3:22pm: Pittsburgh is “actively shopping” McCutchen and “pursuing specific teams” it believes match up, per Stephen Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. In addition to the Nats and Rangers, the Pirates have spoken with the Mariners about a deal, per the report.
The Bucs “are looking primarily for prospects” in return for their long-time star. In the meantime, the team is also checking in with other teams on possible outfield trade targets, per Nesbitt’s colleague Bill Brink (via Twitter).
1:06pm: Andrew McCutchen’s name has been in the rumor circuit quite a bit this winter, and Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that “of all the big names available in trade, McCutchen might be the most likely to go.” Similarly, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan reports that the odds of McCutchen returning to the Pirates in 2017 are “dwindling,” adding that the Bucs don’t have an ownership mandate to move McCutchen but nonetheless appear intent on doing so (Twitter links).
Pittsburgh is continuing to explore trade scenarios involving McCutchen, Rosenthal writes, and the Nationals remain interested after being unable to work out a deal to acquire McCutchen this past July. The Rangers, according to Rosenthal’s column, are another potential landing spot. Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News expounds on numerous reasons that the Rangers profile as a poor fit for McCutchen — they’d like better defense in center, can’t part with an MLB asset like Rougned Odor or Nomar Mazara and lack the upper-level pitching talent the Bucs may covet — though the Pirates are also chatting with other clubs, Rosenthal notes.
McCutchen’s 2016 performance fell considerably shy of his sky-high standards on both sides of the ball, as he batted a pedestrian .256/.336/.430 and posted a -28 rating in Defensive Runs Saved and -18.7 in Ultimate Zone Rating. While the Pirates reportedly feel that McCutchen was positioned too shallow in 2016, thus accounting for some of the defensive downturn, Grant points out that both DRS and UZR have been down on the former NL MVP’s glovework for the past three seasons. Complicating matters for the Pirates, Rosenthal continues, is the fact that McCutchen has both publicly and privately expressed that he doesn’t want to move off of his natural position. The 30-year-old told MLB.com’s Adam Berry at season’s end that he “[doesn’t] see [himself] needing to move.”
McCutchen is entering the final guaranteed year of a six-year, $51.5MM contract extension that he signed prior to the 2012 season and is owed a $14MM salary next year. His contract also contains a $14.5MM club option that comes with a reasonable $1MM buyout. From that vantage point, McCutchen is eminently affordable (from a financial perspective) for nearly any team in Major League Baseball. For a player that batted .313/.404/.523 while averaging 25 homers and 19 steals per season from 2013-15, that’s certainly an appealing price tag, even if he’s coming off a down season.
The problem, however, is that it might be difficult to coerce teams into trading top-tier talent in exchange for the right to buy low on a once-MVP-caliber player. If there’s a concern among any interested team that McCutchen’s 2016 season was the beginning of a genuine decline at the plate and they feel he also needs to move to a corner spot, then parting with top-ranked minor league talent is a tall order. And that does seem to be the Pirates’ intent, as Rosenthal reported earlier this month that the Pirates asked the Nationals for outfield prospect Victor Robles — one of the top 25 prospects in all of baseball — in their July talks regarding McCutchen. That’s exactly who Pittsburgh is currently targeting, Rosenthal reports (Twitter links), with the team also seeking additional pieces (possibly including an upper-level pitching prospect) in a package.
If the Pirates do find a trade partner for McCutchen, it’d free them to move Starling Marte to center field, thereby upgrading the team’s defense. That’d create a hole in left field, but the Bucs could of course pursue an affordable stopgap to top prospect Austin Meadows, who could be ready to break into the Majors next summer. There’s no shortage of teams looking for help in the outfield, as the Orioles, Blue Jays, Giants, Dodgers, Phillies and Mariners are among the teams that could theoretically use an upgrade (in addition to the aforementioned Nationals and Rangers). Moving to acquire a player that might not be keen on shifting to a corner spot (where some of those teams would have to play him), though, just adds another layer of complexity in addition to agreeing on a price point for a player on whom the Pirates certainly would like to avoid selling low.