Steigerwald: No Easy Answers for What to Do With McCutchen

Andrew McCutchen made it easier for Neil Huntington to trade him and harder for Bob Nutting to pay him.

Back on May 23rd when McCutchen’s batting average had dropped to .200, Huntington the General Manager couldn’t have been getting very many good offers for him and Bob Nutting the owner had to be wondering why he was paying him $14 million a year.

Since then, McCutchen has put up what may be the best seven weeks for a hitter in Pirates’ history. He hit .409 with 11 home runs and 26 RBI and is now on pace to hit 32 home runs and drive in 95.

McCutchen’s historical hitting didn’t exactly lead a charge back into the Central Division race. They went from six games under .500 on May 23rd to five games under now.

So, this Pirates team, at 42-47 and seven games behind the Milwaukee Brewers is going nowhere. If you have more time and energy than I do, you can look up how rare it is for a team that is in fourth place and seven games out at the All-Star break to win a division championship, but, trust me, it’s rare.

And they’re nine games out in the wild card race

The Pirates, with McCutchen, who played much better after the break last year, and Gregory Polanco, Starling Marte, Jung Ho Kang and Gerrit Cole are a below-five hundred team in their last 250 games.

That stinks.

Huntington should not talk himself into the idea that the Pirates are going anywhere this season. Even if a de-juiced Marte comes back from his suspension and has an MVP caliber half of a season and somehow gets them into the playoffs, he won’t be available to play any playoff games.

The question for Huntington is whether he thinks the Pirates still have the nucleus of a team that can win a division next year and whether that nucleus should include McCutchen.

McCutchen is under contract through next season when he’ll make $14.5 million. He’s not going to hit .409 for the rest of this season and he’s shown that he can not only cool off but he can go into a deep freeze. He’s an attractive piece for a contending team right now, even if every general manager knows they will be getting a player who’s bound to cool off.

Can Huntington use McCutchen’s hot streak to get players who will make the Pirates better next year? If he thinks so, he should pull the trigger on the deal.

If he really thinks he can tweak this team in the off season, keep McCutchen at least until next year’s trading deadline and hope to make a run next year, he should bite the bullet and hope that McCutchen’s not hitting .200 on May 23, 2018.

Forget signing him to an extension for at least another year. If McCutchen finishes with the numbers he’s on pace to have, he will go into the last year of his contract looking like a $20 million player.

Do you see Bob Nutting throwing a $100 million deal at McCutchen next year to keep him from becoming a free agent?

If McCutchen still looked like an MVP candidate and the team still looked like a contender and the Pirates were a real Major League team that really wanted to win, that’s exactly what he would do.

I was told a long time ago by someone who had known Bob’s dad, G. Ogden Nutting, for a long time, that G. Ogden is “So tight that he squeaks” and that he would never spend the money it takes to build and maintain a winning team.

There is only one reason not to trade Andrew McCutchen before the end of this month and that’s if you think that the team can contend next year with him on the roster.

The decision shouldn’t be based on how good you think he’s going to be in 2020. At next year’s trading deadline, Pirates fans will have been waiting 39 years to see their team win a playoff series.

If the 2018 team with McCutchen looks to be going nowhere next July and he’s still looking like a $20 million player, trade him to a contender for some prospects and start selling the fans on another five-year program.

The food and the view at PNC Park will still be there.

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