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What Cutch and Cole aren't saying

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Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen are ripping Pirates management while omitting a certain part of history.

The Pirates have some very dissatisfied ex-employees.

While Sean Rodriguez, Josh Harrison and David Freese have all recently expressed their displeasure with how the Pirates are being run, it’s been small potatoes to the truth bombs Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole dropped on their way out the door.

In an article published Thursday, McCutchen told the Post-Gazette’s Stephen Nesbitt, “We had that window. I think we had some key moves that maybe could have been made to make the team a little stronger. But that’s something we didn’t do.”

Cole did not mince words in his introductory press conference with the Astros on Jan. 17 either, expressing his joy to play for a franchise which is “willing to continually put resources into the club.”

They’re partly right. The Pirates were coming off of three straight playoff berths, but failed to make the necessary transactions to try to keep up with the soaring Chicago Cubs and perennial thorn in side St. Louis Cardinals. There was no way Jon Niese and Ryan Vogelsong could be J.A. Happ and A.J. Burnett. They were doomed to regress, and regress they did.

But the real source of grief was who they didn’t sign. There were three players in particular that played a big role on that 2015 team- Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez and Happ- that suited up elsewhere in 2016. Walker was traded to the Mets, Alvarez was non-tendered and Happ took a three year deal with the Blue Jays. The three of them combined to be worth roughly 8 fWAR in 2016 (Walker 3.7, Happ 3.2, Alvarez 1.2). Their replacements (Niese/Ivan Nova, Freese and Jaso/Bell) combined to be worth a little more than three wins that season. The Pirates missed the playoffs by eight games. Keeping those three would have certainly tightened the wild card chase, but probably wouldn’t have put the Bucs over the hump.

Now here is what McCutchen and Cole aren’t saying: in 2015, the duo were worth a combined 11.1 fWAR. In 2016, they were worth 3.1. As I previously stated, the Pirates missed out on the playoffs by eight games. You do the math.

McCutchen especially took a nosedive. He combined for just 1.8 bWAR these last two seasons. For comparison, Jordy Mercer posted a combined 2.1 bWAR. It doesn’t matter if you’re the Pirates, Yankees, Cubs or Dodgers; if you replace your best player with someone who is out produced by your No. 8 hitter, your team is going to do a whole lot worse. McCutchen told Nesbitt the Pirates needed to make another move or two to win. Getting more than 1 WAR a year from center field would have been a good place to start.

And it wasn’t just McCutchen and Cole. Francisco Cervelli hasn’t been able to capture that 2015 magic either, both at the plate and his pitch framing. Tony Watson turned sour. Jung-Ho Kang disappeared. Francisco Liriano went from reliable No. 2 to a pile of No. 2.

All told, there were 15 players that opened the 2015 and 2016 season on the Pirates’ 25 man roster. In 2015, they combined to be worth 34.3 fWAR. In 2016, they were worth just 18 wins. The Pirates won 20 fewer games in 2016 than in 2015. The same core of players were worth 16 fewer wins. Put the other four on the front office.

2017 was more of the same. The Pirates needed McCutchen to step up once Starling Marte was suspended. He didn’t. The club needed Gerrit Cole to lead the rotation once Jameson Taillon returned. He didn’t. If they were playing like their MVP and Cy Young candidate selves, the front office and ownership probably would have been more inclined to make the move they needed to get over the top. Yes, the Astros swung a major trade for Justin Verlander and rode him to a championship, but it took five months of top of the line play to convince the higher ups to make the splash. The Pirates were sub-.500 practically the entire season. You can’t make a splash if the pool is empty.

A big trade or free agent signing could have helped team morale, but the Pirates rose to prominence with unglamorous signings and trades. The traded their closer before the 2013 season while only signing a .211 hitting catcher and a pitcher who just posted his third consecutive season with an ERA over 5. The 2014 Pirates lost their ace in free agency, replacing him with the worst pitcher the year prior. They lost Russell Martin before the 2015 campaign, replacing him with an unproven backup catcher. They didn’t need big moves to win then. What changed?

Those Pirate teams won because their players performed up to their potential. Had McCutchen and Cole done that these last two years, the Pirates might have made the playoffs twice more, and they probably would still be in black and gold.

But they would rather you forget that part.

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