We gathered the finest baseball minds…or at least the ones that write about baseball for TPOP…and had an e-roundtable on Andrew McCutchen, franchise cornerstone and lightning rod of criticism. There’s been a lot of discussion and hand-wringing about McCutchen’s future with the Pirates and it has been a complete 180 from the discussion this time last year when most of the fanbase were readying the torches to protest “Nutting Is Cheap” if Andrew McCutchen wasn’t signed to an extension. After a dismal 2016 season, from both McCutchen and the team, the same fanbase is helping to pack his bags and sell the team.
So we shot some questions around the emailwebs. Here’s what we came up with.
WILL ANDREW McCUTCHEN BE TRADED?
MIKE BRADLEY: Not this season. Fangraphs and other prognosticators like Keith Law, not local hacks that lump him in with Liriano, think he’ll return to being a 5 WAR, All-Star-caliber player. For me, Andrew McCutchen is a Roberto Clemente/Troy Polamalu type of special person. He’s different than Neil Walker or A.J. Burnett in that he’s a revered African-American in a predominantly white Pittsburgh and white industry of baseball.
ALEX STUMPF: No trade in 2017. Maybe in 2018, but not this year. Austin Meadows is the logical successor, but he struggled a little in AAA, hitting only .214 and striking out in 23.4% of his PA. Expecting him to be major league ready before the second half of the season is being too optimistic. I think he’ll make his big league debut in September. If McCutchen were traded, the Pirates could shift Bell into right for the year, but that leaves you with a Freese/Jaso platoon (Platoon-ish. It would probably be Freese’s job) at first. You also stunt Bell’s growth as a defender and he needs as many reps as possible.
The only way I could see the Pirates trading McCutchen is if teams value him as he was in 2012-2015 and the Bucs get quality major league pitching. The White Sox are threatening to blow the whole team up, but if they decided to retool, they need outfielders and have two very desired starters (Sale and Quintana) at their disposal. McCutchen and a prospect or two for one of them could be a great deal. The Nationals may also being a good fit.
STEVE DIMICELI: In all likelihood, the Pirates trade return for him would be one average, slightly more controllable player and a solid but not spectacular prospect. The Pirates are better off rolling the dice on him than adding to their stockpile. I hope the front office understands this and I think Cutch stays put unless the return is considerably higher than his likely market.
KURT HACKIMER: I’ll go out on a limb: Cutch will be traded. If not this offseason, then by the deadline in 2017. The Pirates will look to take advantage of a weak free agent market to unload their most expensive player. Teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, and Washington Nationals who have solid farm systems, ample financial flexibility, and holes in their respective outfields will jump at the chance to acquire McCutchen and one of them will give the retooling Pirates an offer they can’t refuse.
KEVIN CREAGH: I’m going with a blend of Alex and Steve’s responses — the Pirates would be selling low on an asset, which is something they’re loathe to do. Additionally, Austin Meadows is not ready to jump right into the mix as some people think. I have little faith in Josh Bell wearing any sort of fielding glove on his hand and think it will be a constant series of misadventures in RF. They’ll rebuild his value in 2017, pick up his club option for 2018 and then trade him in 2017’s offseason this time next year.
WHAT POSITION WILL McCUTCHEN BE PLAYING ON OPENING DAY 2017?
ALEX: His bat may have rebounded in the final two months, but his defense was still a concern. I’d shift him to a corner.
STEVE: In a weaker defensive outfield, I could see Cutch sticking in center but seriously, what would be the point? I’d flip flop he and Marte and keep Polanco and his big arm in right.
KURT: If he stays with the Pirates, which I hope he does, he won’t be playing center field anymore. McCutchen probably makes more sense as a left fielder because a shift to right field would exploit his weak throwing arm, but the Pirates might be concerned about his range in PNC Park’s expansive left field. I still think he fits better in left, so I’ll stick with that answer.
KEVIN: Yeah, I’d put him in left field also. Teams would run rampant on him from first to third on balls to the gaps. His below-average arm would only hurt on plays at the plate, which fans have been accustomed to seeing Marte nail, but it would be better than the more frequent 1st-3rd plays.
FORECAST HIS STAT LINE FOR 2017
MIKE: Put me down for .280 AVG/.400 OBP/.450 SLG, 25 HR/15 SB
ALEX: I’ll say — .287 AVG/.394 OBP/.502 SLG, 23 homers, 82 RBI, 96 runs. Defensive Runs Saved (DRS): -23 in center or -7 in right/left. Worth 5.7 fWAR.
STEVE: I think Cutch rebounds, but not all the way. .280 AVG/ .375 OBP/ .450 SLG. This should put him in the neighborhood of 3.5 – 4.0 WAR they got from Marte.
KURT: I’m still optimistic that the real McCutchen is the one who hit .284/.381/.471 through the last two months of the season and I’ll set that as my expectation for next year.
KEVIN: The MVP-caliber days are probably over, but there is still a ton of value in a “normal” year from McCutchen. I’ll say .290 AVG/.390 OBP/.480 SLG with 24 HR/12 SB and much improved defensive marks in LF contributing to a rebound year of 5 WAR.
ANY PARTING THOUGHTS ON McCUTCHEN?
MIKE: He could still could make the Hall of Fame. Good comps for his career are Chipper Jones, Andre Dawson, Tim Raines, Vernon Wells and Carlos Beltran. No one is talking possible buying low on him, via a team-friendly extension, which would be a total Huntington move. That should be at least a discussion point. If you could get Tim Raines’s age-32-36 year old seasons cheap, you do it. Ironically, Raines had a hiccup at 31.
ALEX: McCutchen may have had the worst season of his career, but he had a good final two months. In his last 50 games of 2016, he slashed .289/.374/.495, which is right in line with his career numbers (.292/.381/.487). The Pirates are a better team in 2017 with McCutchen. If he played like he did in 2012-2015 last year, the Pirates may have been a wild card team. They should be competitive next year, but trading him for prospects probably makes 2017 another “bridge year.”
STEVE: I’m never really for selling low on a player especially a player who has been the face of your franchise during your best run in years. The Pirates had plenty of productive depth last season, but not nearly enough star power. McCutchen may not rebound in 2017, but he’s one of only a handful of players on this team who could provide that boost.
KURT: It’s probable that McCutchen’s underwhelming season last year was an aberration. For a player as good as Andrew McCutchen to tumble to mediocrity so quickly without apparent cause is unprecedented. It’s as if he aged five years in one season.
KEVIN: Neal Huntington is not afraid to trade anyone, but Andrew McCutchen is on a whole different level. This is the biggest star he’s presided over during his tenure and one of the most successful Pirates in recent memory. There’s a lot of symbolism attached to what McCutchen has done for this franchise. He may have to get ownership to sign off on moving him before he can do it.