Ron Cook: Which Andrew McCutchen will the Pirates get in 2017?
March 19, 2017 12:00 AM
Andrew McCutchen finished in the top five in MVP voting in four consecutive seasons.
By Ron Cook / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Questions, questions, everywhere you look, the Pirates have questions just two-weeks-and-change from opening day in Boston. Will the rotation be any good after Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon and Ivan Nova? Who’s going to be on the bench? Why did the team let Sean Rodriguez go? Why can’t it develop a first baseman who can hit and play defense? Where is the power going to come from until Jung Ho Kang gets here from South Korea? Will Kang get here? Will the new outfield alignment work? Where is Andrew McCutchen’s head?
The McCutchen question is the most interesting.
McCutchen’s terrific performance was the biggest reason the Pirates followed 20 years of losing with three consecutive playoff appearances. His mediocre performance for the first four months of 2016 was the biggest reason they had a 20-win drop-off and finished 25 games behind the first-place/world champion Chicago Cubs.
Which McCutchen will be there this season?
It’s fair to be at least a little concerned about McCutchen’s attitude. He has made it clear — most recently in an interview with USA Today — that he is not happy with Pirates management. The team has moved him from center field to right field against his wishes. It also aggressively looked to trade him during the offseason, reports indicating a deal with the Washington Nationals was close before Washington traded for the Chicago White Sox’s Adam Eaton.
“It hurts. Of course, it hurts,” McCutchen told USA Today. “It stings. I’m not to the point of being upset and mad about it, but I’m not smiling about it. And I’m not walking around saying everything’s great, either.”
McCutchen’s feelings are understandable. They are his feelings, and he’s entitled to them. It’s easy for us on the outside to say it’s strictly business, not personal. But when it’s you who feels as if your bosses no longer believe in you or want you, it’s absolutely personal. I get that. But here’s where McCutchen lost me: “It’s what have you done for me right now, not what you did the last five years,” he said.
Of course, in professional sports, it’s about right now and the future, not about the past, even if that past was filled with memorable, wonderful moments. There is no room for loyalty — from the team or the player. McCutchen’s performance decreased dramatically last season. Beyond that, he is under contract for just this season and next. The Pirates would have been negligent if they didn’t at least look into trading him before his value decreases even more as he gets closer to free agency, when he can leave for nothing in return. Considering all options isn’t just business. That’s good business. That’s why McCutchen still could be traded before this season or at the trade deadline this summer. That’s also why it made sense for the team to deal Neil Walker after the 2015 season and Mark Melancon at the trade deadline last season. Neal Huntington butchered the Walker trade because he got nothing — Jon Niese — coming back. But the idea of a Walker trade wasn’t wrong. Huntington did much better in the Melancon deal, getting lefty reliever Felipe Rivero, who has the look of a future closer.
It’s true, McCutchen has outplayed the six-year, $51.5 million contract he signed before the 2012 season. He won an MVP award in 2013 and finished in the top five in MVP voting in four consecutive seasons. But that contract set up McCutchen and his family for life. The Pirates took a chance with it because he wasn’t a proven value at that point of his career. They have taken similar gambles with Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco and look as if they will win. They lost with Jose Tabata.
McCutchen seems especially troubled by being told to move to right field. He has said he thought his defense in center last season was just fine and the problems he had were because the team told him to play too shallow. That sounds like an excuse, doesn’t it? My eyes told me McCutchen wasn’t nearly as good defensively last season. The eyes of a lot of baseball people will tell you the Pirates will be much better defensively with Marte in center field.
“I’m not going to hold any grudges against them,” McCutchen said. “I mean, I have people who say it should be my choice because of the sacrifices I’ve made and the things I’ve done for the organization.”
Again, McCutchen is talking about the past. The Pirates need to take care of the future.
McCutchen said one other thing that really struck me.
“I’ll be back. And I’ll be even better. I’m going to have a monster year, whether it’s in Pittsburgh or somewhere else.”
I believe that. That’s why I’m glad the Pirates didn’t trade McCutchen.
I don’t care if his feelings are hurt as long as it doesn’t hurt his game.
I’m convinced it won’t.
Ron Cook: email@example.com and Twitter@RonCookPG. Ron Cook can be heard on the “Cook and Poni” show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.
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