Fare ye well, Cutch and Cole

A winter storm descends upon New England, so I’ve scheduled to work from home Wednesday. I’ve stayed up past my bedtime enjoying a can of Tree House while reading up on the Pirates trades of the past few days. There is a reason Julius is considered one of the best IPAs in the world — it is absolutely delicious.

If I’m your sole source of Pittsburgh Pirates news, my apologies that you’ve been mostly in the dark for the past year. You are also not likely aware of what happened in the past few days, as the Pirates traded away their (so-called) ace pitcher and then, a couple days later traded away the face of the franchise. Goodbye Gerrit Cole, and goodbye Andrew McCutchen.

There are rumors Josh Harrison may be traded as well, but it seems to me there might be less incentive to trade him *now* because his contract has reasonably-priced option years for the 2019 and 2020 seasons. If he’s performing at an All-Star level again in 2018, he might bring more in return at the in-season trade deadline to a hot contender looking for a super-utility guy.

So my return to blogging about the Pirates is a bit of a eulogy for the contending Pirates teams of 2013-2015(ish). And goodbye to two players: Cutch and Cole. And hello to a second can of Julius 🙂

The general consensus from a baseball business standpoint seems to be the Pirates got just about what they could expect talent-wise in return for the final year of McCutchen’s contract, and that they got a solid group of mostly major-league ready guys for Cole, but none of them have a very high ceiling (in other words, no true prospects). I don’t have any reason to disagree with those assessments, but Pirates scouts might have higher opinions of Colin Moran. If Moran continues to add power, he could be an above-average third baseman, and that’s a position of need for the Pirates (in part due to the derailment of Jung Ho Kang’s brief career).

There is also the emotional part of this news. Andrew McCutchen was arguably the best thing that happened to baseball in Pittsburgh since Roberto Clemente. Stop and think about that for a minute. He was traded away.

Cutch had one year left on his contract. Cole had two years. At their current ages, both players would be at the peak of their earning years IF they were elite players.

I argue they are NOT elite players and it’s smart the Pirates did this now. We won’t know, of course, if these were good trades for the franchise until a few years down the road. But let’s look at the evidence of the recent past. Cutch and Cole were clearly two of the most important pieces of the Pirates reaching the “wild card” play-in game for 3 consecutive years 2013-2015. The Pirates did not contend 2016 or ’17 in large part because Cutch and Cole both regressed and both had injury concerns. As popular as either player was, this is a factual statement. Not fake news. Both performed well under expectations the past two years.

Either or both players could bounce back to high-profile relevance. Being on a winning team tends to help. But if you ask me this: in the future do I expect Cutch or Cole to post anything better than what they have already done in their careers? Honestly, my answer is no.

Maybe (as I suspect) Cutch is past his peak, and maybe (as I suspect) Cole doesn’t have the temperament to be anything more than a mid-rotation guy who loses his cool at every blown call/play and then gives up 2 home runs on his next 5 pitches. That’s what we’ve seen the past two years. The best predictor of future behavior is the most recent past.

I’m willing to give the Pirates the benefit of the doubt. The Pirates were not going to contend in 2018 with the Cubs still cresting and St. Louis being St. Louis. Rebuild now around the core of Marte, Taillon, Bell, etc., and hope a couple of those guys and a few others perform above expectations. That’s what a small market major league baseball team needs to contend in this day and age.