All Bucs fans can do is wait-and-see
PITTSBURGH — Spoiler alert: Steelers lost.
OK, now that we have that out of the way, let’s get to the Pirates and the two trades that wrapped around a depressing sports weekend in Pittsburgh.
Gerrit Cole was the first to go, and that set up Monday’s trade of Andrew McCutchen to the San Francisco Giants.
The Pirates got four prospects for Cole and two for McCutchen and sent a clear message: They’re rebuilding.
That direction was defined with the decision to deal Cole, the team’s most reliable starting pitcher with two years of team control remaining and a very affordable $6.75 million contract for the upcoming season.
Those factors enhanced Cole’s value to the Astros, where he will probably be slotted behind Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel in the rotation.
McCutchen is in the final year of his contract and would have been allowed to leave after this season.
The value of the deals depends on the return. We can all read the scouting reports and evaluations, but none of it means anything until the new players start appearing in major league games.
It’s time to dust off Jim Leyland’s old line: “A prospect is a guy who hasn’t done anything yet.”
Fair enough. Some of the new players should be with the Pirates this season.
If any one of them matches the production McCutchen gave the Pirates over almost eight seasons here, the trades will be a huge win.
There’s a lot of sentiment attached to McCutchen, and deservedly so. He blossomed as a player during the time that the Pirates broke a 20-season losing streak with three straight postseason appearances.
He’s not the player he was then. He’s still good, but he’s not as good. McCutchen had a spectacular June last season, and July was nearly as good. In the other four months, he batted .239.
It was the second consecutive year when his production was below average for two-thirds of the season. Signing him beyond this season was not a realistic consideration.
Pirates fans who remember the McCutchen of 2012 mistakenly thought his trade value was greater than it was. It isn’t at this point of his career.
The Pirates have stockpiled young pitching, but will any of those players match what Cole did here? Jameson Taillon’s 2017 season was disrupted by cancer surgery, and Tyler Glasnow didn’t make much progress.
Dealing Cole is a preemptive move, because he would have been gone when free agency eligibility kicks in after the 2019 season. Cole is a Scott Boras client and bound to test the free agent market.
His departure creates a huge hole in the Pirates rotation. Is Ivan Nova No. 1 now? His signing was part of a bad 2017 season for general manager Neal Huntington.
The Pirates may not be done dealing. There is interest in Josh Harrison, who would be a great fit for a contender that can use a versatile player. The Pirates could turn Harrison into a couple more unproven players.
Will the moves pay off? I wish I could tell you. When you’re dealing with untested players, nothing is certain until they get here and compete at this level. Jason Bay worked out fine. Andy LaRoche, not so much.
A lot of fans are angry, skeptical at the very least. That’s understandable.
“Wait and see” is an admittedly wishy-washy assessment, but it’s the only one that fits this situation.
Mehno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org