If the Pittsburgh Pirates trade face-of-the-franchise Andrew McCutchen, fans must understand that it is not a white flag for the future of the team.

Since Pittsburgh Pirates centerfielder Andrew McCutchen was called up on June 4, 2009, we’ve seen three bobblehead giveaways of his likeness, two different hairstyles and one National League MVP award. A 14-year-old who witnessed McCutchen’s debut is now old enough to legally drink.

A generation of Pirates fans grew up with McCutchen and watched him be a primary catalyst in the rebranding of Pittsburgh Pirates baseball. That’s why seeing him go would hurt so much.

As baseball fans, it is easy to get attached to players. As our fathers tell us stories of legends like Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial and Roberto Clemente, we remember a time when players spent their entire careers with a single team.

Curt Flood changed the game forever, but even now, some players find a way to last with a team for their entire career. Derek Jeter and Chipper Jones are a couple of players that found a way to only wear one major-league uniform for their entire respective careers. And they are beloved in part because of that.

No matter the financial implications, we all want to believe that loyalty still matters in the 21st century.

Fanbase ready to burst

For McCutchen, whether he remains a Pirate in 2018 is not his decision. Where he spends the rest of this season, is not his decision. Because of this, the natural response of the fan base will be anger at the Pirates management and ownership if McCutchen is not retained. That McCutchen has bounced back after an abysmal start only makes a potential departure even more painful.

A decision to move on from Andrew McCutchen is not a declaration of mediocrity. It is an attempt to improve for the future.

McCutchen’s average entering the unofficial second half of the season sits at .294, tops on the club. As recently as May 23, McCutchen was hitting .200 exact. Before, trade rumors for McCutchen were thin. Now, they are rampant.

Forget about the return that McCutchen would generate, since Pirates fans hate hearing of trades for prospects, nevermind the success of trades like Mark Melancon, Nate McLouth and Xavier Nady of years past. The Pirates future centerfielder is in Triple-A Indianapolis and is getting closer to debut. Austin Meadows is a solid backup plan if McCutchen is not retained and a huge reason to not lambast management for dealing the 30-year-old.

Return to postseason unlikely

As things are on July 14, 2017, the Pittsburgh Pirates are not in the playoffs. The begin the post-All-Star Break with a 42-47 record, seven games out of first in the N.L. Central and nine games out of a Wild Card spot. While possible, making the playoffs feels like a stretch.

With the Pirates so close to a playoff spot and having won five of their last seven, some have gone as far as saying the Pirates should be buyers at the Trade Deadline. Others have suggested trading a younger, more talented outfielder with more years of club control than McCutchen. Neither is a successful long-term approach.

If the Pirates trade Starling Marte and keep Andrew McCutchen, they jeopardize their future to simply appease the fans. Marte is 28 and under club-control until 2020, with club options for that season and the next. He’s a back-to-back Gold Glove Award-winner in left field, posting 73 defensive runs saved in five years there. Marte’s WAR has been at least 3.6 for the last four seasons.

McCutchen can be a free agent after this season if the Pirates do not trigger his club option for 2018. At 30, McCutchen has saved -69 runs in center field over his nine-year career, with only two seasons of positive defensive runs saved. McCutchen’s 2.6 WAR this season is far removed from his career-best 8.4 mark in 2013.

Obligations to the player

The Pirates have no duty to the fans to keep McCutchen. Has McCutchen been loyal to the Pirates? Certainly, he accepted a demotion in the order from third to sixth and moved from center field to right field. Nonetheless, McCutchen is expected to help the Pirates succeed in whatever role is best decided for him. For simply following orders, McCutchen should not earn a brand new Joey Votto-like contract.  

Keeping Andrew McCutchen is not out of the realm of possibility, either. While it’s fair to believe that he was underpaid over the course of his current contract, a new contract of similar financial figures would not be heinous.

However, this article is not about what happens if McCutchen stays in Pittsburgh, it’s why fans shouldn’t be angry if he is traded at this year’s trade deadline.

In the short term, it would sting to lose McCutchen. As the face of the Pirates, McCutchen leaves a void. There is not an immediate replacement for this title should the Fort Meade native be dealt. However, with McCutchen, the Pirates are not poised to make the playoffs this season and won’t in 2018 unless changes are made.

As former Pirates general manager Branch Rickey once said to Ralph Kiner, “We finished last with you, we can finish last without you.”

Image Credit – Daniel Decker Photography

Joel Norman

Joel Norman is a journalism major at West Virginia University. In addition to writing for Pirates Breakdown, Joel covers WVU sports for the Daily Athenaeum and writes game recaps and features for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Joel also does play-by-play broadcasts of WVU hockey and baseball for WWVU-FM in Morgantown.
  • redrage97

    well the huge thing where you are wrong is that the Pirates do have an obligation to the Fans to attempt to keep McCutchen, at a reasonable price for the team. If they can get him on a team friendly contract with good performance incentives they should definitely do it, no if ands or buts.

    Now if the pirates make a reasonable attempt to sign but cutch or his agent are not willing then.. well not much you can do. it wasn’t ment to be.

    Cutch is like Ben and Sid to this city. he needs to be kept… if it isn’t unreasonable. I’m not a contract expert for a financial wiz. But just from what little i know about the pirates budget.. they havn’t increased their spending much but have been coming under budget. Unless they make a big move to take on salary.. they can afford it.

  • 20Stoney

    I really don’t understand people continuing to talk like Meadows is the plug and play replacement. He has done next to nothing so far in AAA. I just saw today where Keith Law has dropped him all the way from his top ten out of the top 50 in the mid season rankings. If they deal Cutch they are going to have a heck of a time selling season tickets next year. I know I’m on the fence already.

  • Lou A

    If Nutting and Huntington can do anything to pad their own pockets, they will do it. If any Pirate fans think they are out to build a championship team, rethink that. Do you really think they care about the fans? They can do all the promotions they want, those promotions are for the fans, those promotions are bring crowds to PNC Park. More fans, more gate money, more fans, more souvenir sales, more fans, more concession sales. All of this = $$$ for the owner. Why should he spend some of that money to keep or bring big time players in? Fans just keep coming to see whatever talent is on the field. Speaking of on the field talent, the current Manager leaves quite a bit to be desired. Even with the talent the Buccos do have, he finds a way to throw less talent into the lineups. Look back at the season so far, notice how much he started or used the scrub talent while one or some of his best players rode the pine. Yeah, I know Marte was missing, but nobody knows what kind of year he would be having, His glove and speed has been sorely missed. Look deeper than left field. 3rd base, 2nd base, 1st base, his make shift kind of outfielders. Jaso? some others. His continued use of players like Alen Hanson who is now gone, and Antonio “wild pitch” Bastardo. Have to wonder why Nutting and Huntington even brought him back. Guess he was cheaper after his performance with the Mets. First winning season in 21 years was in 2013. Then 2014 and 2015 Wild card, lose in the wild card game. 2016 under .500, watched the playoffs at home. 2017, headed again to watch the playoffs on TV. So, just how are Nutting and Huntington really caring about the fans? Tell me again how Clint Hurdle is such a good manager. He’s more known for chewing his bubble gum (like a cow), than he is for his Managerial talent. Hey Nutting, focus on putting money into this team to make it fully competitive and you won’t need all of the promotional nights. But you have to start at the top. Huntington and Hurdle out first. Can’t fire all the players, but you can fire the ones that put the players together and the person responsible for 2nd rate lineup cards, and questionable decision making. There is more talent here than is being used ineptly. Yes, talent, but not enough to stay competitive and win a Division Title. As far as the attendance improving without the use of all the promotions, Build it, they will come.