If you follow the Pittsburgh Penguins, you’d think generational talents are growing on trees. One or two come around every decade or so and lead your club to the promised land regularly. Since the Penguins drafted Mario Lemieux the club has had arguably the best player in the world on the roster almost continuously.
Sadly, that has not been the case for the Pirates. Even when they’ve been blessed with the top spot in the draft they have missed, Chad Hermansen anyone? Andrew McCutchen was close but still falls short of the ‘generational’ level I’m speaking to.
If you really want to be honest, they’ve had two since 1987, Barry Bonds and Gerrit Cole. Cole is still writing his story but its pretty clear he is on that track. It could be argued they have some claim to Jose Bautista but since they gave up on him and he experienced no success with the Bucs I’d leave him out of the running.
Having one of these players is no guarantee that a championship is on the way. Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Miguel Cabrerra, Clayton Kershaw, the list goes on and on, but it lends relevancy to your franchise. Having one of these players gives you benefits far beyond the output on the diamond. It gives you a face to point to, someone every fifth day that gives your fans a better than average chance at victory. It gives you a chance to see something special at the plate 3 or 4 times a night. Many times, it gives you an identity, someone who just by being who they are makes people sit up and take notice that your club plays this way.
Sometimes this comes down to luck, like in 2010 when the Pirates came off a terrible 2009 but finished second to worst to the Nationals who promptly selected Bryce Harper. The Pirates selected Jameson Taillon. Now, it could be argued that Bryce isn’t yet a generational talent, but his wallet would beg to differ. Taillon may very well be in his stratosphere if he could stay on the field.
Another instance of this occurred in 2009 when the Nationals (boy they had a tough end of the decade) selected number one overall Stephen Strasburg, the Pirates selected number 4 overall and gripped up power beer chugging Tony Sanchez. Passing on players such as, Mike Trout. That’s not entirely fair, 25 teams passed on Trout, but man that stings. In 2008 Pedro Alvarez was number 2 overall and Buster Posey was selected number 4.
Generational talent doesn’t just come in the first round, its just easier to identify early on. The Hall of Fame is loaded with later round selections, Wade Boggs, round 7, Andre Dawson, round 11, Albert Pujols, round 13, Ryne Sandberg, round 20, and possibly my favorite Mike Piazza, round 62.
The real key is keeping these players when you happen upon them. Mike Trout was a first-round selection so he surely came with expectations, but at 26, he can’t have been seen as the player he has become. Once identified though, you have to realize no matter what that does to your club, no matter how much you can actually put around him, keeping that player is an absolute must. The Angels may never win it all, but Trout and Anaheim are hand-in-hand, top-of-mind for the rest his time.
The Pirates last had this situation come up with Gerrit Cole and let’s face it, he wasn’t staying here if the Pirates offered him $400 Million for 8 years. He didn’t want to be here and bluntly put; the Pirates fouled the relationship early on by arguing nickels and dimes after his rookie campaign. Barry Bonds had expressed his wish to play in the city his godfather and father played so his exit too was written on the wall long before it arrived.
Andrew McCutchen has clearly faded since his MVP campaign for the Pirates but perhaps it would have been worth the fan equity to keep him in the fold for at least what could reasonably be considered the end of his career, like 2022. Even if he became a bench piece, he could provide leadership, a nice bat and glove, with the added bonus of community ambassador. I don’t believe Andrew is a “generational” player, but if you haven’t had many, sometimes you have to reach. Maybe Josh Bell is the next in that line, and maybe the Bucs should try to keep him. This could add to payroll, which will have a very healthy effect on the belief the fans have in the franchise and keep a young man who says and does all the right things in town while assaulting the riverwalk regularly.
The Pirates select 7 in the upcoming draft, and who knows who, if anyone will be a generational player in that crop, it sure would be nice to see the Buccos stumble, bumble, fall into or even, stay with me here, identify one right here, right now.
Follow Gary on Twitter: @garymo2007