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.