew near, fans clamored for a contract extension that would make McCutchen a Buc for life.
Huntington said the club came to realize in "informal conversations" that they couldn't do so within the confines of their budget.
"It became pretty clear that it was going to be very hard for us to meet what he deserves and be able to build a championship team around him," Huntington said.
McCutchen uncharacteristically struggled through 2016, the worst season of his career, and the Bucs quietly began to consider trading him prior to that year's non-waiver Trade Deadline. Then came the real trade talk.
The Nationals pursued McCutchen at last year's Winter Meetings, but the Pirates held on to him. After a brief move to right field, he bounced back at the plate and in center field, but it wasn't enough to revive the Bucs as they sustained their second straight losing season. At that point, Pirates management recognized the organization must change its course.
"It would have been a challenge for us to sit here and say we're going to be better than we were the last two years," Huntington said. "The last two years wasn't good enough, so we made these hard decisions to not punt many years down the road, but to put ourselves in a position to get back there as quickly as possible."
The Pirates picked up McCutchen's $14.5 million club option for next season, but they continued to listen to trade offers. That led them to the Giants, who were interested in McCutchen throughout the offseason as they sought to upgrade their aging outfield.
There was no mandate to trade McCutchen; the Pirates did not have to do it. They could afford his salary for next season, even if it consumed about 15 percent of their payroll. In the end, the Pirates decided their future was best served by parting ways with McCutchen, understanding the distress their fans might feel in the wake of such a move.
McCutchen was not only a star player, but an ambassador for baseball and a role model in the community and for the city that inspired the name of his first son: Steel.
Nutting said he told McCutchen on Monday that he had truly hoped to keep McCutchen, his wife, Maria, and Steel in Pittsburgh for his entire career.
"In a perfect world, that would have been a great result for Pittsburgh and a great result for Andrew," Nutting said. "I think the realities of the game, the realities of baseball right now don't allow that to be possible. Emotionally, it's a very challenging decision because we like and respect Andrew so much as a player. We like and respect Andrew so much."
McCutchen seldom boasted of his charity work, but he was inspired by Pirates icon Roberto Clemente's legendary humanitarianism and hoped to create the same legacy. His proudest achievement in Pittsburgh may have been winning Major League Baseball's Roberto Clemente Award in 2015.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.