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Tim Benz

Tim Benz: Neal Huntington's McCutchen vs. Crosby analogy a swing and miss

| Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017, 6:12 p.m.
The Penguins' Sidney Crosby controls the puck in front of the Avalanche Erik Johnson in the second period Monday, Dec. 11, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Sidney Crosby controls the puck in front of the Avalanche Erik Johnson in the second period Monday, Dec. 11, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen gives the fans a curtain call after his first career grand slam during the second inning against the Orioles Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen gives the fans a curtain call after his first career grand slam during the second inning against the Orioles Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, at PNC Park.

At the recent PiratesFest, general manager Neal Huntington got out of his depth when he made an analogy between his baseball team and the neighboring hockey club.

He was attempting to answer a question about why the Pirates haven't extended the contract of center fielder Andrew McCutchen beyond its expiration at the end of 2018.

“We'd love to pay the same percentage of payroll to Andrew (McCutchen) that the Penguins pay to Sidney Crosby. We can't,” Huntington said. “We already pay a significantly higher percentage of our payroll to Andrew than the Penguins do to Crosby.”

Why would Huntington suddenly draw a parallel to the Penguins after — for years — being loath to allow any sort of comps between baseball and salary-capped sports such as hockey or football?

Granted, it is true I suppose.

According to Spotrac , the Penguins are roughly within $560,000 of the NHL's salary cap with a payroll of $74,383,419. Their numbers state only Ottawa is spending more.

The site shows the Pirates have $75,149,999 on the books. Conversely, that's only 20th out of 30 teams in the uncapped sport of baseball and about $17 million under the league average.

McCutchen is slated to make $14.5 million this year. That's approximately 19.3 percent of the Pirates payroll. Crosby, his counterstar on the Penguins in this comp, will make $8.7 million against the cap this year. That's a little more than 11 percent of GM Jim Rutherford's NHL cap allowance.

OK. Huntington's numbers are right. But here's where is argument loses starch: The Penguins have that Evgeni Malkin guy, too! The rumor is, he is pretty good as well.

Actually he makes even more than Crosby does at $9.5 million and 12.7 percent of the cap.

So if the Penguins were to remove Crosby from their roster, and the Pirates were to remove McCutchen, who is the “Malkin of the Bucs” in this little trade-off Huntington concocted?

Is it Francisco Cervelli? He's the next highest paid Pirate at $10.5 million or 13 percent of payroll.

I think of Cervelli as less of a Geno and more of, hmmm, a Matt Hunwick perhaps?

I don't see Penguins fans packing PPG Paints Arena to see Cervelli on the penalty kill do you? Plus, with his injury rate, I could envision one blocked shot keeping him out two months.

Even with the catcher's gear on.

Further damaging Huntington's attempt to mollify his team's economic approach by referencing the Penguins, is how the two teams differ in acquiring talent within their economic restraints.

The Penguins can't spend more because the league won't allow it. The Pirates can't spend more because their owner won't allow it.

Or the owner doesn't have that much more to spend, depending on what you want to believe.

Come to think of it, both are unfortunately true.

So instead of signing expensive free agents, the Penguins willingly trade draft picks and prospects for contracted players.

In exchange for that currency over the years they've acquired the likes of Gary Roberts, Marian Hossa, Chris Kunitz, Phil Kessel, Bill Guerin, Trevor Daley and Justin Schultz. Each of those players won at least one Stanley Cup here or got to a Cup Final. Few — if any — of those prospects went on to positively impact their new teams as much as those players aided the Penguins. Prospects they kept, such as Bryan Rust, Jake Guentzel and Conor Sheary, supported star-laiden teams.

Meanwhile, Huntington would rather be trampled to death by the racing pierogies than trade prospects for established veterans.

How has that worked out?

Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco regressed last year. Jameson Taillon has promise but can't avoid bad luck with his health. Same with Austin Meadows. Tyler Glasnow looks like a project that never will get finished. And the organization gave up on Alan Hanson, Reese McGuire and Stetson Allie before they ever really impacted the Pirates.

At least Josh Bell is showing potential. And Gerrit Cole was an All-Star before falling off the last two seasons. Now, like McCutchen, Cole soon might be traded, too.

So, sorry, Mr. Huntington. I don't think you want to travel down the path of comparing the Penguins' versus Pirates' business models.

Wait. What? You're not finished?

“We'd love to pay the same percentage of payroll to Andrew that the Steelers pay to Ben Roethlisberger. We'd also love for Andrew to be over half of our offense while we're doing that.”

Oh no. Let's not even go there.

“But it's apples and oranges,” Huntington concluded.

Well, that part I agree with. Everything about the Pirates is “apples and oranges” compared to the Penguins and Steelers.

Sadly ... EVERYTHING!

Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.

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