How has Corey Dickerson done replacing Andrew McCutchen?
The trade rocked the Pirates clubhouse like few before it had done:
One of the National League's best players sent away for a young pitcher and a minor-league outfielder in what the general manager was forced to defend as more than just a salary dump.
Yes, the Pirates' trade of 20-game winner John Smiley to the Minnesota Twins caused a stir just before the start of the 1992 season.
And you thought we were talking about Andrew McCutchen. Actually, we are.
McCutchen is in town with his new team, the San Francisco Giants, for the first of a three-game series at PNC Park on Friday night. It's the first and only trip here this season for one of the Pirates' all-time great players since he was traded Jan. 15 for 25-year-old relief pitcher Kyle Crick and minor-league outfielder Bryan Reynolds.
The trade triggered fan protests, threats of boycotts and even caused McCutchen's former teammates, Josh Harrison and David Freese, to speak out about the state of the team.
Also referencing the trade of pitcher Gerrit Cole to the Houston Astros, Harrison said he wanted to be traded, too, if the Pirates didn't expect to contend. Freese said of the clubhouse environment, “The demand to win just hasn't been in the air.”
But it's instructive to note this isn't the first time the Pirates have traded one of their best players.
This week on 93.7 FM, Pirates announcer and former pitcher Bob Walk said the trade of Smiley “tore the heart out of the clubhouse for a little while.”
But he also said, “Teams, players get over that.”
And so the 1992 Pirates did (at least, for one year), and today's Pirates are doing the same thing 26 years later.
Since their initial remarks, Harrison and Freese haven't made a peep about front-office politics and the Pirates (21-16) are hanging around first place in the National League Central.
Without Smiley in 1992, the Pirates won 96 games and their third consecutive National League East championship, although the '93 season was the start of 20 years of losing baseball.
Would keeping Smiley have delayed or interrupted the streak? Maybe. He won at least 11 games in five of his final six seasons.
Yet, like McCutchen, Smiley was one year from free agency, causing the Pirates — in both cases — to turn up the heat on themselves to make a deal.
In return for Smiley, the Pirates acquired 23-year-old pitcher Denny Neagle, who turned out to be their best pitcher in '95 and '96 and actually won 20 games in '97 — for the Atlanta Braves. The outfielder sent to the Pirates was Midre Cummings, who never hit more than .244 in five seasons in Pittsburgh.
General manager Ted Simmons, who insisted the trade was not about money, said Neagle and Cummings were “the two guys I had to have to part with Smiley.”
Similarly, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington liked the idea of getting two young players who, in theory, still will be contributors after the 31-year-old McCutchen retires or has lost effectiveness.
Crick didn't start the season with the Pirates, but he struck out 13 batters in 8 1⁄3 innings after his call up from Triple-A Indianapolis. Reynolds, rated the Pirates' No. 6 prospect by MLB Pipeline, had hand surgery last month and is on Double-A Altoona's disabled list.
So, it's impossible to evaluate the trade at this point. It was a deal for the future, anyway, much more than for the present.
But we live in the present. So, with 125 games left that probably will change everything, here's how the Pirates, Giants, McCutchen and others connected to the trade are doing:
McCutchen is making $14.75 million this season, of which the Pirates are paying $2.5 million, according to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal.
Corey Dickerson, the new member of the Pirates outfield acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays to fill the void, is due $5.95 million.
That's a savings of $6.3 million for the Pirates, a significant sum for a small-market team that does not ignore the bottom line.
Even better, Dickerson (29 on May 22) is two years younger than McCutchen, has one more year of salary arbitration in 2019 and can't be a free agent until 2020.
McCutchen is hitting .250 with three home runs and 14 RBIs in 36 games, but he has 11 hits in his past 26 at-bats. He will carry an eight-game hitting streak into PNC Park after he sat out the Giants' 6-3 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday.
“To be going back (to Pittsburgh) and doing a fairly good job definitely is a plus,” McCutchen told MLB.com on Wednesday.
But he has had another slow start and has more than three times as many strikeouts (31) as extra-base hits (nine).
If the trade was Dickerson for McCutchen straight-up (and both players' stats held up all season), it would appear almost one-sided.
Dickerson has more extra-base hits than strikeouts (17 to 14) and is hitting .323 with five home runs and 26 RBIs in 34 games.
Cost of doing business
To get Dickerson, the Pirates surrendered relief pitcher Daniel Hudson, who was released by the Rays on March 28 and picked up by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Hudson, 31, looks to be just another mediocre bullpen arm. The Pirates also gave up $1 million in the deal and 22-year-old second baseman Tristan Gray, a 13th-round pick in the 2017 draft who's hitting .211 in the Florida State League.
Dickerson's glove works, too
Dickerson already has four outfield assists, three double plays and no errors in left field. McCutchen has one assist, but he had a total of 22 over his last three years in Pittsburgh.
Too soon to tell
The Pirates are next-to-last in the majors with an average attendance of 13,838 in 14 dates, but no home games through the first 10 days of May and cold April weather are the chief culprits.
Can't blame Huntington for the weather.