DEC. 2: Talks between the Nationals and Pirates have continued into the morning, tweets Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The Pirates have been breaking down video footage of Nationals prospects this morning, he adds. The Nats remained “in the lead” for McCutchen as of late last night, per MLB Network’s Jon Morosi (on Twitter), though Morosi notes that the Rangers have been in contact with the Pirates about McCutchen as well.
DEC. 1: The Nationals and Pirates have “ramped up” their negotiations on a possible deal involving star center fielder Andrew McCutchen, Jayson Stark of ESPN.com reports. There are indications that the Nats would like to wrap up an agreement today; it seems the club may well non-tender shortstop Danny Espinosa if it adds McCutchen.
The connection between McCutchen and Espinosa involves Trea Turner, who could play either center or short. If Washington adds a new option in the outfield, Turner would surely move to his accustomed shortstop position, and the Nats would apparently not be interested in retaining Espinosa at a projected $5.3MM salary. (He could, of course, be traded.)
We’ve heard some chatter about possible pieces involved between these clubs, which reportedly explored a deal over the summer but couldn’t quite reach an agreement. The Bucs are said to be eyeing top outfield prospect Victor Robles, but it remains unclear whether the Nationals have any willingness to part with him. Stark notes that young, MLB-level pitchers such as Joe Ross and Reynaldo Lopez would hold appeal to Pittsburgh as well, and both (along with several other possibilities) certainly could be in play.
The Nationals would presumably utilize McCutchen in center, where he has long played in Pittsburgh. There were newfound questions about his ability to stick there after metrics panned his work in 2016, though perhaps Washington would only need to commit to him in center for a single season. Still, McCutchen isn’t quite as appealing an asset in a corner position, particularly given the risk that he doesn’t bounce back after a .256/.336/.430 year at the plate.
McCutchen also isn’t particularly cheap. With $14MM coming to him next season and a $14.5MM option for 2018, he’s hardly expensive. And that’s a pittance if he can return to his former superstar form. Having just turned 30, McCutchen represents a reasonable risk for a high-spending contender like the Nationals, though just how much willingness the team has to part with major young assets to take that chance remains to be seen.