This past weekend marked the return of popular former Pirates superstar center fielder Andrew McCutchen, who came back to PNC Park as a member of the San Francisco Giants.
Attendance for Cutch’s return was the best it’s been all season for the Pirates, which was rather ironic, considering the offseason trade that sent him to San Francisco was seen as the biggest reason for the steep decline in fans turning out at PNC Park to cheer on the local baseball team.
Fans don’t trust team ownership, specifically majority owner Bob Nutting, who is seen as a guy more concerned with the bottom line than he is with winning.
McCutchen was slated to make about $14 million in 2018, the last year of a rather team-friendly deal he signed in 2012, and it’s hard to argue with the perception that the move was nothing more than a salary dump.
But at least McCutchen was in the final year of his deal, and hey, with the huge disparity between large market and small market teams in Major League Baseball, you can kind of see why franchises like the Pirates must operate the way they do--even in the face of such harsh criticism.
Yeah, but the trade of ace pitcher Gerrit Cole, who still had two years left before free agency and certainly wasn’t making huge money (at least by ace pitcher standards), that was another offseason move that, well, didn’t exactly endear the Pirates to their fans.
With those moves, the Pirates freed up roughly $20 million, which may have been the springboard for acquiring outfielder Corey Dickerson in an offseason trade with the Tampa Rays.
Dickerson, 28, is three years younger than McCutchen and will make a third of his salary in 2018.
Furthermore, with 44 hits, 27 RBI, five home runs and a .321 batting average, Dickerson is out-performing the popular Cutch, who has 34 hits, 14 RBI, three home runs and a .254 batting average (all stats are as of this writing, of course).
Still, though, Pirates fans remain disgruntled, and, again with the exception of the Cutch weekend reunion, attendance is way down at PNC Park.
What makes things even more interesting is that the Pirates are actually winning games, this despite the loss of the face of their franchise along with their ace pitcher.
Through the first 40 games, the Pirates are in a heated battle for first place in the National League Central Division, a start that should make the fans excited about summer baseball.
Yet, they’re not.
In this, the era of the sports boycott, the apathy towards the 2018 Pirates is seen as a huge message to Bob Nutting: “You’re cheap, and you’ll rue the day you got rid of our superstar!”
This brings us to the Steelers (I know, a rather late part of an article to talk about football on a football site).
As you probably know if you’re one of them, a lot of fans despise superstar running back Le’Veon Bell, who has spent the past two offseasons refusing to budge from his negotiating stance that he deserves a salary that will pay him upwards of around $15 million annually.
Bell is not only a superstar running back, he’s considered by many to be the best running back in the NFL, and certainly one of the league’s most dangerous weapons.
As it pertains to the Steelers, while many love to cite periods where Pittsburgh’s offense functioned just fine in Bell’s absence, there is no question that offense is designed mostly around him and his dual-threat abilities.
What fan wouldn’t want a superstar of Bell’s caliber on his or her team?
Again, a lot of Steelers fan, that’s who.
The Internet being what it is, Bell has been called everything from selfish to “trash” by many Steelers fans who would like nothing more than to see him crash and burn.
Many people think it would be a wise move to free up the $14.5 million the Steelers locked up by placing the franchise tag on Bell this spring. With that freed up money, Pittsburgh could allocate its resources to address other more dire needs on the defensive side of the ball--Keith Butler’s unit clearly wasn’t the same down the stretch of 2017 season, following the unfortunate spinal injury to superstar (and everything) inside linebacker Ryan Shazier.
Isn’t that almost precisely what the Pirates did?
By freeing up roughly $18 million with the McCutchen and Cole trades (the team has agreed to pay $2.5 million of Cutch's 2018 salary), the Pirates were able to bring in Dickerson.
They were also able to hang on to popular second baseman Josh Harrison, who is scheduled to make $10 million this season.
Essentially, the Pirates made their outfield more productive, while keeping their infield intact (no way would Harrison still be a Pirate if Cutch remained on the roster).
The real funny part is, by signing inside linebacker Jon Bostic and strong safety Morgan Burnett to free agent deals, the Steelers basically did what the fans wanted them to do--allocate money to help an ailing defense.
And they did this while also keeping their superstar running back in the fold.
If you’re a Steelers fan, you still have the superstar, and his contract demands apparently didn’t hinder the team from getting better.
If you’re a Pirates fan, you lost a superstar along with a really good pitcher, but the team seems to be much stronger, overall, than it was a year ago.
Yet, Steelers fans want Bell to leave, while Pirates fans want McCutchen to return.
It just doesn’t make any sense.
I guess to your average sports fan, winning is all that matters.....unless it isn’t.