Pirates enter full rebuild with McCutchen, Cole trades

This offseason has been all about saying goodbye for the Pittsburgh Pirates, who bid farewell to their brief period of playoff contention by trading Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen in separate deals just days apart. Pittsburgh made the postseason for three straight seasons, earning a wild-card berth in 2013, 2014, and 2015, but without Cole or McCutchen, the Pirates of 2018 are more likely to resemble the iteration of the team that languished in the NL Central basement for most of the previous decade.

Pittsburgh traded Cole to the Houston Astros on Saturday for a package of four players. Only one of those players, Joe Musgrove, saw playing time on Houston’s World Series run. McCutchen went to the San Francisco Giants on Monday in exchange for Kyle Crick, Bryan Reynolds, and some international signing money. Cole was the best pitcher on the Pirates, while McCutchen was the franchise’s best hitter since Barry Bonds, and both played key roles in Pittsburgh’s three wild-card berths. McCutchen was named NL MVP in 2013, which was Cole’s rookie season. By 2015, Cole had developed into the Pirates’ ace, and was named the team’s starter for the wild-card game.

Aside from maybe Crick and Musgrove, who appear to be competent young relief pitchers, the returns Pittsburgh received for McCutchen and Cole aren’t likely to make much of an impact in 2018. Cole was the Pirates’ primary innings-eater, and their rotation is a question mark without him. Reynolds is an intriguing prospect in the outfield, but he’s still a few seasons away from developing into a major league regular, and in the meantime Pittsburgh doesn’t have anyone to replace the power hitting and baserunning of McCutchen, who was still the team’s best hitter despite regressing statistically over the last two seasons.

Prior to their run of wild-card appearances, the Pirates were known for being perennially terrible. The financially neglected franchise was one of MLB’s laughing stocks last decade, as well as a complete afterthought in sports-crazed Pittsburgh, which had the Steelers and the Penguins both contending for championships while the Pirates languished. McCutchen became the face of the Pirates’ resurgence, with bootleg shirts literally featuring his face often sold outside PNC Park to fans who were suddenly very interested in the team they had forgotten. Now that McCutchen is gone, and Cole is no longer in the rotation, the Pirates risk reverting to the franchise that endured many years of failure and obscurity.