ESPN's David Schoenfield argues, essentially, that the Pirates should strongly consider trading Neil Walker and Mark Melancon, let the chips fall where they may in 2016, and build for 2017 and beyond.
It may be smart for the Pirates to take a small step back in 2016 in order to gear up for 2017.
It's possible the Pirates front office is thinking the same thing, thus the trade rumors involving second baseman Neil Walker and closer Mark Melancon, both of whom are free agents after 2016.
Trading those two wouldn't be an easy sell to a fan base that has seen the Pirates lose the wild-card game two years in a row. ...
Yeah, no kidding. Schoenfield argues well, and I'm not categorically opposed to the Pirates trading Walker or Melancon (or anyone, really). But it does bother me to think of the Pirates essentially punting on 2016 when it really isn't necessary for them to do so.
Schoenfield notes that the Pirates probably aren't going to be able to re-sign Walker and Melancon next offseason. He's right, but I don't think that in itself is a very good reason to trade them. The Bucs' competition in the NL Central should be brutal next year, but they're too good to essentially give up on contending. If anything, they should be looking to add players who can help in the short term, not trade them. If the Bucs can deal Walker or Melancon and get a great baseball return, fine. And if they can get some other team to overvalue Melancon, fine. They need to keep their ears open. But I don't think trading either of them should be the default strategy.
Schoenfield points to the Angels' trade of Howie Kendrick for the young and talented starting pitcher Andrew Heaney as the sort of deal the Bucs could dream of making when trading Walker. If the Pirates really could make a similar move, trading Walker for a good young player who, in addition to helping in the long term, could also help immediately like Heaney did, I couldn't argue with them making that deal.
My guess, though, is that getting a Heaney-type talent for Walker or Melancon will be awfully difficult. Kendrick produced 4.7 fWAR in the season before he was traded; Walker, last year, produced just over half that. As for Melancon, Schoenfield actually argues that he's a better player than Aroldis Chapman, who of course was until recently the subject of more trade speculation anyone else in the game. It's hard to imagine, though, that Melancon would be able to bring back the kind of return Chapman figured to before yesterday, and even then, the trade package that the Dodgers were supposed to be giving up for Chapman didn't include their best prospects.
So if the Pirates were to trade Walker and Melancon, they'd likely get okay, but not great, talent in return. They probably wouldn't get an Andrew Heaney. If they did get an overwhelming return, or they decided to trade one or the other as part of a broader offseason plan to infuse the 2016 team with different kinds of talented players, fine. But the default plan should not be to deal Walker or Melancon and essentially shrug at the 2016 season. The Pirates are too good for that. Andrew McCutchen is way too good for that; Gerrit Cole is way too good for that; and so on.
Looking ahead, Schoenfield also notes that Tyler Glasnow and Josh Bell will be ready to contribute in 2017, and that the Pirates will need to manage their payrolls now if they want to re-sign McCutchen later. That's all probably true, as far as it goes.
But 2016 will be McCutchen's age-29 season, and the Bucs already control him through age 31. I'd be borderline shocked if they re-signed him beyond that. To do so, they'd likely have to pay heavily for his decline years. That isn't, and shouldn't be, the Pirates' M.O. And regardless, McCutchen's age-29 season is likely to be much more valuable than the age-32 or age-33 seasons the Bucs would be saving up for. That's just how aging patterns work. Andrew McCutchen is great now. Someday he won't be. Not surrounding a superstar with talented teammates in his age-29 season in order to save money to pay him $25 million or $30 million a year well into his mid-thirties sounds perverse to me.
All of this is fluid, of course. The Pirates' current position is tricky, and they have to balance their short-term and long-term goals. And who knows? If someone knocks them out with amazing offers for Walker and Melancon that make the Pirates' future markedly brighter, they should consider them. But their default position should be that they're contenders, and they should be doing things contenders do. Essentially giving up a season of McCutchen's prime, in addition to just being sad, doesn't seem all that strategically sound, either.