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Volume 24 No. 216
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Pirates Brass Says Trades Of Star Players McCutchen, Cole Not About Freeing Up Payroll

The Pirates yesterday traded the "face of the franchise" in CF Andrew McCutchen to the Giants, "dismantling their current roster and shedding payroll in the process," according to Bill Brink of the PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE. The trade came just two days after the team also traded P Gerrit Cole to the Astros, and when asked what would stop the cycle of trading players once they near free agency, Owner Bob Nutting said, "You’d have a fundamental redesign of the economics of baseball. That’s not what we’re going to have.” The Pirates’ projected opening-day payroll is about $81M, or $78M if, "as is likely, they don’t have to pay" 3B Jung Ho Kang due to his legal situation. Pirates President Frank Coonelly said the Cole and McCutchen moves were "about bringing as many really good young players as we possibly could.” Coonelly: “It wasn’t about freeing up payroll, reallocating money." Nutting also said that decreased attendance in '17 "did not force a reduction in payroll" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 1/16). MLB Network’s Chris Rose predicted there will be "more of an exodus" coming as 2B Josh Harrison likely "will be gone before Spring Training” (“Intentional Talk,” MLB Network, 1/15). THE ATHLETIC's Peter Gammons wrote Pirates fans "aren’t going to buy in, not until the team is back contending for the postseason." Pirates attendance has "dropped from 2.5 million to 2.2 million to 1.9 million the last three years, and where Cole was going to be the new, big thing and McCutchen was a franchise player, [Senior VP & GM Neal] Huntington and his front office had to make a decision on the best way to retool the kind of 40-man roster that best survives in today’s game" (THEATHLETIC.com, 1/15).

BOB THE BUILDER?
In Pittsburgh, Kevin Gorman wrote "Bottom-Line Bob" and the Pirates "want to control payroll and create financial flexibility by paying only players who are outperforming their contracts" (TRIBLIVE.com, 1/15). Also in Pittsburgh, Ron Cook writes, "I feel sorry for Pirates fans, who, if the television ratings and attendance drops are any indication, are diminishing by the minute. You are following the worst franchise in baseball, maybe in all of sports." The club "had a chance to build something special after its 98-win season" in '15, but that "would have involved adding payroll, something Nutting will never do." Nutting "has been lucky," but that "might be about to run out."  It is "easy to imagine the attendance numbers taking another big hit this season." Cook: "Why would any clear-thinking sports fan continue to support the Pirates organization?" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 1/16). DKPITTSBURGHSPORTS' Dejan Kovacevic wrote under the header, "Cutch Trade Was Always Inevitable, Given Incompetence Of This Front Office." Every move that Nutting, Coonelly and Huntington have made since taking charge of the team has been "rooted in one founding principle: Make money" (DKPITTSBURGHSPORTS.com, 1/15). The POST-GAZETTE's Sean Gentille writes while the Pirates "treated McCutchen right," the fans are "waiting for their turn -- and that’ll take even longer" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 1/16).

TWITTER REAX: Reaction to the trade on social media was overwhelmingly negative. Pittsburgh-based writer John Steigerwald tweeted, "Kinda like the Pirates trading Clemente when I was a kid. Unthinkable. But I hear there will be some new food selections at PNC Park next season. Keep buying those tickets." CBS Sports Radio's Amy Lawrence: "Eventually, the #Pirates front office has to pay SOMEONE. Starting over again & again will only get the team so far. ... I understand the fans' frustration & disappointment." Pittsburgh-based KDKA-FM's Andrew Fillipponi: "Cant blame baseball’s economic system when ownership voted in favor of it. They signed up for this." Atlanta Journal-Constitution's David O'Brien: "Pirates management trying to characterize their situation as a retooling rather than rebuilding project, saying they can remain competitive this year.... Hmmm, seems I heard something like that 3 years ago." SB Nation's Mike Darnay: "Huntington traded the Pirates two best players (and arguably the most loyal and true Pirate/Pittsburgher) and then has the nerve to tell the fans that they need to not be angry and buy tickets. ... I feel sorry for friends of mine who have committed their time and energy and money to an organization that just spit in their face and are now rubbing it in."