It appears as though the Andrew McCutchen era in Pittsburgh may soon be over. If it is, could a trip across the Keystone State be in the cards for the former MVP?
Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports the Pirates are exploring deals for the 30-year-old former All Star who is coming off the worst season of his career last year. Last week I wrote a piece for numberFire which detailed why the Pirates would consider moving their franchise player, and there is apparently some fire accompanying all the smoke.
Teams will certainly be lining up to take a swing at acquiring “Cutch,” who has a very team-friendly contract of $14 million for 2016 and a $14.5 million team option for 2017 that almost certainly won’t be picked up by Pittsburgh.
Rosenthal noted the Nationals had discussions with the Pirates last August at the waiver trade deadline, and that the Rangers have a clear need in center. The Mariners reportedly engaged in talks earlier this off-season, too.
Enter the Phillies, who were noted as one of three teams by John Perrotto of Fan Rag Sports that could both use McCutchen’s bat in the outfield and have the prospects to get a deal done.
Now, keep in mind, this is not a real rumor. This is speculation from a writer who knows Pittsburgh and the Pirates well, so call it more of an educated guess. Nevertheless, the Phils clearly have space in the outfield and prospects to get a deal done.
The real question is... should they?
The deal proposed by Perrotto - Jake Thompson, Rhys Hoskins and Sixto Sanchez, is a non-starter. Not that it isn’t fair, it just doesn’t make sense for the Phillies. Thompson and Hoskins are fine, Phils fans should feel OK about parting with those two.
But it makes no sense for the Phils to add Sanchez to this deal, especially as the low-minors/high-upside throw-in. Consider what Sanchez did in short-season ball last year.
His season is truly amazing, he walked 6 over his first 5 starts, after that 2 walks over 40 innings (also struck out 27 and gave up 1 run)— Matt Winkelman (@Matt_Winkelman) November 30, 2016
He’s more than “intriguing.” He’s “fascinating.”
But the overall structure of the deal makes sense. Pittsburgh would get a Major League-ready arm (Thompson), a guy who could be ready to make the leap later this year or early next year (Hoskins), and a low minors guy on which the Pirates can dream. Sanchez is just too enticing to let go of just yet.
It’s also fair to wonder just what the heck happened to McCutchen last year. One report noted Cutch didn’t play with an “edge” and that he looked like he had aged five years in one season. He seemed like he was either injured or truly needed a change of scenery, and the numbers reflect that.
Since becoming an everyday starter in 2010, here are his rWAR totals: 3.8, 5.7, 7.0, 8.1, 6.3, 4.9, -0.7. In 2016, he hit .256/.336/.430 with a wRC+ of 106. He was also the worst defensive center fielder in baseball, with -28 DRS. The next closest was Marcell Ozuna at -12, so it’s clear McCutchen cannot play center field anymore.
But did he really go from being a perennial All Star to a below replacement level player at the age of 30?
It’s certainly possible. Perhaps McCutchen is done. Or, perhaps 2016 was an outlier.
Consider that from August 5 through the end of the season he hit .284/.381/.471 with nine homers, 24 runs, 36 RBIs and a wRC+ of 131. So maybe the dude isn’t cooked just yet.
But McCutchen’s performance on the field is only the first piece of this puzzle. The second piece is his contract. While the money is fine, the real issue is team control.
Does it make sense for the Phillies to give up valuable prospects for a player who is signed for just two more seasons? The Phils are not expected to contend for a wild card this year, and by the time the team is ready to be a contender, McCutchen will be a 32-year-old free agent. Does it make sense to give up prospects for a player to play the next two seasons on teams that likely won’t make the postseason?
If the prospect cost is cheap, then the answer is yes. Dealing Thompson and Hoskins alone for McCutchen, with a throw-in low-minors pitcher would be fine. I’m not sold on Thompson as a solid Major League starter, and Hoskins is no sure thing as the team’s future at first base. The Phils could survive the loss of those two players.
Frankly, I don’t get why the Pirates are shopping him so heavily right now. It makes more sense to wait until the 2017 trade deadline to make a deal in the hopes McCutchen increases his trade value. Selling low doesn’t make sense unless Pittsburgh is convinced he’s got nothing left.
Regardless, don’t expect the Phillies to be serious bidders for McCutchen unless they’re able to buy low. And I don’t see that happening.