The Pirates reportedly spent the bulk of the Winter Meetings fielding offers on center fielder Andrew McCutchen, but GM Neal Huntington said at the end of yesterday’s Winter Meetings that it’s now unlikely that McCutchen is moved this winter, as MLB.com’s Adam Berry writes.
“Our intent coming in here was to have Andrew McCutchen in our lineup going forward,” Huntington explained. “No one changed that. It’s unlikely that someone changes that going forward. We’re not going to close the door, but we’re not going to be making calls.”
That’s not a definitive statement that McCutchen will be in Pittsburgh’s Opening Day lineup come April, but it certainly casts further doubt on the possibility of a McCutchen trade. The larger question surrounding the former NL MVP may now focus on where he’ll play in 2017, as there have been multiple suggestions that the Pirates prefer to play Starling Marte in center field while moving McCutchen to a corner slot.
Both the Nationals and Rangers were linked to McCutchen over the past week, with Washington in particular reported to be in heavy pursuit. The Nats, though, shifted course and opted to secure a younger, more controllable piece — and one that enjoyed a markedly better 2016 season — in picking up Adam Eaton from the White Sox. Texas, meanwhile, re-signed Carlos Gomez to a one-year deal (though the team could still fit McCutchen into the lineup, from my vantage point). Huntington acknowledged that he did speak to other teams about McCutchen, but the GM also labeled his asking price as “significant,” Berry writes.
The decision to hang onto McCutchen may well prove to be shrewd. He’s still controlled for another two seasons by way of a $14MM guarantee in 2017 and a $14.75MM club option for the 2018 season. McCutchen’s .256/.336/.430 batting line represented the worst full offensive output of his exceptional career, and he turned in the highest strikeout rate and lowest walk rate he’s posted as a Major Leaguer. Questions about his defensive performance have been chronicled at length. That made it difficult for the Bucs to secure the premium return they sought for the longtime face of the franchise, but a rebound in 2017 could allow the Bucs to land such a return if McCutchen is marketed either next July or next offseason, depending on the team’s performance next year.
Huntington admitted that he listened to offers on multiple players with one and two years of team control remaining, which is an unfortunate but often necessary course of action for small-market clubs like the Pirates. As such, it’s certainly plausible to expect that the Bucs could yet make a deal later this winter, even if McCutchen isn’t the player that is shipped out. Tony Watson’s name came up in rumors this past week, for instance, and others fitting that description on the Pittsburgh roster include Juan Nicasio, John Jaso, Jordy Mercer, Jared Hughes and Antonio Bastardo (as can be seen over at Roster Resource). Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported earlier this week that the Pirates were willing to pay a portion of Bastardo’s $6.25MM guarantee in 2017 in order to facilitate a trade.