This wasn’t news of Kris Letang’s herniated disc. This wasn’t news of Dan Rooney’s death. Nobody was expecting it, because nobody had reason to, and so we all were left to parse the ramifications on our own.
Marte is going to sit until July gave way to Marte is going to miss the playoffs.Marte tested positive for performing enhancers gave way to Marte tested positive for Nandralone. It’s an old-school, big-boy steroid if there ever were one.
And, eventually, Andrew McCutchen is moving back to center field gave way to Andrew McCutchen’s last season in Pittsburgh just went down the garbage chute.
That, right now, feels like the Pirates’ biggest loss. It’s not that they’ll be without their current best player, in any capacity, until July. It’s not that the tried-and-true Steroid Cloud of Suspicion will follow Marte for the rest of his career. It’s that the Pirates’ last, best chance at making a run with Andrew McCutchen is kaput. Right now. On April 18.
Professional sports seasons are a funny thing. They’re too long as a rule, save for maybe football, and the small sample sizes of the early going can wreak havoc. Five days ago, the Pirates already seemed dead in the water; they were 3-7, coming off a sweep by the Reds and a makeup-day loss to the Red Sox. McCutchen wasn’t hitting, and neither was anyone else. Jameson Taillon and Felipe Rivero had pitched well, but you’d be hard-pressed to make that a three-man list.
Then, the Cubs series happened, and we were reminded how stupid it is to make grand proclamations based on 10 games. If a team is good enough to sweep the defending champs, everything, at least theoretically, was back on the table. There were question marks — because really, how couldn’t there be — but there was a course correction, too.
“They’re probably the best competition in our division,” Chicago’s Ben Zobrist said on Sunday. “They proved it this series.”
It felt like it could be the start of something. It wasn’t. We know that now.
Moving McCutchen back to center makes enough sense. A second base/right field platoon of Josh Harrison and Adam Frazier could certainly be worse. Austin Meadows is in Indianapolis, where he warmed up last week but is still failing to hit his weight (.163). There are enough moving parts, and enough potential, to keep you interested — until you remember that Marte isn’t just gone until July. He’d be gone again in October, too.
And until you remember that McCutchen, short of the organizational equivalent of a tectonic plate shift, is done here, if not by the trade deadline then by the winter meetings. The termination date had effectively been set.
Now, it may come a little sooner. If McCutchen hits as he has for the last week, the Pirates would be foolish to hold on to him past July 31. Weathering the absence of Jung Ho Kang is one thing; weathering the loss of Marte is another.
The Pirates might be decent enough, and the Cardinals injured enough, to hang around the wild-card periphery until Marte returns. The postseason ban is the hammer, though; the promise of the Pirates’ season was that they’d compete early as McCutchen produced, find a way into the postseason, then take their best, last shot. It was the most anyone could hope for.
Now, that’s guaranteed not to be the case. Marte is gone, regardless — and if you think they have a chance at competing for anything of consequence without him, you’ve lived a charmed life.
In his post-suspension statement, Marte apologized to everyone: his teammates, the organization, the fans, the sport. And he should’ve; he didn’t end his season. He ended an era.
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