MLBTR’s Charlie Wilmoth just broke down the Pirates’ upcoming offseason, labeling as the team’s “key topic” the question whether to seriously entertain trade talks on long-time star center fielder Andrew McCutchen. It’s a tough call for a team that disappointed in 2016 but still hopes to contend next year. While an answer is obviously dependent in no small part upon the level of demand on the market, it seems worth posing now to the MLBTR readership.
As Charlie explained, McCutchen’s middling season did end well, with a .284/.381/.471 batting line from the start of August. And while he’s no longer particularly youthful, he’ll only be entering his age-30 season with a track record as one of the game’s most productive all-around players.
Even if teams buy into the idea that Cutch’s true talent level at the plate remains rather high, despite his rough results for most of the year, the question remains what they’ll think of his glovework in center. Metrics have never loved him up the middle, but took a particularly dim view of his work in 2016. McCutchen graded out at -22.5 runs per UZR and racked up -28 Defensive Runs Saved. Both were league-low marks among qualifying players.
Beyond the on-field matters, McCutchen is a unique player. He has been the face of the franchise as it has emerged from a long period of misery, and remains affordable despite his long run of excellence. His extension calls for a $14MM salary next year and includes a $14.5MM club option ($1MM buyout) for 2018. And it’s obviously a relative low point at which to deal.
On the other hand, Pittsburgh has several needs and already signaled some payroll concerns in giving up prospects to move the remaining contract of Francisco Liriano at the deadline. With other holes to plug, as Charlie documents in the above-linked piece, there’s an argument to be made that now’s the time to re-allocate the salary while getting some assets back. Plus, the club has center field options on hand in Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco along with an outfield replacement available in highly-rated youngster Austin Meadows — though a .214/.297/.460 batting line over his first 147 Triple-A plate appearances suggests there’s some polishing left.
There’s a lot to ponder here, and the Bucs have some time to think about it while getting a read on the market. But as things stand, what do you think Pittsburgh ought to do?