SUNDAY: The Pirates will indeed change their outfield alignment, manager Clint Hurdle announced Sunday. After primarily playing right field during his first three seasons, Polanco will head to left. McCutchen will cede center to Marte and take over in right.
“We believe this alignment will maximize our outfield production,” said Hurdle. “Our men were very professional and respectful of the team and each other throughout the process, and are selfless in helping us strengthen our team defensively.”
SATURDAY: It appears there will be a changing of the guard in the Pirates’ outfield this year. After spending most of his first four-plus seasons in left field, Starling Marte will shift to center in 2017, he told MLB Dominicana (Twitter link; h/t Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). If that happens, the longtime face of the franchise, five-time All-Star center fielder Andrew McCutchen, will join Gregory Polanco as the team’s starting corner outfielders.
Given the vastly different defensive results Marte and McCutchen have produced in recent seasons, it’s no surprise that the Pirates look poised to shake up their outfield alignment. Since debuting in 2012, Marte has accounted for the majors’ sixth-most Defensive Runs Saved (73) and recorded an impressive Ultimate Zone Rating of 31.4. McCutchen, on the other hand, has fallen off drastically in the grass and is coming off a year in which he finished last in the majors in DRS (minus-28) and second last in UZR (minus-18.7).
In addition to his defensive troubles, McCutchen posted the worst offensive output of his brilliant career in 2016 (a still-respectable .256/.336/.430 line with 24 home runs in 675 plate appearances) and has been the subject of trade rumors this offseason. While it looked as if the Pirates would move McCutchen at the Winter Meetings, no deal materialized and general manager Neal Huntington declared afterward that the team would go forward with the 2013 NL MVP on its roster. Of course, Huntington could still trade McCutchen sometime in the near future – the 30-year-old has two seasons, including a 2018 club option, and up to $28.5MM remaining on his contract. In the meantime, he could become a corner outfielder after lining up exclusively in center during his first eight seasons.
The 28-year-old Marte – unlike McCutchen, perhaps – is in line to serve as a Bucs cornerstone for the foreseeable future. Marte, who’s fresh off his fourth straight full season of easily above-average production, is controllable through the 2021 campaign at an affordable $46.5MM. Now, as part of an effort to ameliorate a Pittsburgh defense that was among the majors’ poorest during a 78-win 2016, Marte seems likely to go forward at the outfield’s most important position.