In principle, no player is untouchable.The Edmonton Oilers even traded Wayne Gretzky! The Pirates let Bonds walk (a non-trade loss of a player). The Mariners sent Ken Griffey and Randy Johnson to other teams. The Mariners also let Alex Rodriguez walk. Any player can be traded; no player is untradeable. Baseball and financial reasons make it so.
In practice, however, some players can't be traded (no one wants them enough to give anything in return) and some players ought to be considered untradeable. The Pirates have a few players who are untradeable in the second sense. Excluding players in the GCL and the DSL, my group of such would include:
McCutchen is untradeable because it would be nearly impossible for the Pirates to receive equivalent baseball value for him in a trade. The Pirates would need to swap him for 1) another untradeable player or 2) some prospects most of whom would not approach McCutchen's 2012 output and his likely output from here on. In the first case, the Pirates would merely swap a superstar for another superstar. These trades happen; they are rare, however. In the second case, the Pirates might receive for McCutchen players who generate WAR equal to McCutchen's. Yet, it would take more than one non-superstar player to produce baseball value at a level equal to McCutchen's. Hoarding good but not great players is not a way to build a contender. A viable World Series contending team has one or more superstars and strong players throughout its roster. Having a strong roster but no superstars is a fine way to build an 85-win team, a team that will not likely win a World Series title, a team that is competitive but not successful in the last instance.
The key reason Cole, Taillon, Hanson, Bell, Polanco and Heredia ought to be considered untradeable should be obvious. These players, along with McCutchen, James Macdonald, Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker and, perhaps, Starling Marte and Jose Tabata, will provide the core for a future World Series contender. They have high ceilings and will be comparatively inexpensive for at least six years. Consequently, any one of this group should be included in a trade only if the trade would bring a superstar in return, more specifically, a superstar who is not a rental and whom the Pirates can afford to keep in Pittsburgh.
Thanks to his injuries, I do not consider Justin Upton to be a player who warrants a return that includes an untouchable player. After all, it was not long ago that Upton was believed to be untouchable. He was thought to be "the player of his generation" when he was drafted. He was on the short-list for the 2011 MVP Award. His gifts were obvious. Nevertheless, that the Arizona Diamondbacks would actually and publicly consider trading Upton issues a warning flag which the Pirates or any other interested team should not ignore. As KentuckyPirate wrote:
All things considered, I was surprised to see how many people were willing to do whatever it takes to get Upton. Obviously, this is all base on my own math and estimations (which could easily be debated) but by my calculations, Upton is worth $35.9M at this point. I'm not trying to pick on anybody but just a couple of proposals I saw were Heredia/Marte/Hanson/Grossman/Locke ($56.9M), Taillon/Marte/Polanco ($42.5M) and Taillon/Marte ($37M). All of these would be overpays by these numbers. Now because of Upton's name, age and "Face of the Franchise" factor, you might have to overpay. However, from a Pirate fan's point of view, I don't want to be the team that overpays for a guy who has issues with his shoulder, is in the middle of a very mediocre year and whose team seems to be aggressively trying to deal him with 3 years left on his contract just a year removed from a great year. Under these circumstances, I'd try to come in a bit under value. If you were asking me, which of course nobody was, I offer Taillon/Grossman/Polanco/Dickerson ($35.4M). If you are in the camp that thinks Dickerson is a C-Prospect rather than a B-Prospect, it would hurt the value of the deal, but if Grossman or Polanco could work their way on to the back end of a top-100 list (I realize that it doesn't really just go by analyst rankings) it would increase the value. Anyway, that's my take on it. If we could get Upton for something close to my offer, I'd jump at it. If the D-Backs want somebody to overpay, I'd rather let another team do that while the Pirates try to upgrade their team elsewhere. So that's my take on things...