Where do the Pittsburgh Pirates go from here?
I expect nothing less from the fan base. There’s reason for anger, hurt and shame from an emotional standpoint surrounding their departures.
The duo were figureheads on a team desperately looking for someone to dig this storied franchise out of 20-year losing drought. Enter Cole and McCutchen. They did it.
From growing up in a poverty-stricken household to becoming the National League MVP, we saw McCutchen’s stardom unfold before our eyes. Nobody wants to see a guy like this leave their franchise, but the players understand the business they’re in at the end of the day.
Pittsburgh.My Home.My Fans.My City. The placed that raised me and helped mold me into the man I am today. You will 4ever be in my heart.A tip of the cap to all who have been on this journey with me. With Love and respect,
— andrew mccutchen (@TheCUTCH22) January 15, 2018
As cliché as it may sound, the show must go on.
Clint Hurdle can’t dwell on losing his star center fielder. I doubt he is because it’s a necessary move — another story for another day, however.
So, who do Pirates’ management lean on to replace McCutchen’s veteran approach and presence in even the slightest way?
I have an answer, very simply put: Matt Kemp.
Hold up there, slugger. Don’t bash the idea until you hear me out.
Kemp, 33, a veteran outfielder, mashed when healthy for the Atlanta Braves last season.
Before being hampered with some second-half hamstring problems, Kemp plead his case for a starting outfield spot in the All-Star Game.
In 115 games, Kemp produced a .276 average, 19 home runs and 64 RBI, while getting on-base at a .318 clip and slugging .463. Very respectable.
Let’s compare these numbers to the former Pirates’ MVP, who is set to make $14.5 million just next season alone.
Oh, before I reveal them, remember the now-Giants’ outfielder saw a resurgence at the plate after a dreadful 2016 season.
Predictably, McCutchen’s numbers edge Kemp in more ways than one, as he hit .279, 28 homers and 88 RBI, with an OBP of .363 and .486 slugging percentage blowing the current Dodger out of the water.
Nevertheless, outside of a scorching hot mid-summer run skewing his overall statistics, numbers from March, April, May and August continue telling a story of downward trends for McCutchen.
Those four months saw the five-time All-Star hit below .250, led by a .206 average in the entire month of May. Want to know a big reason why the Pirates were so wishy-washy? McCutchen’s inconsistent play held them back in 2017. An unpopular opinion, yes, I know, but these stats back me up.
Also, don’t forget we’re only a season removed from McCutchen hitting .256 for an entire year. Let that sink in. Is $14.5 million really worth risking play of that caliber?
That same year, in 2016, Kemp neared a .270 batting average, all while mashing 35 home runs and 108 RBI.
As for the defense, well, that’s another story as neither have much range left to offer. Regardless of which player dawned the black and gold, assuming Kemp landed in Pittsburgh, both make more sense plopped in a tighter, smaller right field.
Don’t get me wrong. In no way, shape or form am I saying Kemp trumps McCutchen in any hitting category as of right now.
Nevertheless, where do the Pirates turn for production that even mimics our former center fielder?
Now, the tougher sell: what’s it going to take for the Los Angeles Dodgers to part ways with their once-prized superstar?
Not much, really.
Due to the luxury tax, the Dodgers were looking to cut spending by trading Charlie Culberson, Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir and Brandon McCarthy to the Braves for Kemp, who is still under contract for a pretty penny in his own right.
Although, by adding on one bigger contract, the Dodgers dropped four rather enormous deals.
Almost as soon as the Dodgers and Braves finalized the transaction, rumors began swirling about Kemp’s name floating around on the market. No teams came calling in his “virtually nonexistent market,” though. As goes for any player a general manager attempts to part ways with, aka McCutchen for instance, the return back gets significantly smaller as days, weeks and months pass.
It wouldn’t be unheard of for the Dodgers to eat an abundance of Kemp’s remaining $21 million a year. Hold up, tiger. In no world will the Pirates be paying anywhere close to that total. You can wipe the sweat from your brow. $5.5 million of Kemp’s owed $21 million is already guaranteed to be covered by either by LA or the Padres, his franchise before the Braves.
If Neal Huntington chips in something nice, the Dodgers just may take on more of that contract on than you think.
Fringe prospect Clay Holmes, a right-handed pitcher with some upside, could potentially push this deal over the top. Someone other than Holmes might suffice too, just a suggestion.
A deal centered around Kemp adds a much-needed veteran presence to this young, inexperienced bunch. And who knows, like 2013, maybe the Pirates can strike lightning in a bottle once again. We all know what we said going into that three-year stretch.
Joe Cinello covers Pirates material for Pittsburgh Sports Castle. Connect with him on Facebook (Joey Cinello), Linkedin (Joseph Cinello) and Twitter (@JCinello).