The Pirates were supposed to be contending for the NL Central title or at the very least an NL Wild Card spot this season — again. While one of the wild card spots is still within reach, I think it is safe to say the Cubs are too far ahead to be caught in the NL Central. This is where the conversation of trading Andrew McCutchen begins. In the last week, chatter has picked up about why the Pirates would be smart to trade away the 2013 National League MVP and get back controllable assets for the next contending Pirates team. Dave Cameron of FanGraphs gave his opinion earlier this week against trading Andrew McCutchen, but I have a slightly different take on the topic.
The question is — is the next contending Pirates team that far away? The Pirates have lost two consecutive seasons in the NL Wild Card game, and the 2016 Pirates are generally the same cast of characters. Now the argument can be made it is a shame to see a season end in a one-game playoff, but that is a topic for another article. If there ever is a franchise that needs to seize the moment of contention, it is the Pirates. Need I remind everyone of the 21 years of futility from the Pirates franchise from 1992-2013?
According to Cot's Contracts, Andrew McCutchen is signed through the 2017 season, with an option for 2018 that will undoubtedly be picked up. If we assume 2016 is a lost season — for a number of reasons, mainly an uncharacteristically poor season from McCutchen himself — then that leaves Pittsburgh with two more years to cash in on this team-friendly deal McCutchen is on and make a deep playoff run. Some other notable names under team control through 2018 (or later) are: Josh Harrison, Francisco Cervelli, Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, Jung-Ho Kang, Gerrit Cole, and Jeff Locke.
Along with the talented roster already in place for the next two seasons, throw in the call-ups of Jameson Taillon and Taylor Glasnow to join Gerrit Cole in the rotation, and you have what hopefully forms a formidable top of the rotation. Also, Josh Bell, Reese McGuire, and Austin Meadows will be joining the Pittsburgh lineup over the next few seasons to add to their young core (Meadows presents an interesting case, because as currently constituted the Pittsburgh outfield doesn't have room for him). Combining the young — and may I throw in cheap — influx of talent into the big league club with Andrew McCutchen gives you have a Pirates team deep into the conversation of contention in the National League for at least the next two seasons with room in the payroll to make the necessary additions to improve the team.
There is another element in keeping McCutchen the Pirates have to take into account. He is the star and face of the franchise that Pittsburgh fans have waited for since at least Barry Bonds, but certainly since Willie Stargell or Roberto Clemente. While this may not be the best way to value a player, it is one element teams have to take into account when discussing their players, especially one of McCutchen's caliber. Trading McCutchen will undoubtedly hurt attendance, jersey sales, and perhaps most importantly the image of the team — one Pittsburgh has worked hard to restore after two decades of losing.
The Pittsburgh Pirates may be missing the playoffs for the first time since 2012 this season (there still is a long way to go in 2016 and I would not be surprised to see Pittsburgh grab one of the wild card spots), but 2017 and 2018 already have a core in place that, with the right moves around it, will keep Pittsburgh in the race no matter how great Chicago will be. If 2017 turns into another playoff-less season and Pittsburgh has no other choice than to plan for the future, then maybe it will be smart to recoup value for a former MVP in Andrew McCutchen. From my vantage point, Pittsburgh would be wise to reward their players and fans by capitalizing on the talent they have now and go for it all, because there is no greater opportunity than the present moment.