Pirates general manager Neal Huntington put both right fielder Andrew McCutchen and infielder Josh Harrison on the block earlier this offseason, though he wasn’t able to find a palatable deal for either. With spring training approaching, Huntington remains willing to trade either player, reports Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
After he couldn’t secure a taker for McCutchen at the Winter Meetings in December, Huntington declared that the five-time All-Star would likely continue in Pittsburgh. The Pirates have since decided to shift the longtime center fielder to right, where he’ll attempt to bounce back from a highly disappointing 2016 in which his production declined in the field, at the plate and on the base paths. McCutchen was his typical durable self, having eclipsed the 150-game plateau for the sixth time in seven full seasons, but he logged a career-low fWAR (0.7) across 675 plate appearances. That mostly came on account of mixing a slightly above-average batting line (.256/.336/.430) with a major league-worst minus-28 Defensive Runs Saved.
Despite his stunning drop-off last season, McCutchen still comes with a relatively appealing contract. The 2013 NL MVP has two years and $28.5MM left on his deal, including a $14.5MM club option for 2018. However, the 30-year-old has highly rated outfield prospect Austin Meadows pushing for a spot behind him in Pittsburgh. Baseball America, ESPN’s Keith Law and MLB.com all regard the 21-year-old Meadows as one of the game’s 10 best prospects, and it stands to reason he’s not going to knock either of McCutchen’s fellow starting outfielders, Starling Marte or Gregory Polanco, out of the organization. Marte and Polanco, after all, are younger than McCutchen and under team control at eminently affordable prices through 2021 and 2023, respectively.
Harrison, meanwhile, is controllable for up to four more seasons – including two club options – at a maximum of $39.5MM. Like McCutchen, Harrison endured a rough 2016; unlike McCutchen, though, Harrison doesn’t carry a star-caliber track record, which has surely made it that much more difficult for Huntington to find a quality return for him. Since he earned his lone All-Star nod in 2014 and then inked an extension the next spring, Harrison has slashed a mediocre .285/.318/.389 over 971 trips to the plate. Harrison, to his credit, put up a career-high 19 steals and registered a plus DRS (eight) in 1,077 innings at second base in 2016. Nevertheless, thanks largely to a subpar .283/.311/.388 batting line in 522 PAs, he accounted for a below-average 1.5 fWAR.
Huntington tried in November to jettison Harrison in order to re-sign then-free agent Sean Rodriguez, and failing to do so led Rodriguez to join the Braves. Now, barring a late-winter deal, the 30-year-old Harrison will start 2017 at the keystone in Pittsburgh. It seems an ideal scenario for the club would include dealing him and opening up an everyday job for utilityman Adam Frazier. The 25-year-old impressed as a rookie last season, as he hit .301/.356/.411 in 160 PAs and totaled double-digit appearances at second, left field and right field, and Huntington took notice.
“We believe [Frazier] will evolve into a very versatile defensive player who can swing the bat,” Huntington told Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last month. “We also see a role in which he progresses into a regular, where he takes a position, grabs hold and never let’s go. It’s just we have somebody in front of him right now in some places. His opportunity is going to be to bounce around the field and do what he does well.”
Elsewhere on Pittsburgh’s roster, if Rule 5 pick Tyler Webb makes the team, it could could lead Huntington to trade either Tony Watson or Antonio Bastardo, writes Biertempfel. Webb, Watson, Bastardo and Felipe Rivero would give the Pirates four left-handed relievers. While both Watson and Bastardo have come up in trade rumors this offseason, the former would clearly warrant a greater return. Watson last year wasn’t as effective as he had been from 2013-15, as his 4.37 FIP paled in comparison to the combined 2.92 figure he recorded over the previous three years. On the plus side, the former setup man and current closer did exceed the 65-inning mark for the fourth straight season and post a 3.06 ERA. He’s also set to rake in an a reasonable salary in the $6MM neighborhood in 2017, which is his final season of team control. Bastardo is entering a contract year, too, but the Pirates’ reported willingness to eat some of the $6.5MM he’s owed hasn’t paved the way for a trade.