Heading into the season, it's a question that seemed unfathomable. If someone even dared to ask me, I'd have laughed in his or her face and asked when they decided to start following baseball -- with the implication that it was just a week or so ago.

The question:

Should the Pirates trade Andrew McCutchen?

Let's not trek forward without actually acknowledging what Andrew McCutchen is to the Pirates. When he arrived on the scene, he was joining a major-league franchise that was in the midst of an unparalleled stretch of futility. Not just Major League Baseball. For all of professional sports. Once the 2012 season ended, the Pirates had come just three wins short of their first winning record since 1992.

At the time, McCutchen was a two-time All-Star who just finished third in NL MVP voting and had just completed his first year of an extremely club-friendly six-year, $51.5 million extension.

The next season, the streak ended. The Pirates busted through, leaving no doubt by winning 94 games. Then they won the Wild Card Game and pushed the defending champion Cardinals to the brink in an outstanding five-game NLDS. McCutchen won the NL MVP. It was the first time a Pirates player had done so since a man named Barry Bonds did it.

Through last season, the Pirates had three straight playoff appearances and McCutchen had finished in the top five of NL MVP voting for four straight seasons. He was cementing himself as a legitimate member of Pirates history -- a vast history, mind you. Just look at the Pirates who have won MVP: Paul Waner, Dick Groat, Roberto Clemente, Dave Parker, Willie Stargell, Barry Bonds and Andrew McCutchen.

So, yes, it would have been laughably stupid to even consider him as a trade candidate even a few weeks ago.

Should the Pirates consider trading Andrew McCutchen? USATSI

And yet, when I was on a radio appearance on Thursday afternoon, I was asked about the Pirates trading McCutchen (shout-out, Trent!), I was taken aback initially, until about a million thoughts (note: That's an exaggeration, people; we all know my brain is too small for a literal million) were flowing through my head. The more I made my way through my answer, the more I realized it's not that outlandish.

In fact, enough people have thought about the Pirates dealing McCutchen that general manager Neal Huntington was asked about it by ESPN reporter Jerry Crasnick. The response?

"We're aware of the narrative, but it's not on our radar," Huntington said.

That radar could change come Aug. 1 (the MLB trade deadline this season), especially if the Pirates' downward spiral continues. Since May 27, the Pirates have gone 6-20 and are now five games under .500 at 34-39.

Let's run down the pros and cons of a trade.

Pros of trading McCutchen

1. He's having a bad year.

Cutch is now hitting .237/.314/.399 on the season, which is quite the departure from .313/.404/.523, his combined line from 2012-15. If there was any time to trade away a "face of the franchise" without totally infuriating the entire fan base, now would be the time.

2. He's not under contract too much longer.

McCutchen's deal only runs through the 2017 season. There is a club option for 2018, sure, but -- though I don't think this will happen -- what if McCutchen keeps playing like this through next season? Then the Pirates couldn't justify picking up the $14.75 million option for 2018.

3. The corner outfielders are studs and locked up for a while.

Starling Marte is 27 years old and on a six-year, $31 million deal through 2019 with club options that run through 2021. He's hitting .328/.370/.494 with 18 doubles, three triples, six homers and 20 steals this year in addition to excellent defense (that throwing arm!).

Gregory Polanco is 24 years old and hitting .297/.377/.517 with 23 doubles, two triples, 10 homers and nine steals. Prior to this season, the Pirates locked him up with a five-year, $35 million deal that includes club options through the 2023 season.

Polanco and Marte are both great and under club control for a while. USATSI

So from the front office PR perspective, if you have to sell your fans on trading McCutchen, you can sell them on Polanco/Marte being the new faces. They fit the bill and won't be going anywhere for a long time.

4. There's a center fielder in the system that isn't far off.

Austin Meadows is a 21-year-old center fielder who was the Pirates' first-rounder in 2013. Baseball America ranked him as baseball's 22nd-best prospect prior to this season. After hitting .311/.365/.611 with 16 doubles, eight triples, six homers and nine steals in 45 games for Double-A Altoona, Meadows was promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis last week.

He's not ready to step into a contender's lineup right now, but if the Pirates decided to trade McCutchen, it would be under the assumption that the 2016 season was over anyway. Meadows could conceivably help in 2017 and beyond.

Cons of trading McCutchen

1. Everything I said in the intro.

McCutchen is these Pirates. He is the face of the franchise, and trading him away would mean casual fans in the area -- who just finished watching the Penguins bring home a Stanley Cup -- would immediately assume the team was reverting back to the pre-Cutch days of throwing in the towel. There's a strong argument to be made that this would just look really bad, even with the above justifications.

2. He's having a bad year.

How can this be both a pro and con? The pro side was legit in terms of spinning the move to fans. On the con side, it's possible McCutchen's value on the trade market isn't where it should be for a superstar of his pedigree, especially at age 29.

If you're going to trade a guy with his resume at his age, you need to get back a veritable king's ransom -- especially a package involving players who can help immediately. Are the Pirates going to get that back during a career-worst McCutchen year when he's only signed through 2017? Maybe. Maybe not, though.

3. The Pirates still aren't that far out of the wild card race yet.

They entered Thursday five games out of the second wild card spot. That's far from ideal, but just two years ago we saw the Royals sitting 4 1/2 games out of the second wild card at 48-50 on July 21 and they ended up in Game 7 of the World Series.

Teams can get hot and if McCutchen returns to form -- which is a distinct possibility -- it would provide a huge boost to the Pirates. They have enough talent to make a run, this awful stretch of baseball notwithstanding. If they get into the Wild Card Game again, you never know what happens.

Trading McCutchen seems to throw in the towel in a big way. As alluded to in the intro, though, this discussion mostly assumes that the Pirates would be something like 10 games out of a spot in late July.

4. McCutchen is still likely to have a better 2017 than Meadows.

Look, the Pirates aren't going into rebuilding mode. There's too much good, young talent in house to justify it. As such, any move should be made with the intention of being better for the 2017 season. Trading McCutchen and putting Meadows in center for 2017 poses the problem that it's very likely McCutchen is the overall better player in that specific season.

Could Austin Meadows be the Pirates' starting center fielder in 2017? USATSI

What if the Pirates are again a playoff contender in 2017 and there's a hole in center because Meadows isn't yet ready for the prime time? That would be a very tough pill to swallow.

And this is why I ultimately don't think the Pirates do it. They aren't rebuilding, so in looking at 2017, McCutchen has to be part of the offensive nucleus. His age says he shouldn't be past his prime just yet and that this is likely just a down year (so far).

Still, it's at least fun to discuss because it's gotten to the point that it isn't absurd to discuss. So discuss away. Discuss, I tell you!