The Pirates and center fielder Andrew McCutchen are not discussing a contract extension, and that doesn’t surprise the five-time All-Star, according to Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
“Who’s going to want to sign me for the (rest of) my career when I’ve had the year that I’ve had? No one is going to think that,” McCutchen told Biertempfel. “You know what they’re going to think? ‘Trade him. Get him out of here. He doesn’t deserve (an extension).’ People are going to say that.”
The normally excellent McCutchen has endured by far the worst season of his eight-year career, having accounted for less than 1.0 fWAR while taking sizable steps backward as a batter, baserunner and defender. The lifetime .292/.381/.487 hitter has slashed an underwhelming-in-comparison .255/.336/.430 in 670 plate appearances, though he has clubbed 20-plus home runs for the sixth straight year and experienced an offensive resurgence since August. As a runner, McCutchen has been caught stealing more than he has been successful, which is a first, as the 29-year-old has swiped a career-low six bags on 13 attempts. Moreover, his minus-2.2 BsR is also a personal worst. Defensively, McCutchen is easily the last-ranked center fielder in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved (minus-27), Ultimate Zone Rating (minus-17.6) and UZR/150 (minus-22.5).
If the low-payroll Pirates are going to keep McCutchen in the fold for the foreseeable future, he realizes he’ll have to put forth a better performance next season.
“I’ve got to prove — not to (fans), but to the team and to ownership — that I’m able to play out my career at a high level,” the 2013 National League MVP said. “I didn’t do that this year. I didn’t play at my best level. There are a lot of places I can improve, and I didn’t do that this year.”
Unless the Pirates trade McCutchen in the offseason, they won’t have to make any immediate decisions on his future. He’s under contract next season for $14MM and can stay in the fold in 2018 by way of a $14.5MM club option. While those are eminently reasonable figures, general manager Neal Huntington was noncommittal about McCutchen’s future on Sunday.
“It’s fair to say we’ll continue to explore how we get this club back into a postseason hunt,” said Huntington, whose team will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2012. “We love this core (of players), and we think we can supplement it. At the same time, if there is a significant move that gives us a better chance to get back to the postseason in 2017 and ideally ’18 and beyond, that’s something we’ll be open to.”
Productive corner outfielders Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, both of whom are on team-friendly deals, are surely part of the core Huntington mentioned. The same has been true of McCutchen, long the face of the franchise, but his future in Pittsburgh seems less certain than ever. Further clouding his long-term status is the presence of 21-year-old outfielder Austin Meadows, a top prospect who’s nearing the majors.