Is Andrew McCutchen next?
Local sports fans just gave Marc-Andre Fleury a long good-bye when he and about half a million of them exchanged waves during the Stanley Cup parade.
His good-bye piece in the Player’s Tribune put a nice finishing touch on it and showed why he was so popular. It’s hard to remember any star in any Pittsburgh sport getting a better send-off or having been more deserving.
I’d be willing to bet that Fleury still believes he’s a better goalie than Matt Murray and I wouldn’t be surprised if he proves it over the next few years, but he also knows that, with a salary cap, when it comes to a choice between two stars, the youngest one always wins.
There’s no salary cap in Major League Baseball and that’s why there’s a decent chance that Andrew McCutchen will be the next star headed out of town.
Without a salary cap small market baseball teams are always more likely to be sellers.
The Cardinals and Cubs are making it hard on the Pirates by not providing the two-team race in the NL Central that everybody expected.
The Pirates stink but the Cardinals stink just as much and the Cubs only a little less.
A month ago McCutchen was making it hard for the Pirates to trade him because he was sitting on the Mendoza Line, but since dropping to .200 on May 23rd, he is hitting .370 with eight home runs and 24 RBIs in 29 games. That’s a 40 HR, 120 RBI pace over 162 games.
He’s as likely to cool off now as he was likely to heat up when he was at .200, but if he’s still looking like the MVP McCutchen a month from now, he’ll be an attractive proposition for any contender.
If the Pirates are where they are expected to be at the July 31st trading deadline – hopelessly out of the division race and barely hanging on to the chance to qualify for a one game elimination – it will be easy to justify trading McCutchen.
But, what if they are still within a few games of first place?
How can they trade him and still claim to be serious about winning?
Starling Marte will be coming back from his suspension, which should make them a better second half team, but it will also make them a team that, instead of subtracting a star, should be looking to add one or two, even if they are rent-a-players.
A least that’’s what a team that is serious about winning would do. Their record won’t matter if it’s good enough to give them a legitimate chance of winning their first division championship in 25 years.
But, because there is no salary cap and because the Pirates are in a division with two high revenue, large payroll teams, they won’t be able to (or willing to) compete with the Cardinals and Cubs for the kinds of players that can turn you into a division winner.
Fans and most of the media will blame a McCutchen trade on the Nutting family’s cheapness, but the real reason will be Major League Baseball’s ridiculous economics.
Does anybody really think that the Penguins or Steelers wouldn’t move a star player in a similar situation?
The Pirates aren’t very far removed from a 98-win season that was only good enough for second place and that was when the Cubs were still rebuilding.
Justified by economic disparity or not, the Nutting family will have a hard time convincing their fans/customers that they’re serious about winning if they trade McCutchen if/when they’re in serious contention for a division championship thanks to the Cubs and Cardinals underachieving.
Could you blame them for rooting for the Cubs to play .650 baseball for the next month? If that happens and McCutchen is still a .275 hitter on his way to 30 home runs, they might be able to make a deal for some prospects who can help another rebuilding effort.
And what baseball fan doesn’t love to rebuild?
Or how about this: How about keeping McCutchen and trading Starling Marte?
Even though he won’t be allowed to play in the post season because of his PED suspension, Marte could help a contender get into the playoffs and it’s not like he’s a kid anymore.
He’ll be 29 on October 9th, one day before McCutchen turns 31.
Is a de-juiced Marte any more of a gamble than a 31-year old McCutchen?
One way or another it’s looking like another lost season for the Pirates and it’s looking like another star player is headed out of town to a place where he might actually have a chance to win a championship.