Bryanna McDermott | Asst. Photo Editor
The Pittsburgh Pirates are winding down a rollercoaster season that has fans wondering whether or not they’ll see Buctober for the fourth straight year.
Pittsburgh currently sits with a disappointing 70-74 record with just 18 games left in the season. That’s good for third place in the NL Central, 22.5 games back from the division leading Cubs and six games out of a Wild Card spot.
It seems to be a fitting ending to the Buccos’ crazy 2016 campaign.
The highly anticipated return of Jung Ho Kang tainted by sexual assault accusations, Marc Melancon’s head-scratching exit from the team, Gerrit Cole’s untimely injuries and Andrew McCutchen’s slow fall from grace have all contributed to an unfortunate season.
So what happens if the Pirates continue their losing streak and find themselves out of playoff contention?
Who stays and who goes in what will most likely be a rebuilding offseason for the team?
Pittsburgh fans will stick around — 21 straight years of losing have given them the resiliency to handle a bad season, but questions have risen on whether or not fan-favorite McCutchen will return to the Pirates lineup next spring.
‘Cutch’ had undoubtedly the worst season of his career. The centerfielder used to be the most reliable member of the team, now he’s posting a measly .247 batting average and has been moved from his traditioal third spot in the batting order. In comparison, McCutchen hit a very respectable .292 just a season ago.
McCutchen has become the face of the franchise. He’s a four-time All-Star, he led the team to three straight playoff appearances and he became the first player in Pirates history to win the NL MVP since Barry Bonds.
But the Pirates should not hold onto him just because he sparked a new era in the franchise’s history.
Some fans will argue that McCutchen is just having a bad year, but it’s more than that. The 29-year old is notorious for terrible Aprils, and now that misfortune is leaking into the rest of the season.
He’s not playing like the ‘Cutch’ who turned the Pirates around— even his demeanor on the field shows as much.
‘Cutch’s’ contract runs out in 2017, while corner outfielders Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco are signed through the 2021 and 2023 seasons. Plus, the Pirates have a center fielder in the system who could fill his place.
Austin Meadows currently plays for Triple-A Indianapolis, after being promoted from Double-A Altoona. The 21-year-old hit .311 with 16 doubles, eight triples and six home runs in 45 games for the Curve.
What if this isn’t just one bad season that McCutchen is having? What if it’s the start of a career slump?
Trading McCutchen may not be as crazy as it sounds. If the Pirates trade him now, they can get more for him than if they waited and he gets worse. It would be better overall for the team to rebuild.
But Pittsburgh isn’t out of the Wild Card race quite yet. The Bucs could go on a tear in September and start a magical winning streak that sneaks them into the playoffs.
However, with Pittsburgh sitting six games back with just 18 to play, the more likely result is that the Pirates will be watching the MLB Playoffs from home for the first time since 2012. Their elimination number stands at just 12, and it’s dwindling rapidly as the Pirates are a mere 3-7 in their last 10 games.
Even general manager Neal Huntington called this season’s Pirates “the streakiest team in baseball,” before the Bucs dropped 11 of 13 games by getting shut out by the Cincinnati Reds 8-0 last Sunday.
Unless a miracle happens and the Pirates sneak their way into a Wild Card spot, Pittsburgh better brace itself for a chaotic offseason.