The All-Star Break has officially started for the MLB and that means two things for baseball fans. First we find out which league gets bragging rights for a year and second, we get an idea of what players will be on the move before the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline. The two players that have drawn the most trade chatter from the Bucs are superstars Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole. While other role players’ names have been tossed around, these are the two players that would net any significant return for the Pirates. So what should the Pirates do with their stars this month?
Starting with Cutch, this decision seems like an easy one for me. The Pirates have to trade him. While he has been the face and leader of the franchise for almost a decade, the team has to think about the future. I know fans hate hearing that (including myself) and that it’s cold-hearted but trading Cutch is the best business decision the Pirates can make to sustain success in the coming seasons. Think about it this way, the Pirates will not have the money to sign Cutch long-term even if they pick up his option this offseason. He is playing his best baseball in two years and his value will never be higher. Plus, the Pirates have the sixth best prospect in baseball, center fielder Austin Meadows, knocking on the door. So even if the team is competing, Meadows is no slouch replacing him in the lineup in a somewhat tight division race.
Just look at what the Pirates could be able to get for Cutch. The Nationals have long been interested in his services but balked at including their top prospect and fifth in all of baseball, Victor Robles, in a deal for him this offseason. With Cutch playing like he has and having a huge hole in center, the Nationals might reconsider now. Two other teams who have been connected to Cutch in the past are the Rangers and Mariners. Texas could be willing to part with two top 100 prospects in outfielder Leody Taveras and LHP Yohander Mendez while Seattle could send budding star Ben Gamel and a top pitching prospect. The two options that are really exciting, however, are the Twins and Cardinals (yes, those Cardinals).
The Twins could build a package around former number one prospect in baseball Byron Buxton and top pitching prospect Stephen Gonsalves. If Buxton can capture his potential in a change of scenery, he’ll be Cutch 2.0. And if the Cardinals want to part with Alex Reyes, the top pitching prospect in baseball, I’d happily send him to St. Louis for a year and a half. With options like these available, the time is now to get what the Pirates can for a blisteringly hot McCutchen before he walks and they get nothing. It’s just smart, small market baseball.
As for Gerrit Cole, I believe it would be a mistake to move him this year. While Cole has disappointed since joining the Bucs, he is currently in the midst of his worst year ever in the majors. Simple economics say that you should never sell low and that’s what the Pirates would be doing by moving Cole now. While I wouldn’t be opposed to moving Cole at some point, the team should wait until he puts a good stretch together. The one thing that would change my opinion on Cole would be if teams are willing to overpay on a market with no true aces available. If a team like the Astros or Yankees believe that Cole is having a bad year because of juiced baseballs and he will rebound, they could end up offering multiple top 100 prospects in their deep farm systems. And if that happens, the Pirates should jump at the offer. Other than that, let Gerrit keep pitching in Pittsburgh until he gets closer to free agency.
While this isn’t something that Pirate fans are going to want to see happen on July 31st, the best thing the Pirates could do would be to get a package like the Twins would offer, gaining an MLB player with more than superstar potential along with other top prospects for McCutchen and getting multiple top prospects from a deep farm like the Yankees or Astros for Gerrit Cole. That would give Pittsburgh a young core that would make even the Astros and Cubs blush. Plus, if the Pirates had Buxton and Meadows, the team could attempt to move Gregory Polanco or Starling Marte for another area of need, perhaps shortstop?
While these are all hypothetical scenarios, it’s hard to argue that trading Cutch and possibly Cole wouldn’t make the Pirates a better team moving forward. In previous years, it was time for the Pirates to focus on the now and go for it. Now, it’s time for the Pirates to reload for another run at a championship. And to do that, difficult decisions will have to be made and we will have to say goodbye to one or two of the best ball players in Pittsburgh over the past two decades.