The Mariners asked the Pirates about center fielder Andrew McCutchen earlier this offseason, MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reports (Twitter link), though talks between the two sides “did not advance.” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said after the GM Meetings that he had been receiving calls from multiple teams about McCutchen’s services, and given Seattle’s rather unsettled outfield situation, it isn’t surprising that the Mariners checked in on the former NL MVP. A couple of weeks ago, Ken Rosenthal reported that the Nationals discussed a McCutchen deal with Pittsburgh over the summer.
On most days, the Mariners will use three left-handed hitters (Seth Smith, Leonys Martin and Ben Gamel) as their starting outfield, with right-handed bats Danny Valencia, Guillermo Heredia or regular DH Nelson Cruz spelling Smith against left-handed pitching. Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto has said that the club intends for Gamel to play every day, though given Gamel’s lack of experience, one would think the M’s would also want some right-handed protection for Gamel against tough southpaws. Then again, with Valencia also likely to see time at first base spelling Dan Vogelbach against lefty pitching, there may not be enough right-handed outfield bats to go around.
Adding another right-handed hitter (like McCutchen) would go a lot way towards stabilizing the many moving parts of this platoon situation. McCutchen would have immediately become the everyday option in left or right field, as given how the former Gold Glover’s defense has heavily declined over the last three years, it would’ve made little sense for him to displace Martin in center.
The big question facing the M’s or any other team interested in McCutchen, of course, is whether his rough 2016 season was the start of a decline or just an aberration. McCutchen hit just .256/.336/.430 over 675 PA for the Bucs last season, easily the worst numbers of his eight-year career. Between his poor hitting, fielding and even a below-average baserunning totals, McCutchen posted just 0.7 fWAR last year, a stunning dropoff for a player who amassed 33.3 fWAR over the previous five seasons.
McCutchen is owed $14MM in 2017 and the Pirates have a $14.5MM club option on the outfielder for 2018 (with a $1MM buyout). McCutchen’s contract has long been seen as one of baseball’s great bargains, though if the Pirates no longer know what kind of production their longtime star will deliver from now on, the deal may now be considered too risky for a small-market team like Pittsburgh. With top prospect Austin Meadows waiting in the wings, one has to wonder if we’ve seen the last of McCutchen in Bucs black-and-gold, as teams with more financial breathing room can afford to see if McCutchen can return to form.