Andrew McCutchen knew this day was coming. So did probably even the hardiest Pirates fan.Once Gerrit Cole was traded to the Astros, it was clear that GM Neal Huntington and the Pirates' front office were going to swallow hard and do the thing they never wanted to do -- trade
Andrew McCutchen knew this day was coming. So did probably even the hardiest Pirates fan.
Once Gerrit Cole was traded to the Astros, it was clear that GM Neal Huntington and the Pirates' front office were going to swallow hard and do the thing they never wanted to do -- trade the center fielder with the golden smile and complete package of tools.
• Bucs trade icon McCutchen to Giants
Pirates chairman Bob Nutting called the deal "one of the most emotionally agonizing decisions that we have had to make in my tenure.'' It's easy to see why that would be the case. McCutchen would have been a great fit on any team in Pirates history. He could have played alongside Pops Stargell on the We Are Family champions or on Barry Bonds' team under Jim Leyland. He's a timeless player who has been the best thing about Pittsburgh baseball since his rookie season in 2009.
But McCutchen is 31 and can be a free agent after next season. The Pirates had held onto him last winter despite a lot of interest from other teams, but they're smart to move him now after winning only 75 games in 2017.
It's time to find out how Austin Meadows will do as the center fielder. He had a tough 2017 season because of injuries and might start '18 in Triple-A, but it won't be long till the Pirates' top prospect is in the lineup every day.
• Cutch says goodbye to Pirates fans, Pittsburgh
The Pirates already have lots of young talent on the roster. But probably not enough to run down the Cubs or seriously compete against teams like the Cardinals, Rockies, Brewers, Mets, D-backs and Giants in the pool of likely National League Wild Card contenders. It's time to assemble as much young talent as they can for the next run in a couple of years.
Huntington probably isn't done trading players, of course. Teams have interest in second baseman/utility man Josh Harrison, third baseman David Freese, starting pitcher Ivan Nova, setup man Daniel Hudson and maybe even Starling Marte.
Lefty closer Felipe Rivero is coveted by the Cubs and other teams, but he has reportedly agreed to a deal that gives the Pirates six years of control for about $40 million.
What would a 26-year-old pitcher with his stuff and that contract bring in return if Huntington did decide to market Rivero at the Trade Deadline in July? It would be crazy. As much as the Pirates love the lefty they acquired when they dealt Mark Melancon to the Nationals two seasons ago, can they afford to keep him?
Rivero presents an interesting situation to contemplate. You know that Huntington is considering all scenarios after making the business-over-sentiment decision to trade McCutchen, who will probably have his number retired when his career is done.
Teams can fool themselves about being a contender when they need to run the table on their list of ifs just to get to 85 wins. Huntington declines to do that even though no one better understood what the Pirates' run of NL Wild Card appearances from 2013-15 meant to the franchise and the city of Pittsburgh.
It's a crime that the Pirates didn't get more out of that period, when they won 280 games but finished behind the Cardinals every season. They had teams that could have competed well in the World Series but couldn't even reach the NL Championship Series.
The Pirates had the Cardinals down two games to one in the NL Division Series in 2013, but Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal threw a combined one-hitter in Game 4 to get the series back to St. Louis, then Adam Wainwright beat Cole in Game 5. Those two losses started a trend, with the Giants' Madison Bumgarner and the Cubs' Jacob Arrieta dominating Pittsburgh in the 2014 and '15 Wild Card Games, respectively.
Former Vanderbilt outfielder Bryan Reynolds -- a second-round pick in 2016 -- and 25-year-old right-hander Kyle Crick were the return for McCutchen. They've got the potential to be lasting parts on the Pirates' next contender.
Ditto for third baseman Colin Moran, and right-handers Joe Musgrove and Michael Feliz, who were the lead men in the Cole package with the Astros. Outfielder Jason Martin, who hit 41 homers the last two seasons at Class A Advanced and Double-A, is less projectable but has a nice upside.
Right-hander Jameson Taillon, first baseman Josh Bell, right fielder Gregory Polanco, top pitching prospect Mitch Keller and Meadows should have staying power. Ditto for a deep group of underrated starting pitchers (Trevor Williams, Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault and Tyler Glasnow).
The challenge is to surround them with the talent to get back to the playoffs. The Pirates are off to a good start, as painful as it had to be to say goodbye to McCutchen, a player who was as professional as he was beloved.