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McCutchen or Harper? Cole or Strasburg? And another look at Price


SOUTH HILLS – Grantland’s Jonah Keri released his top 50 Trade Value rankings  yesterday, which are always an entertaining and thought-provoking read. I know some readers discussed this in yesterday’s thread but I wanted to focus on it here.


I think the rankings should be a ray of optimism for #BUCN, helping keep some long-term perspective even as the Pirates have been slow to make a splash this offseason. The Pirates have under club control over the next five season two of the top 26 assets in baseball in Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole.


We all know that McCutchen is an incredibly valuable asset to a major league team. He’s a deserving NL MVP and he’s signed to a ridiculously club-friendly deal that will pay him $59 million over the next five years. We know he’s talented but you might be surprised who is ranked behind him: Bryce Harper.


You know, the LeBron James of baseball.


Wrote Keri:


McCutchen leapfrogs Harper this year, because when you’re a 27-year-old player with no weaknesses who’s coming off your first MVP award and you’re under team control for the next half-decade for basicallythe Darren Dreifort contract, you’ve earned that promotion. And more improvement could be on the way.


Deep fly balls can be a fickle species, and in McCutchen’s case, they netted nine more doubles but 10 fewer homers in 2013; a return to 30-homer territory in 2014 would crank his value even higher. McCutchen’s also showing strong trends in line-drive rate and posted the second-best strikeout and walk rates of his career in 2013. There’s absolutely nothing not to love.


Also, McCutchen is also under club control one year longer than Harper. How about a Harper-McCutchen trade to shake up fanfest?


McCutchen is a great, great player but I’d have a hard time passing up Harper’s upside, which I think is 50 HRs and a 1.100 OPS level.


Coles comes in at No. 26.


Cole is a pitching prospect, and pitching prospects are land mines smothered in crazy-ex sauce. But Cole is the bluest and chippiest of the blue-chippers: The no. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft, Cole is a 6-foot-4, 235-pound BAMF who wields four plus pitches and got better as his rookie season wore on. He lit up the league in September, then pitched very well in his first two playoff starts. He’ll probably be the Pirates’ no. 1 starter by July; he’ll definitely be Pittsburgh’s property all the way through 2019. Of course, we’ve seen enough young pitchers break down over the years to plant a seed of doubt, even for a pitcher with promise as perfect as Cole’s. A position player this young, this skilled, and this cheap would rank at least 10 spots higher.


Strasburg came in at No. 15. Who ya got over the next five years?


Pretty impressive that two Pirates are now rivaling Bryce and Strasburg in value. Two once-in-a-generation, No. 1 overall picks.


Also, Starling Marte came in as honorable mention with essentially the No. 51 ranking. And it should be noted the list doesn’t include prospects. While the Pirates don’t have as many top 50 assets as Tampa (4) or Washington (4), the Pirate are still in excellent long term shape …. if they can supplement their core.




We have had some interesting differing opinions from the baseball intelligentsia regarding the value and cost of acquiring Tampa Bay ace David Price.


Over at Dave Cameron notes that the price the Rays enjoyed for James Shields shouldn’t set the market — it should just be viewed as a mistake by the Royals. Cameron advises against the Pirates giving up a player the caliber of Gregory Polanco for Price:


If we think Polanco is a league average player now, and will improve into a minor star by the time he’s at his physical peak, he’d be projected to produce about $91 million more than what he’d be paid over the next six years. This forecast has Gregory Polanco as a $91 million asset, or about three times as valuable as David Price. Even if you just focus on the next two seasons, this would suggest that Polanco is a $26 million asset in 2014/2015, almost nearly equal in surplus value to Price by himself.


However over at SBNation, Rob Neyer suggests it wouldn’t be so crazy for a certain team, the Pirates, to deal for Price.


The Pirates might have the greatest need. Last season was brilliant, as they came so close to reaching the League Championship Series. It was a storybook season, but to really keep their fans coming back, the Pirates can’t revert to their old selves in 2014. They don’t necessarily need to reach the playoffs again. But they probably do need to try real hard. But with A.J. Burnett leaving via free agency and the rotation jam-packed with question marks, the Pirates seem at least a starting pitcher short. I’m not usually a fan of selling the farm … But if you’re going to do it, this is the spot. And even if they trade two of their best prospects, the Pirates will still have an impressive group of young players.

And the Pirates might be the only one of those teams that really can “put together the sort of package” it would take to get Price. We know what it takes; roughly speaking, it takes one Grade A prospect (like Wil Myers) and one Grade B+ prospect (like Jake Odorizzi). 


It’s a fascinating prospect for the Pirates. In a vacuum the cost does not make sense but of course we don’t live in, and teams don’t operate in, vacuums. The Pirates have a five-year, I think, window (covering the McCutchen and Cole contracts) to really achieve something special. Anything beyond the next five years becomes murky and remember the Pirates won’t expect to be drafting in the top 10 going forward.


THE CASE FOR PRICE: Price is already an outstanding pitcher and he would figure to see a significant spike in moving to the National League like a Cliff Lee, Francisco Liriano, or C.C. Sabathia experienced. Price could be an absolute monster in PNC Park with an upside as something nearing Clayton Kershaw. Seriously. Moreover, many of the top rival bats in the NL Central are left-handed (Votto, Bruce, Carpenter, Adams). Also, the Pirates figure to need to rely on pitching and defense to win in 2013 and no pitcher on the market could improve the Pirates’ run prevention ability like Price. Imagine a Price-Cole-Liriano playoff rotation.


THE CASE AGAINST PRICE: It is laid out by Cameron. A player like Polanco – or Taillon – is likely to be more valuable over six years than two years of Price. You don’t want to trade a Wil Myers for James Shields unless you think it delivers you a flag…. and even then. And such a trade would include more than one prospect. Moreover, pitchers get hurt more often so they’re more risky to acquire than, say, Giancarlo Stanton. Moreover, Price had some red flags last season as his velocity and strikeout rate declined. Also, Price is going to be expensive over the next two years and if you were looking to upgrade via trade Doug Fister would have been a much cheaper and nearly as effective option. If the Pirates aren’t willing to pay market price for one year of Burnett how will they afford Price?

– TS



  1. NMR says:

    Travis, you are a BAMF. So much good content.

  2. BostonsCommon says:

    Can they get Price AND keep Polanco, Taillion, and Glasnow? Basically build a package around grade B prospects (Hanson, Kingham, Bell, ect) that COULD turn into grade A prospects by the end of the season?

  3. BostonsCommon says:

    Or something like Kingham, Bell, and Watson/Melancon/NameYourCurrentPiratesReliever?

  4. NMR says:

    Only if David Price was a Tiger.

  5. NO way Pirates would take on $30 million contract outlay for next two seasons. For one player. Not in Bob Nutting’s DNA. Neal Huntington wouldn’t even spend the dime to ask.

    Bucs won’t even pay A.J. Burnett.

    Maybe we should discuss obtaining Mike Trout. Same difference.

  6. BostonsCommon says:

    Cutch is guaranteed $28.75M over the last 2 years of his contract.

  7. NMR says:

    You already know what the reply is going to be, right?

  8. BostonsCommon says:

    “The Pirates have under club control over the next five season two of the top 26 assets in baseball in Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole.”

    If a couple things shake out in their favor, the Pirates could realistically have 5 of the top 50 going into 2015 (Marte, Polanco, and Taillon)… Just an imensly bright future for this club right now. With more waves on the way.

  9. BostonsCommon says:

    “….blah, blah, blah, a penny of that won’t come from Nuttin or the Pirates”

  10. Nate83 says:

    Boston I wouldn’t be surprised if Glasnow ends up ahead of Taillon. Maybe not at the beginning of 2015 but by the beginning of 2016. I personally would trade Taillon before Glasnow. I think they will be pretty aggressive with Glasnow being moved up.

    I also think Cutch plays until the end of the contract. I really do believe this team is poised to be competitive in year 2016-2018. There are just to many cost controlled players on the way that free up enough money to fill in the holes with free agents not to at least field a team able to be a fringe playoff team and Cutch’s contract is just to good to try and find comparable wins elsewhere. I could see them trading some other good players such as Cole, Marte, Polanco……as they get two or three years away from free agency but not Cutch. He’s our Longoria who I don’t see Tampe Bay trading.

  11. Nate83 says:

    Too bad for the Rays the Royals have no prospects left to trade for Price. It only takes one GM but the really dumb one already played his hand and lost all his chips.

  12. BostonsCommon says:

    Fully agree regarding Cutch. The only way he doesn’t see the end of that contract, and really the only way it makes any sense at all to move him, is if the Pirates aren’t competitive in those years… And the way things are trending, and finally with a loaded farm system, there is no reason they should not be contending for playoffs and more through the end of his contract.

  13. Nate83 says:

    Unless of course they do something silly and trade 2 top 5 prospects for two years of Price. Then 2016-2018 suddenly doesn’t look as good.

    People are correct in saying that prospects are just that and many flame out but the percentage goes way down for the one’s that reach the top 100 overall prospects. The Pirates have a number of guys that will end up being ranked if not already in the top 100 during their minor league careers. We just don’t know how to handle them as fans because the system hasn’t seen anything like this in a long time.

  14. BostonsCommon says:

    Glasnow may end up better than Taillon. But that speaks to his supreme upside.

    It takes absolutely nothing away from Taillion, who I think is going to be an Ace… Watching him drop 3-2 bangers on Ryan Braun in the WBC last year sealed it for me. Guy has all the physical tools in the world, and the stones to go with it. He’s going to be great.

  15. NMR says:

    Ok, I really don’t mean to disagree with you, personally, but your post brings up a point I want to make about these blockbuster trades and farm systems…

    The Kansas City Royals did not even have a top 10 farm system last year when the traded Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi…and yet still have two blue chip starting pitchers in Yordano Ventura and Kyle Zimmer along with a high upside outfielder in Bubba Starling and one of the bets shortstop prospects in baseball by the name of Adalberto Mondesi.

    The Royals are proof that major trades DO NOT cost “the farm”, and if they do, your farm system was absolute crap in the first place.

    The Pittsburgh Pirates, from a prospect standpoint, could trade for David Price and still be absolutely fine in the future.

  16. NMR says:

    The Pirates farm system is then VASTLY overrated if losing two prospects downgrades the organizations future outlook.

  17. Nate83 says:

    I was just poking fun at the Royals. I did absolutely no research into their current farm system. I did know that they still had a middle of the road farm system still but didn’t think they had anything to the Wil Myers level or even the Polanco level.

    I do disagree with you on the idea that by giving up Polanco and Glasnow they would be absolutely fine for the future. I personally see 3 prospects that I think are almost gaurentees to be very good players at the major league level (Polanco, Glasnow and Taillon). Giving up 2 of those 3 would give us a bunch of good prospects that are more question marks then answers.

  18. Steve D says:

    Isnt this exciting to have prospects that mean something and MLB’ers that are trade worthy?

  19. NMR says:

    Haha, yeah, I figured, and I never pass up a chance to pile on the Royals.

    The part of the equation we haven’t mentioned, and I suppose I should have, is that trading these guys obviously doesn’t mean the Pirates aren’t allowed to keep drafting and devloping, right? The system will get additions every year.

    Like I said below, if losing two guys downgrades the future outlook, then the current system AND the organizations ability to draft and develop is seriously overrated.

  20. Nate83 says:

    Well hopefully we are debating if Glasnow or Taillon is better three years from now. That would mean that both made it to the majors and more then likely both are cotnributing. I like them both a lot.

  21. Nate83 says:

    NMR I don’t care if they trade Bell, Hanson, Kingham, Meadows, Heredia or an other 4-20 prospect as long as the return is good. It’s the top 3 that I would hate to see leave unless it netted something like Stanton. I just don’t think Price is the right guy to use one of those top 3 on. And yes I do believe losing 2 of those 3 would dramatically hurt the Pirates chance for success down the road.


    I think the Rays would want 2 of those 3. I would much rather Taillon, Polanco or Glasnow become Price and trade one of them for 12 years of control of 2 high end prospects then spend two of our top 3 for 2 years of Price because my eye test tells me Rays > Kansas City.

  22. Nate83 says:

    I guess we need to agree exactly what two guys we are talking about. If it’s one of the big 3 and someone like Kingham, Hanson or Bell I agree that it’s not devastating. I wouldn’t do that trade myself but wouldn’t be upset. However I personally think 2 of the big 3 would instantly drop our farm system a considerable amount down the list and 2 years of Price just isn’t worth it.

  23. NMR says:

    I’m not talking about Price at all, Nate. I’m speaking abstractly about trades and farm systems.

    A year ago, trading one of Cole, Taillon, or Marte would’ve seemed unbearable. Then Polanco and Glasnow happened. Play the name game again this offseason and Austin Meadows plus another breakout pitcher replaces last years “untouchables”.

    If the Pirates are as good as they’re being given credit for, then we should really be less worried about losing prospects. That, IMO, will be the point when the Pirates truly arrive as an organization. The ammo and guts to trade prospects with confidence they can be replaced.

  24. NMR says:

    I personally think the Glasnow>Taillon debate has quite a bit of breakout bias.

    Any guy with a fastball that misses bats like Glasnow has huge upside, but Taillon had superior mechanics, command, and secondary pitches in A ball. Glasnow is closer to reliever than ace right now, whereas Taillon probably has the ability to go out tomorrow and be a mid rotation starter.

  25. Nate83 says:

    Even me one of NH’s bigger supporters is not prepared to just assume the prospect train will continue. I will say this. He asked for more scouting and has received that at both the U.S. and international level. It takes a few years to feel the full effect of that.

    I’m more confident consistant good scouting and drafting can be part of this organization going forward then I was 4, 5 years ago but the Pirate fan in me says don’t mess this up. It could be the only time we have this many very good prospects and can maintain cost of our own players and spend more on free agents for 5,6,7 years and be competitive with a small market payroll.

    The Rays haven’t started trading away prospects and either really has the A’s. In fact you pointed out very nicely that the A’s cost control of their own players have allowed them to take on some payroll this year. I like the way the Pirates used the prospects last year. The moves where appropriate and added valuable pieced. Did we lose some good prospects in Herrera and Black? Sure they did, but neither of those guys had the updside of our top 5 guys.

  26. BostonsCommon says:

    I think most would agree that Taillon’s floor is miles above Glasnow at this point AND that both have the ceiling of an Ace…

    The ‘who is going to be better game’ can be fun. But if both hit their ceilings it won’t matter.

  27. NMR says:

    I’m not even advocating the Pirates trade any of these guys, Nate. Again, speaking abstractly.

    I just feel hoarding prospects for the future is going to be a moving target, and one that is always inherantly more risky than trading them for current value.

    The situation would have to be very precise, but there does exist a niche where a key addition could mean a championship, and that has to be every organization’s goal.

  28. TS says:

    Harper can’t even stay on the field. Ergo, the comparison between him and Cutch is irrelevant at this point.

  29. NMR says:

    In their age-20 seasons, Harper’s OPS was 15 points higher than McCutchen’s. Oh, and Harper did that in the Major Leagues. Cutch was in A ball.

  30. Fred Baggio says:

    Good God, man: Proofread! You’re making yourself look like a hack.

  31. BostonsCommon says:

    “McCutchen is a great, great player but I’d have a hard time passing up Harper’s upside, which I think is 50 HRs and a 1.100 OPS level.”

    If I’m starting a team tomorrow, I’m going with Harper… No question. If I’m going to the World Series tomorrow, I’ll take Cutch… No question.

  32. NMR says:

    So Tom Singer isn’t even bothering to try and hide the fact that he’s a complete shill anymore?

    Good job taking the high road, Travis. That was embarrassing.

  33. Leefoo says:

    NMR….I was just gonna come on here and say the same thing.

    Travis…the boys and girls of the PBCAsylum (ex PGPlus) are declaring you the winner!

  34. Travis Sawchik says:

    Doing my best … thanks for reading

    I want to see BAMF No. 45 T-shirts this spring

  35. Travis Sawchik says:

    Merry Christmas, Tom

  36. Andrew says:

    What was Tom Singer’s point, I am just some idiot writing on the comment sections of a blog, but Hiroki Kuroda resigns with New York 1 year $16 million, a guy whose was going back to Japan or resigning with New York. Any players in a similar situation for the Pirates?

  37. NMR says:

    Tom Singer’s point was to manage expectations.

    Can’t have a local beat writer making points about payroll and player value. Might just make some of us minions who can’t think for themselves wonder if the Pirates are making the right decisions. Rather have Tom tell us himself.

  38. Travis Sawchik says:

    Would have loved to have seen what Harper would have accomplished at age 20 had he stayed injury free. He had a monster April.

  39. MJS says:

    Travis enjoy your work in the paper and the blog, wanted your thoughts on some things. The Pirates major league team has starting pitching, bullpen, catcher and outfield depth and their farm system seems to mirror the major league team with starting pitching, bullpen, catcher and outfield depth. Their lack of internal options at 1B, 2B, SS, 3B is staggering, if Hansen fails to make it they have no prospects in their system to provide any type of impact especially after 2016 when Alveraz and Walker become free agents. I have questions about recent decisions that Huntington has made trading Herrera whose was their only 2nd base prospect instead of someone like Barrett Barnes and utilizing thier depth at OF. Then he trades Dickerson for another OF and bullpen option he was the only 1B prospect in our system. They have their last high picks in a while and they go for a C and OF again I know your not suppose to draft for need but they had DJ Peterson and JP Crawford sitting their both high upside players at positions of need. There not willing to pay market rates for free agents and Huntington has a had issues identifying those positions in free agency. How are they going to correct this moving forward?

  40. Steelkings says:

    The same Cutch that struck out looking with men one to end game 5 ?

  41. Steelkings says:

    Everyone knows that pitching wins baseball games. Garret jones just signed a huge for him contract with Miami. Proving that any idiot can play 1st base and make millions

  42. Steelkings says:

    Just out of curiosity, with Logan (Lefty) Morrison at 1st base and Geo Stanton in right field, along with the fact that Garrett Jones is a career .160 with ZERO home runs as a pinch hitter player…..WHAT THE HELL DO THE MARLINS WANT WITH JONES?

    Should I read in that Morrison is going somewhere? He’s locked up through 2017. Lefty with Clemente wall pop..Huh? Huh? Neil? Am I feeling you dog?

  43. Indy Pirate says:

    If they did pick up Price, perhaps Morton and Locke become throw-in options. In year two you would have Morton’s salary (plus expected escalation) and Wandy dropping off the payroll. Price becomes more affordable at that point. Plus we have Taillon waiting in the wings.

    I think Bell, Locke and Morton. If that doesn’t get it, try Heridia in place of Locke.

  44. D-Shiffman says:

    Name Change

  45. Mark says:


    This is good Off-Season Baseball Research you are doing here. Very thought provoking, interesting, well thought out, baseball research and conversation. Keep up the good work!


  46. BostonsCommon says:

    Yes… You know, the reigning MVP.

  47. Yusko says:

    Let’s face facts here. The Pirates are still CHEAP. The fact that they’ve spent no cash in the off-season is mind-boggling (oh wait, they did go get another backup catcher with a crap batting average).

    Prospects are great, but when you go a third year IN A ROW with no one at two power positions (1B and RF) as well as having what is probably the worst bench in the NL, it’s hard to get excited.

    Honestly, I think it’s awesome that I actually give a crap about a Bucco conversation in December, but I still have my doubts. I guess 20 years will do that to a person.

    That said, Let’s Go Bucs! BTW, Loney at first base would be a marginal step up (if any). Yet another scrap-heap player.

    Joe in Feederick, MD

  48. D-Shiffman says:

    I would rather keep Morton. If he gets his walk totals down he could pan out to be the best 5th starter in the league.

    I would love to see a rotation something like:

  49. Travis Sawchik says:

    Thanks, Mark … much appreciated

  50. Travis Sawchik says:

    MJS, you’re correct the Pirates are thin on infield talent in the upper levels of their farm system. And you’re right you should never draft for need as the Pirates can always trade a OF or SP prospect for a similarly talented position of need. I really liked their first round last year. I thought Meadows was one of the best available players on the board and McGuire’s upside is that of an All-Star catcher.

  51. The Gunner says:


    I saw your comments to Bob Pompeani about your pessimism regarding AJ’s return in 2014. I tend to agree with you. I think he still could be very effective but, I think the BMTIB is sick of his “shtick” not mention his salary demands.

  52. NMR says:

    Fair questions, MJS.

    Regarding recent trades, Herrera may only be an issue if he turns out to be a stud. Depth-wise, the team has another six years of Jordy Mercer available as well as the aformentioned Hanson. Dickerson was more of a guy without a defensive position than an actual first baseman.

    I really don’t think Huntington could’ve passed up Austin Meadows, but you have a valid point about JP Crawford. Fortunately and unfortunately, the Pirates will be drafting in positions where stud high school prospects may be thin, but quality college players can still be found. No reason to think a college guy drafted this spring couldn’t help by late 2016, early 2017.

  53. Travis Sawchik says:

    Gunner, it’s hard to get a true read on Burnett’s intentions since his camp has been very quiet. But I do think a return is growing more unlikely, particularly as Burnett sees the rising free agent pitching dollars in the game. I mean Brian Wilson got one-year, $10 million from the Dodgers. Kuroda got $16 million from the Yankees. Burnett is worth a one-year, $16 million deal in today’s game and he won’t be back unless he takes a significant discount. How many players do that?

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