The Rangers have reached out to the Pirates about a potential Andrew McCutchen trade, tweets Jon Morosi of MLB.com, but the Bucs aren’t open to such scenarios at this time. As Morosi observes, the Rangers have a deep lineup but have received poor production from the designated hitter spot in the order. The veteran McCutchen, hitting .271/.394/.431 with nine homers and nine steals on the season, would clearly represent a boost.
That said, there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of a potential McCutchen trade coming together. Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote at the time of McCutchen’s reunion in with the Pirates that the franchise icon returned to Pittsburgh with the intent of finishing out his career there; the Pirates didn’t make the signing with the intent of flipping him at the deadline, and Mackey reported in January that the two parties even discussed McCutchen’s desire to stay put in Pittsburgh while negotiating the deal. McCutchen told Mackey exactly one month ago that he wants to win in Pittsburgh and is not interest in playing elsewhere. “I don’t want to continue my career on another team,” McCutchen said on May 26.
It’s certainly possible that if the Pirates are buried in the standings as the deadline looms, McCutchen could have a change of heart and inform the front office he’d like to be moved to a contender. That seems unlikely based on his recent comments, however. And, even after their recent freefall, the Pirates are only five and a half games back in a dismal NL Central division.
That relative proximity to contending in the division matters, too. It was barely more than a week ago that Pirates president Travis Williams publicly indicated that the team’s hope was to return to the postseason as soon as this year. If the Bucs find themselves with a shot at doing so in the run-up to the trade deadline, Williams noted that GM Ben Cherington would have ownership support to add pieces, even if it meant further boosting the payroll. The Pirates weren’t quite so far into their staggering 1-12 swoon at that point, but again, the feeble context of their division could yet leave them with a realistic chance at a playoff berth — particularly with more than a month until the deadline.
All of that context notwithstanding, it’s at least of some note that the Rangers are perusing the market for potential upgrades. Interest in McCutchen is only logical for them. He’s an accomplished veteran hitter who’s well liked and who has played under current skipper Bruce Bochy. It stands to reason that Bochy enjoyed having McCutchen in the lineup and in the clubhouse during the outfielder’s brief time with the Giants.
Further, as Morosi rightly points out, the Rangers simply haven’t gotten much out of the DH spot in the lineup this year. Texas designated hitters are batting .223/.313/.377 on the season. The resulting 94 wRC+ ranks 19th in the Majors. That production (or lack thereof) has come from a combination of 10 players. Robbie Grossman leads the Rangers with 88 plate appearances as their DH, and he’s hit extremely well in that time. Grossman, though, is also seeing regular time in the outfield. The Rangers have cycled him, Brad Miller, Mitch Garver, Ezequiel Duran, Corey Seager, Jonah Heim, Adolis Garcia, Josh H. Smith and Sam Huff through the DH spot this year, ostensibly using it more as a means of affording occasional rest to regulars rather than dedicating one slugger to the position.
Acquiring any other full-time DH would mark a departure from that strategy. McCutchen is just one of several options to fill that role — seemingly not even a likely one — and since it’s the DH spot in question, the position of a potential trade target could be largely immaterial.
Broadly speaking, it’s still early in the summer for trades of significance to come together. Modern front offices tend to wait until the final few days before the deadline to act with much aggression, and the expansion of the playoff field seems like it’ll only further fuel that trait. Only three teams in baseball currently find themselves facing a deficit of nine games or greater in the postseason hunt: the Royals, A’s and Rockies. And while those teams surely know the direction they’ll take at the deadline, even they might prefer to wait and see if there are more motivated buyers at the deadline. Many teams — the Pirates included — are currently on the fence about their deadline trajectory but might be more willing to part with young talent closer to Aug. 1.