Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Why the Pirates Shouldn't Trade Andrew McCutchen
The rumors are persistent. Andrew McCutchen, the face of Pittsburgh Pirates franchise, is a potential trade commodity. To his credit, Neal Huntington has done his plenty to try and dispel the rumors regarding McCutchen being on the trade block. At the same time, Huntington hasn't fully dispelled the rumors, stating recently that he wouldn't trade his star player, unless there was a 'dramatic overpay.'
Technically, Neal Huntington is 'right.' If Mike Rizzo of the Nationals loses his mind and calls Neal with an offer of Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon (the definition of an 'overpay') for McCutchen, Neal accepts before Rizzo can come to his senses. Despite that, by not saying 'Our superstar is untouchable, period' Huntington leaves the door up for some uncertainty, which is amplified by the fact that extension talks have went nowhere so far.
Still, I believe even considering trading McCutchen is drastically premature, except for the 'dramatic overpay' scenario. First, McCutchen is a Pirate for four more years. He can't test out free agency until 2015. Second, Andrew McCutchen is a superstar. He's not just a good player. He didn't just have a good year that will be his career year last year. The Pirate centerfielder is absolutely one of the best players on the planet in the game of baseball, and he's only twenty-five years old. As an overall package, Andrew McCutchen is a plus defensive centerfielder with no discernible offensive holes, elite bat speed, and is still years away from physically peaking, so odds are he's only going to get better. That's better than the 5.7 WAR he put up last year, and that was with a dramatic tail off at the end of the year. Put another way, if WAR is to be believed, McCutchen was the 20th best positional player (tied with Adrian Beltre) last year in baseball. Had he put up just one more WAR, at 6.7 (which he was certainly on pace for), McCutchen would have been right on the cusp of being a top 10 player in all of baseball. The really exciting thing is, the star 25 year-old hasn't even fully lived up to his potential.
Back to the 'Pirate for four more years' bit. Four years is a long time, even in baseball terms. Plenty can happen between now and then. Realistically, potential franchise cornerstones Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole won't be ready until 2013 (in the case of Cole) or 2014 (in the case of Taillon) and even those timelines are aggressive. Plus, odds are those prospects, even if you include other top farmhands Starling Marte and Tony Sanchez, won't be instant mega-contributors. Basically, the 'window' in which the Pirates can compete with McCutchen (assuming no extension) is far from perfect. However, it's not fully closed either, so a trade isn't necessary for that reason. There is talent in Pittsburgh - Neil Walker, Charlie Morton, Jose Tabata - and more can be added via trade in a few years, similar to what the Milwaukee Brewers did this past offseason.
On the other hand, one of the potentially attractive elements of trading McCutchen soon is that he does have four years of control left. A superstar with that much team control left is a commodity of unrivaled value. In fact, looking back into recent history - in which teams have begun to closely guard their prospects - it's hard to find a trade in which a player or players with even close to equal value to McCutchen has moved from one team to another. Two trades serve as cautionary tales.
The first is the closest trade in terms of value that I've been able to identify. In December of 2007, the Florida Marlins traded their young stud slugger Miguel Cabrera and fallen-from-grace pitcher Dontrelle Willis to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for six players. That package included two top 10 prospects according to Baseball America, centerfielder Cameron Maybin and starting pitcher Andrew Miller. The rest of the package included catcher Mike Rabelo, reliever Eulogio de la Cruz and starters Dallas Trahern and Blake Badenhop. Of those four, de la Cruz was also a top 6 prospect in the Tigers system and had touched 100 mph as a 23 year-old in AA in 2006. Overall, for the Marlins, it was a fairly solid return at the time, but I think it's type of package Pirates fans would definitely question. Plus, now that years have passed, it's clear that the Marlins completely lost that trade. Maybin is just now breaking out, but as a San Diego Padre, and Andrew Miller never came close to living up to his potential. None of the other four players in the trade turned into much to talk about.
The second trade revolves around arguably the best pitcher in baseball the past half decade, Roy Halladay. Halladay, a Blue Jay at the time, was entering the last year of his contract going into 2010. Before the season started, the Blue Jays decided to move him, trading him to the Phillies. The Blue Jays got a three prospect package back that included, catcher Travis D'Arnaud, pitcher Kyle Drabek, and outfielder Michael Taylor. Taylor was then swapped for first baseman Brett Wallace from the Athletics. Ironically, Wallace was later swapped for outfielder Anthony Gose from the Astros. Ironically because during the original trade for Hallday, the Phillies refused to give up Gose. That's similar to when Johan Santana was traded and the Twins were unable to pry top prospect Fernando Martinez away from the Mets. Point being, it's doubtful the Pirates will be able to just pick and choose from top prospects, even using a player of McCutchen's pedigree as a trade chip. In addition, the trio of prospects the Blue Jays did end up getting for Hallday weren't even that impressive at the time. All three guys were top 100 prospects, but on Baseball America's list Taylor and Drabek were both in the 25-30 range and D'Arnaud was ranked 81st. A very solid package of prospects, but that was in exchange for the best pitcher in all of baseball, albeit Hallday only had one year left on his contract.
Ultimately, it's doubtful the Pirates will get an extreme overpay that makes it smart to trade McCutchen. Even if they do, it's not guarantee that said overpay will work out - prospects are volatile. Plus, and probably my most important argument, McCutchen still has four years left. That's been well-covered in this article, but the point can be illustrated by the Hunter Pence trade last year. Pence isn't nearly as valuable a player McCutchen, yet he still managed to bring back two top 75 prospects in Jarred Cosart and Jonathon Singleton, along with a couple more guys that included intriguing high-upside player in Sebastian Valle. Point being, Pence managed to bring in that type of return with one-and-a-half years of team control left. Using that trade as a baseline, McCutchen could stay a Pirate for two-and-a-half more years and still be very valuable on the trade block. In fact, that's what my argument boils down to in two sentences. The difference in value McCutchen provides as a trade piece comparing this offseason and between two and three years from now is minimal. It's minimal enough that he's more valuable in a Pirate uniform for at least the next few years. That's why Andrew McCutchen should continue to be the face of the franchise for the foreseeable future.