The Pittsburgh Pirates have a lot of decisions looming in terms of the team’s future.  The biggest decision they will make will be on the future of Andrew McCutchen.  After a conclusion is determined, the team can then move forward.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have lost eight of their last ten games after crawling within two games of the division lead just two weeks ago.  With a record of 51-56, the Pirates are now 6.5 games back of the division lead, sitting in fourth place.  They are 9.5 games back of a Wild Card spot.  I’m not one to say never, but things look extremely bleak for the 2017 Pittsburgh Pirates.  Talks of future plans are now upon us.

The 2018 Pirates may very well look a lot like this current version of the squad.  John Jaso, Joaquin Benoit, and Juan Nicasio have the only expiring contracts going into the winter.  Andrew McCutchen, Chris Stewart, and Wade Leblanc have club options.  All remaining players are under contract for at least 2018.

The bus starts and stops with McCutchen

McCutchen will be a free agent after the 2018 season.  After having an abysmal first two months this season, McCutchen has bounced back in a way nobody ever saw coming.  He’s hitting like his former MVP self.  With a current fWAR of 3.3, McCutchen is well on his way to once again being a 5-6 win player.

He’s back.  For the Pirates sake, they must make a decision on McCutchen and there are only two options.

Option one is extending him

This will be costly.  There is absolutely no way McCutchen will take less than what he deserves, especially after outperforming his first contract by about $200 million in terms of value.  No, if McCutchen puts together a similar season next year as he’s had this year, he will get paid.  Offering him anything under $100 million would be a slap in the face.

The Pirates would need to make an offer they’ve never made before.  In my estimate, McCutchen could easily garner an offer of six years, $160 million on the open market.  Just for reference, Shin-Soo Choo signed a seven year, $130 million deal after his age 31 season when registered a career best 5.5 fWAR.  McCutchen’s track record is much more prominent than Choo’s was.

The Pirates will never do this.  Do I want them to?  I don’t know.  If McCutchen has shown anything this year, it’s that he can still hit.  His legs are getting slower.  His hands are not.  Struggles last year and early this year were induced by mechanical error, not lack of talent.

At the same time, big time contracts to guys in their early 30s rarely work.  If it were up to me, I would offer McCutchen a four year deal worth $100 million, with an opt out after three years.  McCutchen would get his money.  The Pirates would not handcuff themselves long into the future.  They would just have to pay the man.  If the Pirates extended McCutchen, they could keep the their current roster intact and have a real shot in 2018 and beyond.

Once again, there is no chance McCutchen is extended.

Option two is trading him this offseason

I am of the belief that McCutchen will have higher value this offseason than last.  One year of McCutchen coming off of a great season is more valuable than two years of McCutchen coming off of a bad season.

If they don’t have plans of extending McCutchen, they must trade him.  You can’t just let him walk.  McCutchen has too much value to let go for nothing.  Trade him this offseason and replenish the farm system with new talent.

An age old song.

A domino effect could ensue

If McCutchen is traded this offseason, all bets are off on other assets that could be traded as well.

Gerrit Cole and Josh Harrison come to mind.  Cole will have two years of control after this season.  He would bring a nice return.  Harrison has three years left on his contract after 2017 including two club options.  Being that he was an All-Star this year, his value is higher than it’s been in years.  Those two would along with McCutchen would bring back the heftiest return.

After that, guys like Francisco Cervelli, Jordy Mercer, and David Freese could also become expendable.

A new core

With some recognizable faces gone, the new young core would include guys like Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, Josh Bell, Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows, and Felipe Rivero.  The complimentary core would include guys like Adam Frazier, Jose Osuna, Chad Kuhl, Trevor Williams, Steven Brault, and maybe even Elias Diaz.

That paired with whatever return they get in any trades is a starting block.  However you feel about that starting block is up to you.

That’s just the way it is

One thing is certain.  The Pirates will always have a budget under owner Bob Nutting.  That budget will always be stiff.  That’s just the way it is.  You can hate it.  You can complain all you want.  But that’s just the way it is.

The Pirates’ only hope at winning a World Series is to find little market inefficiencies to thrive off of such as Ray Searage fixing old, past their prime pitchers.  Their only hope is for young controllable players to produce upon being called up to the majors to help contend.  Why else would the Pirates develop minor league players so slowly and so conservatively?

The Pirates will never have a top 10 payroll.  They may never even have a top 20 payroll.  They may never fork out a $100 million dollar contract.  McCutchen’s $51 million contract still remains the highest in franchise history.  Even the small market Tampa Bay Rays gave Even Longoria a $100 million extension in 2012.

The Pirates will never make the big splash at the trade deadline.  They will never part with top prospects.  With how the team is run, they can’t afford to.

I don’t understand the rage with Pittsburgh fans and their media.  Neal Huntington has literally said time and time again how this team operates.  It’s drafting.  It’s developing and having an enriched farm system.  They will never make the flashy move.  There is no exception.  There never will be.

Final thoughts…

The Andrew McCutchen era in Pittsburgh will be fondly remembered.  He brought winning baseball back to Pittsburgh even if fans only got a taste of it for eight measly postseason games.  McCutchen did his part though.  He has been the face of this franchise for almost ten seasons and has done so with grace.

The sad truth about baseball is that it’s often a crapshoot.  Luck.  The Pirates have been as unlucky as they come.  Between facing two historically hot pitchers in a one game wild card for two straight years to even losing two of their best players this season for stupid reasons, the Pirates have had some crappy luck.

The McCutchen window is most likely shut and that is sad.  On the other hand, the Pirates are by no means and endless pit of despair.  They still have young talent.  They still have an enriched farm system.  There is still a future.

Hell, maybe I am completely wrong and McCutchen does get extended.  I just don’t see it.

What the future holds for the Pittsburgh Pirates, I am not so sure.  But I’ll still be watching them play baseball.  Want to know why?  It’s quite simple.

I love baseball.


Nathan Hursh

Nathan is a graduate of Duquesne University with a degree in journalism. He has been a lifelong Pirates fans and loves watching baseball. Along with baseball, Nathan also has a passion for watching football and basketball. When he is not sitting on his couch indulging in sports, Nathan likes to be active outside. Along with Twitter, he can also be found on Instagram at nathan_hursh.