Pirates were torn on trade
PITTSBURGH — Andrew McCutchen didn’t run from the challenge in Pittsburgh, he embraced it. A rising star on a franchise mired in two decades of losing, McCutchen bet on the Pirates in the spring of 2012 by signing a six-year contract, gambling that he could become one of the game’s best while helping the city reconnect with a team it had long since abandoned.
It paid off for all involved.
The dynamic, charismatic outfielder became an MVP while ushering in a renaissance. Five All-Star games. Three playoff appearances. A ballpark packed with fans wearing his No. 22. Everything McCutchen and owner Bob Nutting talked about on that sun-dappled Florida day six years ago came to fruition.
And on Monday, it all came to an end.
Facing the certainty that they couldn’t re-sign McCutchen when he hit free agency next winter, the Pirates traded him.
McCutchen was sent to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for right-hander Kyle Crick, minor league outfielder Bryan Reynolds and $500,000 in international signing bonus allocation. The Pirates also will send $2.5 million to the Giants to cover part of McCutchen’s $14.75 million salary.
General manager Neal Huntington broke the news to McCutchen with a phone call Monday that closed a remarkable but also remarkably brief chapter for a player Nutting said he wanted to make a “Pirate for life” before what the organization considers the economic truths of the sport set in.
“In a perfect world, that would have been a great result for Pittsburgh, a great result for Andrew,” Nutting said. “I think the realities of the game, the realities of baseball right now don’t allow that to be possible.”
The 31-year-old McCutchen, the 2013 NL MVP, became the second star jettisoned by Pittsburgh in three days. Ace Gerrit Cole was traded to Houston on Saturday.
Nutting called the deal that sent McCutchen to the Giants “a very emotionally challenging decision” but a move Huntington stressed was the right one.
“The players that we currently have on this roster, the players we have on the horizon, the players we’ve acquired in the two trades will play meaningful roles in the next Pittsburgh Pirates playoff team,” Huntington said.
Fueled by McCutchen’s daily brilliance and aided by Cole’s arrival in 2013 to help anchor the starting rotation, Pittsburgh ended a two-decade postseason drought in 2013 and made three straight playoff appearances before falling to 78-83 in 2016 and 75-87 last year.
McCutchen, perhaps the franchise’s most popular player since Hall of Famer Willie Stargell, did little to shy away from his role. When the team moved him to right field last winter, he talked openly about following in the footsteps of Roberto Clemente. He and his wife Maria welcomed their first child in December, a boy named Steel.
The former MVP hopes he will be equally comfortable leaving Pittsburgh to join a clubhouse that has many franchise faces — that’s what he was for so long, after all — such as Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey. He joins new third baseman Evan Longoria, acquired from Tampa Bay last month.
Still, this will be a big move for a player beloved in Pittsburgh. McCutchen took the opportunity again Tuesday to thank the organization that selected him in the first round of the 2005 amateur draft for “having faith in me that I could be the player that they felt that I could be.”
“There are a lot of emotions that of course come along with this. I was there for nine seasons. You’re going to have those emotions,” McCutchen said. “A lot has happened. To put it all in a nutshell, we have a lot to be excited about and we have also a lot to be thankful for.”
McCutchen has played at least 153 games in each of the past three seasons, batting .279 with 28 home runs and 88 RBIs in 156 games last year. But he has not been an All-Star since 2015, when he was selected for the fifth straight season.
While Huntington said the Pirates had “informal” talks with McCutchen about an extension, they believed his asking price on the open market would be something they couldn’t match if they wanted to surround McCutchen with competitive talent.
“It became clear it was going to be very hard for us to meet what he deserves and build a championship ballclub around him,” Huntington said.
That won’t be an issue in San Francisco. The Giants, who have won three titles this decade, are coming off a forgettable 2017 in which they lost 98 games. They’ve attacked a lukewarm market aggressively, adding third baseman Evan Longoria from Tampa Bay in December.
“It’s no secret that we were looking to further add run production to our lineup,” said Brian Sabean, Giants executive vice president of baseball operations. “Anytime you have the opportunity to bring aboard someone with such a track record, you have to jump on it.”
McCutchen may take over in center from Denard Span, who was traded to the Rays in the Longoria deal, or he could slide to an outfield corner. San Francisco wanted more production from the outfield after a last-place season in the NL West.
The durable McCutchen has played at least 153 games in each of the past three seasons for the Pirates, batting .279 with 28 home runs and 88 RBIs in 156 games in 2017.
Crick, 25, had a 3.06 ERA, 28 strikeouts in 32 1/3 innings and a .191 opponents’ batting average last year in his first big league season, allowing three of 21 inherited runners to score. Reynolds, a 22-year-old switch-hitter, batted .312 with 26 doubles, nine triples, 10 homers and 63 RBIs as Class A San Jose. He was a second-round pick in 2016.
Huntington shied away from using the word “rebuild,” stressing he believes the road back to contention isn’t some far off destination, but more immediate, even if it’s not in 2018.
“We have talented players that are also really good people,” Huntington said. “Sounds also like a lot of players that aren’t here anymore.”
One in particular.