Pirates trade Andrew McCutchen to Giants
Lying in bed Sunday night, Pirates president Frank Coonelly tossed and turned.
"It was hard to sleep," Coonelly said, "knowing what was coming."
By sundown Monday, as a snow squall coated PNC Park in a fresh glaze, the deed was done.
The Pirates traded outfielder Andrew McCutchen — a former MVP and five-time All-Star, their clubhouse compass, and the face of the franchise for nearly a decade — to the San Francisco Giants for right-handed reliever Kyle Crick, minor league outfielder Bryan Reynolds and $500,000 worth of international pool space.
General manager Neal Huntington said orchestrating the deal made for "a tough day ... a hard decision." Chairman Bob Nutting said approving the swap was "emotionally agonizing."
In a 48-hour span, the Pirates were gutted of their top two stars. On Saturday, ace pitcher Gerrit Cole was traded to the Houston Astros for a four-player package.
"The safe play would've been to keep (McCutchen and Cole)," Huntington said. "That's the safe and easy play. We didn't feel that was the right play. We feel the right play was to take these aggressive steps, to add talent to the organization, to work to get ourselves back to a postseason run."
Trading McCutchen is a watershed moment for the Pirates, who are retooling with younger, less-expensive players after missing the postseason in each of the past two years.
"There's always a difficult calculus, in terms of when is the right time to move a player," Coonelly said.
Plans to jettison veterans such as McCutchen and Cole crystallized over the past few weeks.
At the start of this offseason, management was torn about what to do. Was there enough magic left from the playoff clubs of 2013, '14 and '15 to make another run? Or was it time to turn over the roster?
"The more we dug through where we were, the more we came to the conclusion that we needed to get better and we needed to do it as quickly as we possibly can," Coonelly said. "The only way to do that is to infuse talent into the system."
Management knew it wouldn't get a treasure chest for McCutchen, even with his MVP pedigree. He will be a free agent after this season and, at age 31, his offensive and defensive abilities are waning.
As part of the deal, the Pirates will pick up $2.5 million of McCutchen's $14.75 million salary. With the Giants up against the luxury tax threshold, that extra bit of cash improved the quality of players the Pirates got.
?— Francisco Cervelli (@fran_cervelli) January 15, 2018
Crick, 25, was a first-round pick (49th overall) in 2011. After a choppy, six-year odyssey through the minors, the right-hander finally made his big league debut last year.
The turning point came when the Giants opted to stop trying to groom him as a starter and instead make him a reliever. In 30 outings with the Giants, Crick put up a 3.06 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP, and averaged 7.8 strikeouts and 4.7 walks per nine innings.
In the minors, Crick averaged 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings. Some evaluators project him as a future late-inning guy, perhaps a setup man.
A second-round pick in 2016, Reynolds, 22, is rated the Giants' fifth-best prospect by Baseball America. A switch-hitter, Reynolds batted .312 with an .826 OPS last season with High-A San Jose.
Without McCutchen, the Pirates' payroll drops to around $79 million. If utilityman Josh Harrison ($10.25 million salary this year) also is traded, the Pirates might surpass the Miami Marlins for the lowest payroll in the majors.
McCutchen ranks among the game's most popular and beloved players. That alone makes this arguably the most contentious trade in the franchise's 136-year history.
"The nature of professional sports is that players come and players go," Huntington said. "But Andrew will have an everlasting place in Pirates history and in the hearts of those who know him and those who cheered for him."
McCutchen scuffled in 2016 — reaching career lows with a .256 batting average and a .766 OPS — and the Pirates finished with a 78-83 record. He rebounded this past season, hitting .279 with an .849 OPS, but the team skidded to a 75-87 mark and a fourth-place finish in the NL Central.
Who is next to go from the #Pirates ?— Rob Biertempfel (@BiertempfelTrib) January 15, 2018
In 2012, McCutchen signed a six-year, $51.5 million extension that was the second-richest contract in team history. Although McCutchen insisted he wanted to end his career with the Pirates, there would not be another extension.
"It became clear in informal discussions that the gap (in dollars) wasn't going to be bridged," Huntington said.
McCutchen made his big league debut in June 2009, not quite two years after Huntington was hired as GM. Each has played a role in transforming the Pirates from perennial losers to contenders in the NL Central.
They part as club again faces another turning point.
"Every decision we make, we tell ourselves we have to get it right," Coonelly said. "There is little margin for error. We have to be smart, and we have to make some decisions that are unpopular. This one, is quite unpopular with our fans. We respect their passion and their anger. But we've got the make the right decisions for this organization."
Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.