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MLB

Pirates make moves Andrew McCutchen once dreamed of

| Monday, Aug. 6, 2018, 4:21 p.m.
San Francisco Giants center fielder Andrew McCutchen in the first inning during a baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018, in Phoenix.Rick Scuteri | AP
San Francisco Giants center fielder Andrew McCutchen in the first inning during a baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018, in Phoenix.Rick Scuteri | AP

PHOENIX — Giants right fielder Andrew McCutchen sat watching the moves, his mouth agape, trying to comprehend what was happening in his adopted hometown of Pittsburgh.

Where was this aggressive behavior during those dozen years McCutchen was in the Pirates organization? Why didn’t this happen when they were in the thick of the playoff race the past four years? And why in the world did they ever dump him and ace Gerrit Cole within a 48-hour span just seven months ago?

This was the only team in baseball that failed to sign a major league free agent in the offseason, a key component in the Major League Players Association’s grievance. The Pirates shaved $19 million in payroll with the McCutchen and Cole trades.

Now, they’re one of the big boys on the block, acquiring starter Chris Archer and reliever Keone Kela and assuming more than $30 million in salary obligations.

There are so many questions, and McCutchen has so few answers. He simply shakes his head and grins in disbelief. If there are any ill feelings, he isn’t expressing them publicly.

“It was definitely surprising to see, because they’ve never done that before, at least when I was there,” McCutchen told USA Today. “Yeah, they made trades when I was there, but nothing like getting an ace starter.

“You either change with the times or you get left behind. Maybe they were tired of getting left behind.”

Maybe it was winning 15 of 19 games before the trade deadline? Maybe it was the drastic decline in attendance to the tune of 368,000 fans? Maybe, as McCutchen said, it was just learning from their past.

“You’ve got to understand the fan base, what we’ve been though the past few years, not winning, and having a window to win,” McCutchen said. “Maybe it comes with experience knowing that they need to act and get the pieces they need, as opposed to the past, where they said, ‘Hey, we’re good with what we got.’ “

The Pirates have gone decades without making a significant move at the trade deadline. They would make a slight modification, stand pat or sell since they ended their 20-year losing drought in 2013.

Still, they passed at the trading deadline in 2013, making trades only after Justin Morneau and Marlon Byrd cleared waivers in August. They didn’t do a thing in 2014. They grabbed Aramis Ramirez, J.A. Happ, Joe Blanton and Joakim Soria in 2015. And they gave up in 2016, trading closer Mark Melancon and starter Francisco Liriano.

Now, here they are, acting like they’re the Yankees or the Dodgers, with their World Series’ odds dramatically dropping from 250-1 to 40-1.

Where was all this action when they were smack in the middle of the National League Central race, winning 98 games in 2015, but watching everyone else make the big moves?

“We felt we had a good team to compete,” McCutchen said, “but then you see other teams making those moves, getting the key pieces to their team to make them stronger, and you feel like, ‘Dang, we’ve got to do something, too.’

“It just didn’t happen.”

The Pirates, 7 1/2 games out of first place in the NL Central and five games back for the second wild-card spot with a 57-55 record entering Monday, were more aggressive than at any time before, despite having an inferior record and being further back in the standings than at this time every year from 2012 to 2015.

“This is a clear statement that we have an opportunity we can seize,” Pirates President Frank Coonelly told Pittsburgh reporters, “and we have to take an aggressive position. We’ve taken a position that is probably more aggressive than we have in the past in that regard, in part because we think we have better depth than we’ve had in the past.”

The shame is that McCutchen isn’t in Pittsburgh to enjoy this renaissance and celebrate the reawakening of an organization, perhaps going where no Pirates team has gone since the days of Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla.

Three weeks from now, who knows where McCutchen might be playing?

The Giants aren’t in the thick of the NL West race, but they’re not out of it, either. They are hanging around, 5 games out of first place behind the Dodgers and Diamondbacks and trailing the Rockies.

McCutchen, a free agent after the season, likely will be placed through waivers this month and clear, considering his $14.75 million contract. The Giants will hang on to McCutchen if they believe they are in contention by the end of August. If not, they’ll trade him.

“It should be a pretty interesting August,” says McCutchen, who was hitting .265 with 12 homers and 46 RBI, after hitting 28 homers with 88 RBI a year ago. “We’re still in this thing, despite all of our injuries, and the front office still has the belief we can do this.

“It’s so much better to be in this situation than when you’re out of it and are selfish, just stacking up numbers.”

If the Giants fall out of it and decide to trade McCutchen, wouldn’t it be cool if he winds up in Pittsburgh for the final month, giving the team depth, leadership and a link to their past?

His No. 22 still is available. Archer changed uniform numbers and took No. 24 out of respect for McCutchen, saying it should be eventually retired.

“I didn’t talk to him about it,” McCutchen said, “but it was nice of him, respectful. Who knows where I’ll end up. I try not to think about that.

“I want to win, I really do, but I want to win right here.”

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