When the Pirates trade Andrew McCutchen this offseason, the fan-reaction rage will come in two extremely predictable waves:
Wave One: People who’ve long hated the Pirates’ ownership and front office will break out their pitchforks and torches and flaming pitchfork-torch combo devices and take to the comments sections to declare once again being "done" with this team, lamenting the loss of "the face of the franchise," claiming ownership "doesn’t care about winning," and dusting off the same old evergreen "payroll" cracks and references to "20 more losing seasons." These people will be emboldened by writers who share this disdain for the front office and require far less fuel than a McCutchen trade to ignite an internet conflagration, but will reach new heights when the easiest of the easy "Eff You, Pirates" pandering-column literally writes itself like those hands in that Escher drawing.
This has occurred after every moderately questionable (or sometimes entirely innocuous) Pirate transaction of the past … eternity years, give or take. It’s predictable, but it’s also at least partially understandable, given the baseline anger of every sports fan base, let alone one with "20 straight losing seasons" on the resumé and some legitimately troubling ownership questions.
The second wave, however, is where the rest of us lose our minds.
Wave Two: Those of us who consider ourselves rational, skeptical, level-headed fans will ridicule this first group. We’ll laugh at them for overreacting, we’ll copy-paste their dumbest typo-filled reactionary garbage tweets and hold them up as banner examples of how the public’s outrage is hilariously off-base. We’ll also respond with a litany of broad but true statistical counterarguments: The Pirates were the second-winningest team in baseball from 2013-2015 and made the playoffs three straight years; McCutchen was by no means an elite player last year, showing an alarming decline that might not be an aberration at age 30; in baseball, especially in a small market, GMs have to make "tough choices" that might not always be popular; and so on.
Overshadowed in all of this, however, will be the most important thing: Actual analysis of the Andrew McCutchen trade. Just like it was with the Neil Walker trade.
When Neil Walker was dealt, the predictable fan-outrage followed, but just as predictably, those of us who pride ourselves as being "above" furious knee-jerk reactions were quick to ridicule the ridiculers, usually by taking the dumbest arguments we saw -- "You can’t trade da Pittsburgh Kid!!!" -- and saying why they were obviously dumb -- "Who cares where he’s from, they have to make tough choices," etc.
Many of us who consider ourselves to be statistically-inclined, rational bloggers, or whatever dumb smug-sounding catch-all phrase you want to use, were so immediately horrified at the thought of looking like one of those "GRRR Huntington traded Mr. Pittsburgh!!! SALE THE TEAM!!!" automatons, that we immediately went against these arguments, both statistically ("If Niese can return to his 2014 form with Ray Searage…") or through sheer easy ridicule ("Check out this one guy calling Huntington a Win-Hating Computer Jagoff… uhhh, they just won 98 games, dummy!")
The result was that we all spent too much time arguing broad semantics to declare whether we were with Neal Huntington or against him, and way too little time discussing the obvious problems with the Walker trade, which were evident then and are painfully evident now. This isn’t the space to rehash the specifics of that trade (quick rehash: the specifics were bad!), but simply a reminder that we’re going to go through the same process again when McCutchen gets dealt, times a billion, so we might as well brace ourselves now.
We know we can’t stop the McCutchen-trade outrage; it’s going to happen no matter what the specific return turns out to be. We know most of the columns about the trade are going to be framed as epic "End of an era?" pieces, with questions about McCutchen’s legacy and comments from disillusioned fans whose jerseys became outdated overnight.
But what we can avoid, I hope, is this obligatory counter-outrage from those of us who always ridicule the pitchfork masses and automatically argue the opposite, as though 1) Disagreeing with the masses automatically means you’re smart and "above" emotion, and 2) An unpopular trade is automatically a "good" one.
Whenever the McCutchen deal goes down, we need to be able to discuss it objectively without feeling like every point we make declares what "side" we’re on. We need to stop wasting time creating and tearing down yinzer strawmen ("I thought they’d get Mike Trout -- SALE THE TEAM!!" ← This guy’s wrong!!!) and realize that it’s possible to criticize the front office without outing yourself as some secret pitchfork-wielder, or to defend aspects of the deal without being a "shill" for the team. (Side note: I’m totally a shill for the team -- Nutting is extremely cheap but suddenly spares no expense when it comes to bankrolling secret propaganda bloggers.)
In short, we know it’ll be an emotional discussion. Let’s just not make it only an emotional discussion.
Or maybe McCutchen just goes straight-up for Chris Sale and everybody’s happy. Yeah, probably that.