MLB Musings: 27 Days and Counting – Rebuilding Is Painful

It’s been 12 days since we last mused on the upcoming MLB season, so we figured it was high time we take another crack at it. And this time, we actually do have a little movement on the hot stove, particularly originating from the Steel City.

 

Rebuilding Is Painful 

A top down tear down of your beloved MLB team is a tough pill to swallow for the every day fan, but it’s a way of life for many major league clubs. While the richest of the rich can use exorbitant free agent contracts to keep the ball rolling, mid and small market teams occasionally have to make the unenviable decision that enough is enough and start the process all over again of trying to build a winner. This concept is extremely difficult to both understand and accept for the average fan, but it’s sometimes a necessary evil, and that time has come in Pittsburgh.

After months of rumors and numerous failures to launch, the Pirates finally pulled the trigger on two key deals that got the ball rolling on their rebuild in earnest, sending staff ace Gerrit Cole to Houston, and face of the franchise outfielder (and former MVP) Andrew McCutchen across the country to San Francisco.

First, let us take a look at the details for anyone who may have missed them.

Cole deal: 

Houston receives: SP Gerrit Cole

Pittsburgh receives: SP Joe Musgrove, IF Colin Moran, RP Michael Feliz and minor league outfielder Jason Martin

McCutchen deal: 

San Francisco receives: OF Andrew McCutchen (+2 million in cash from Pittsburgh)

Pittsburgh receivers: OF Bryan Reynolds (minors), RP Kyle Crick

 

Cole was almost traded multiple times this offseason, including serious negotiations with the Yankees in addition to an almost-deal with Houston a week ago that was reported, retracted and supposedly reworked before it finally got done. Musgrove is the “headliner” of this deal (if there is one), but it’s a universally accepted opinion across baseball that Pittsburgh got the short end of the stick.

Musgrove figures to be in the Pirates opening day 2018 rotation, but where exactly the other three factor into building Pittsburgh’s next winner remains to be seen. Feliz will likely be in the Pirates pen from the offset, and Moran has a shot at earning PT at third base while Martin will start his career with his new club somewhere in the mid-minors, hoping to continue to progress. For two years of Gerrit Cole, who’s just two years removed from a season that saw him finish in the top five in NL Cy Young voting, the return seems very light.

Meanwhile, the McCutchen trade makes a (little) more sense for Pittsburgh. Cutch is only signed through 2018 so he’s a pure rental, thus limiting what the Pirates could reasonably hope to receive for his services. Crick is a hard throwing right hander who saw success out of the bullpen for the Giants last year, logging 32.1 IP with a 3.06 ERA. San Francisco had long hoped he would stick as a starter, but Crick’s failure to develop a third pitch seems to have cemented his destiny in the bullpen. Pittsburgh may want to give him another crack at the starting rotation.

Reynolds is a 21 year old outfielder who was the Giants #5 overall prospect. That sounds good on paper, but the Giants system is terrible, so it’s not as good as it seems. The Vanderbilt product showed a little pop in 2017, hitting 10 home runs in the minors, but he’s never played above advanced A ball and his overall ceiling as a player seems to be that of a sorta league average starter if not a 4th outfielder off the bench.

Overall both of these deals have been hard to swallow for the Pittsburgh faithful, and for good reason. Cole and Cutch were the faces of the Pirates franchise, part of the team that won 98 games just two years ago, and to see them go is tough. But now that the Pirates got this ball rolling, they have to go all-in. Super utility man Josh Harrison is receiving interest from multiple other clubs, and he has (theoretical) team control for three more seasons with team options in 2019 and 2020. He should, and likely will be the next to go.

I’d love to be able to wrap this up with a silver lining for Pirates fans, but I don’t have one. The last time a beloved Pirates outfielder left the Steel City for San Francisco Bay, the Buccos didn’t make the playoffs again for 20 years. With an owner who’s made it clear that his only concern is his bottom line, it’s not unfathomable to think that could very well happen again.

 

That’s all for now, folks. But expect more MLB offseason content to come your way in the days and weeks leading up to pitchers and catchers reporting.

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