Heading into this season, the Pirates’ outfield trio was thought to be among the best in baseball. While Starling Marte was one the MLB’s more productive outfielders (8th in WAR among regulars at the position) and Gregory Polanco made notable strides in his third year, Andrew McCutchen was one of the season’s biggest disappointments. A career .292/.381/.487 hitter and former gold glove winner, McCutchen slashed a mere .256/.336/.430 in 2016 while finishing dead last among all center fielders Defensive Runs Saved and UZR. However, McCutchen had five consecutive years of over 5.5 WAR coming into this season and will play all of next season at only 30 years old. While the Pirates probably don’t love the idea of “selling low” and trading him while his value is down, the looming presence of Austin Meadows (#9 on mlb.com’s latest top 100 prospect rankings) and the fact that they’re preparing Josh Bell and John Jaso to play some outfield next year suggests that they’re at least considering the possibility of a trade. Furthermore, conventional wisdom suggests that they’d like to get something for him instead of watching him leave on the open market (where they’d likely have trouble paying for him), and his current below-market contract is certainly attractive to other teams given his pedigree as a former MVP ($14MM next season with a $14.5MM club option for 2018). With all that being said, here are three teams who should have interest and could feasibly explore a trade for Andrew McCutchen
Starting with this year’s American League Champions and current World Series contestants, the Indians’ outfield is a major question mark heading into the 2017 season. Michael Brantley will be the team’s everyday left fielder as long as his shoulder heals in time for the start of the season, leaving two spots for the likes of Lonnie Chisenhall, Tyler Naquin, and Rajai Davis (an impending free agent) to potentially compete for. Chisenhall and Davis are unquestionably better suited as part time players, and while Naquin had an intriguing 2016 on the surface (.296/.372/.514 in 365 plate appearances) his batting average (and thus OBP) were fueled by an unsustainably high .411 BABIP. This is almost certainly going to normal out next year and make those numbers more reflective of his 30.7% K rate. Furthermore, his power dwarfed his minor league production in that department and this season actually marked the first time he reached double digit homers at any level, making it fair to call its sustainability into question. Overall, it’s clear that they could use another body, and while they may not like the idea of depleting their farm system further following an active trade deadline, adding McCutchen would give them the opportunity to get a clear upgrade at a modest price.
Nelson Cruz’s days of being an everyday outfielder are over, and he spent only 48 games there in 2016. That means that if the Mariners re-sign Leonys Martin or Franklin Gutierrez (combined 2.8 WAR), the majority of the playing time will be shared between one or both of them, Norichika Aoki (who spent time in the minors last year and is not a lock to have his mutual option picked up), and Seth Smith, who has never been much more than a platoon player. For a team that wants to contend in 2017 and beyond, this lack of quality talent is concerning, making McCutchen’s fit an obvious one. Furthermore, they already have one mega-contract in Robinson Cano, and a talent akin to McCutchen’s would cost a lot more money on the open market than his current contract calls for. If they were able to make this move, 2017 could be the year that the Mariners finally make their return to the playoffs.
With both Mark Trumbo and Matt Wieters slated to hit free agency, it’s difficult to forecast who will be brought back. I’d peg Wieters as the more likely candidate given that he should be cheaper and Trumbo’s skillset is a lot similar to that of Chris Davis, who is already signed to a mega-deal. In the event that Trumbo leaves, two spots would need to be filled by some combination of Hyun-Soo Kim (0.9 WAR in 346 PAs), Michael Bourn (an impending free agent who graded out negatively at the plate and in the field in 2016), and Joey Rickard (their 2016 Rule 5 Draft Pick who fizzled out quickly after a hot start). McCutchen would unquestionably be an upgrade over any of these players in a full time role, and he would even move to a corner spot with Adam Jones locked into center field. This would improve what was already one of the league’s better defenses and give them a very good consolation prize in the event that they lose on of their aforementioned big names in free agency. It’s worth noting that the Orioles have one of the weaker farm systems in baseball, making this trade slightly less likely than the others but still possible if they elect to part with someone of value at the major league level.