It’s no fun having to do business with the Cubs more than most other MLB teams. It probably seems to Pirates fans that the league’s toughest opponent shows up on their schedule every other week, increasing the odds of them sinking further into the NL Central background. Already 14 games out and five under .500, the 34-39 Buccos are one of baseball’s classic under performers this season.
The disappointment that comes from being in that position has spawned rumors of Pittsburgh breaking apart and forking over its assets as July approaches. But in response to each inquisitive knock at the door about Andrew McCutchen or Gerrit Cole, the team is answering with a bat in hand and a menacing, confident response.
Here’s GM Neal Huntington on the possibility of trading McCutchen:
“We hear the narrative. We’re aware of the narrative. But it’s not on our radar.”
And here is a Pirates exec replying to Jon Heyman on a possible trade of Gerrit Cole:
“No!! Zero chance.”
A team unaffected by narrative? But narratives are what push baseball forward! Is Pittsburgh saying they won’t be trading two of their best players just because other teams want them to, or because it’s what other teams in their position have done in the past? Incorrigible!
McCutchen is part of an outfield that consistently wows, with Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco manning the corners. At the moment, McCutchen is the “weak link,” hitting a mere .238 while Marte and Polanco are hitting .328 and .298 with an .864 and .897 OPS, respectively, and even Matt Joyce is slugging .574; but Marte did just leave a game with a foot injury two days ago. Still, everyone knows what the former NL MVP is capable of, and if the Pirates were to prop him up onto the trade market, there would be suitors lining up around the corner. And to be fair, McCutchen is also only under contract through 2017, whereas the other two are locked up long term. And there’s a center fielder in the Pirates farm system...
But no, no; the Pirates aren’t trading McCutchen. Even with the caveats listed above, he’s still too powerful, too fast, and just too good to kick off the bus for having a down year, and besides, Pittsburgh is only five games out of a Wild Card spot, and it’s still June. Trading McCutchen would be quite the leap.
Cole was getting interest just days ago from the Red Sox, but Boston typically does this when they’re on the hunt for starting pitching: Call teams about their best pitchers (they also asked Miami about Jose Fernandez), and then get all flustered and insulted when the other team asks for Mookie Betts in return.
But the Pirates aren’t rebuilding, they’re just not playing as well as they could. Breaking either McCutchen or Cole into a handful of prospects would, at least for now, feel like a surrender to an army that was just passing by. We’ll see if Huntington and the Pirates are a bit more open to having visitors several weeks down the line; after all, they’ve only won six games since May 28.