The Pirates recently turned down a “nice offer of prospects” — which hailed from a “mystery team” — for outfielder Andrew McCutchen, according to Jon Heyman of Fan Rag (via Twitter). While details are sparse, there is an important take-away: if they Bucs are to trade their long-time star, they’ll need players who are ready for the majors to do it.
It wasn’t long ago that a trade of McCutchen seemed rather likely, but things have changed quite a bit over the last week. In particular, several plausible suitors have filled their outfield vacancies by other means. As GM Neal Huntington acknowledged as the Winter Meetings drew to a close, a deal probably won’t occur — at least this winter.
Still, it’s interesting to note both that other teams are continuing to inquire about McCutchen and that the Pirates are holding to their position. It was at least worth wondering whether the Bucs would relent on their approach at some point, but the organization still seems inclined to avoid sacrificing too much present value in considering a move on a player who has long been the face of the franchise — despite the uncertainty in his outlook created by a sub-standard 2016 season.
Pittsburgh has recently sought to balance present and future needs in several transactions. The deadline deal for pending free agent Mark Melancon brought in a young MLB fireballer in Felipe Rivero. Sending Francisco Liriano’s contract to the Blue Jays came at the cost of prospect capital but left payroll flexibility. The David Freese extension kept a sturdy veteran in the fold at a palatable commitment, as did the new deal for catcher Francisco Cervelli.
That Freese swap is particularly interesting now given the ongoing uncertainty over third baseman Jung Ho Kang, who was recently arrested in his native Korea for an ugly DUI incident. It’s unclear at this point what kind of impact that may have on his availability for the coming season, but it elevates Freese’s importance and perhaps leaves some added need at the major league level. (Of course, the team can still deploy players such as Freese, John Jaso, and Josh Bell at the infield corners.) Perhaps, too, it will have some impact on the organization’s reported interest in considering deals for infielder Josh Harrison, who’d also be capable of playing third.
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While there are other options, the Bucs would presumably have some interest in adding to their infield mix in any deal involving McCutchen. In addition to the questions noted above, shortstop Jordy Mercer isn’t a top option at his position. There are a variety of names in the pipeline, but the organization hasn’t yet seen fit to rely on any at the major league level. An even greater priority, perhaps, would be adding to a youthful rotation mix that features a good deal of talent, but relatively little in the way of established, major league performers.
A variety of organizations could still make some sense as pursuers of McCutchen — the Dodgers, Blue Jays, Orioles, Indians, Mariners, and Giants all come to mind — but it’s not clear whether any would part with the kinds of pieces that would hold appeal to the Pirates. Of course, even if Pittsburgh holds McCutchen this winter, it could still weigh a deal at the 2017 trade deadline. If he has returned to form but the team isn’t firmly in contention, a prospect-focused swap could make greater sense — particularly if Pirates farmhand Austin Meadows has proven himself ready for his first look at the big leagues.