Tag: Andrew McCutchen

Is Andrew McCutchen the Right Win-Now Splash for Mets’ World Series Chase?

Starting in center field for the New York MetsAndrew McCutchen.

Your reaction to that sentence—assuming you’re a Mets fanlikely depends on your feelings about risk versus reward. Because, boy, does McCutchen offer plenty of both.

McCutchen is a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates as of this writing. His name has churned through the rumor mill this offseason, however, with the Washington Nationals and Toronto Blue Jays among his reported suitors. 

After the winter meetings, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington expressed a desire to keep McCutchen in black and yellow.

“Our intent coming in here was to have Andrew McCutchen in our lineup going forward. No one changed that,” Huntington said, per MLB.com’s Adam Berry. “It’s unlikely that someone changes that going forward. We’re not going to close the door, but we’re not going to be making calls.”

There’s wiggle room in that statement. McCutchen may not be on the clearance shelf, but he’s available for the right price.

The Mets have spoken with Pittsburgh about McCutchen at a “preliminary level,” as Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported. 

There’s no indication those talks have advanced past the tire-kicking stage, but it’s worth exploring whether it would be a prudent move for New York.

On the reward side, McCutchen is a 30-year-old former National League MVP and five-time All-Star who accumulated 27.9 WAR between 2012 and 2015, second only to Mike Trout by FanGraphs‘ measure

He’s also not a budget-buster, as he’s due $14 million next season with a $14.5 million team option and $1 million buyout for 2018. 

If he approximates his peak production, that would be a bargain. The key word being “if.”

McCutchen is coming off a disappointing season that saw him post career lows in batting average (.256), on-base percentage (.336) and slugging percentage (.430). 

Even more damningly, his defensive numbers plummeted. He posted minus-28 defensive runs saved and a minus-18.7 UZR, both career worsts.

It’s not an anomalous blip, either. McCutchen‘s defense has been trending downward since 2013 according to the metrics. It’s reasonable to ask if he’s even a center fielder anymore, forget about a good one.

That’s a big deal for the Amazin’s, because they need a center fielder, as Rosenthal outlined:

The Mets’ biggest position need is obvious.

They’ve got Yoenis Cespedes in left field. They’ve got Curtis Granderson, Jay Bruce and Michael Conforto as options in right. But their only true center fielder is Juan Lagares, whose career OPS against right-handed pitching—even after showing some improvement last season—is only .633.

To clear room for McCutchen in the outfield and on the payroll, the Mets could trade Granderson and/or Bruce, who are owed $15 million and $13 million next season, respectively. 

That leaves the question of whether McCutchen can capably patrol center, or at least rake enough to make up for his inconsistent glove work. 

Again, he’s only 30. If he hits like he did as recently as 2015, he’d provide ample value for a Mets team that scored the fifth-fewest runs in baseball last season.

“I can’t wait to get my feet back there on the field, get ready and show that I’m not washed up, I guess,” McCutchen said, per Berry. “I’m only 30. It’s not like I’m 40. And even that is possible, toosee what Papi [David Ortiz] did. Anything is possible in this game.”

Norse god/staff ace Noah Syndergaard is coming off a superlative season. If at least three of Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler return healthy and productive, the Mets’ starting pitching will be elite.

Add a top-tier bat, and suddenly another NL pennant seems attainable.

Let’s set aside the defensive concerns. Let’s assume McCutchen will bounce back with the lumber, at least to the tune of the .283/.378/.470 slash line Steamer projects

What would it take for New York to get him?

A “possible deal” between Washington and Pittsburgh for McCutchen involved Lucas Giolito, the top pitching prospect in baseball according to MLB.com, as well as 2016 first-round pick Dane Dunning and a third player, per FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman

That means New York may need to dangle shortstop Amed Rosario, MLB.com’s No. 11 overall prospect, plus a couple of high-upside ancillary pieces, assuming the Pirates’ asking price hasn’t budged.

That type of gut-the-farm machination makes sense if you’re in full-blown win-now mode. 

The Mets aren’t necessarily in that mode, though. Matt Harvey is the first of their core starting pitchers set to hit the market, and that won’t happen until after the 2018 season. The same goes for closer Jeurys Familia. 

They re-upped Cespedes through 2020. There are nice young pieces on the roster, including the 23-year-old Conforto and 27-year-old catcher Travis d’Arnaud.

Mortgaging the future for the hope that McCutchen can play a passable center field, rediscover his MVP stroke and get New York over the championship finish line seems like an overreach born of desperation. 

NJ.com’s Joe Giglio made the case for the Mets going all-in on McCutchen over other theoretically available outfielders such as the Kansas City Royals‘ Lorenzo Cain and the Colorado Rockies‘ Charlie Blackmon

New York, Giglio argued, “should take a risk and move the moon and stars [relatively speaking] for McCutchen.”

It’s intriguing. It has a certain ring. If you think the Mets’ window is about to slam shut, it may even seem necessary.

But, boy, does it also sound like a big-time risk in the making.


All statistics and contract information courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, FanGraphs and MLB.com.

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MLB Trade Rumors: Latest on Andrew McCutchen, Brian Dozier and Brett Gardner

Major League Baseball’s winter meetings have come and gone with plenty of players, both free agents and not, finding new homes during the four-day stretch.

But the offseason could have more twists and turns awaiting before pitchers and catchers report for spring training in February.

Here is the latest on three big names who have been rumored to be on the trade market recently.


Andrew McCutchen

One of the biggest names rumored to be available during the winter meetings, Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen, hasn’t moved yet.

It was rumored at the beginning of December that the Pirates were discussing a potential trade with the Washington Nationals, per Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

However, Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball reported a deal could not be reached, which has left the Pirates searching elsewhere for a suitable offer.

According to Heyman, Pittsburgh received a “nice offer of prospects” from a “mystery team.” But the Pirates are looking for players who are ready to compete in the majors in 2017 and turned it down.

It’s a dangerous philosophy, considering McCutchen‘s sudden drop in production over the past few seasons.

The 2013 NL MVP batted .256 with a .336 on-base percentage and .430 slugging percentage last season, all of which were career worsts.

Having turned 30 years old in October, McCutchen may not bring back an impressive haul for Pittsburgh, as teams might believe his struggles will continue into 2017.

If the Pirates are patient and McCutchen puts together a solid first half in 2017, however, they could find it easier to deal him closer to the trade deadline.


Brian Dozier

Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier developed into a solid hitter through his first four years in the majors, but 2016 saw the 29-year-old record one of the best seasons at his position in American League history.

His 42 home runs were the most by a second baseman in AL history, per Baseball-Reference.com, and he also posted career highs with 99 RBI and an .886 OPS.

While he won’t be a free agent until 2019, Dozier has become an attractive option for the Los Angeles Dodgers, per ESPN.com’s Doug Padilla.

This comes after Los Angeles re-signed closer Kenley Jansen to a five-year, $80 million deal and third baseman Justin Turner to a four-year, $64 million contract, per Ken Gurnick of MLB.com—increasing the team’s payroll considerably. 

Dozier is owed $15 million over the next two seasons before he hits free agency, per Spotrac.

But the Dodgers could have problems at the position after dealing Howie Kendrick to the Philadelphia Phillies. Chase Utley is also a free agent, but even if he returns, it’s risky to assume he can produce as the team’s full-time starting second baseman.

Utley, who will turn 38 on Saturday, batted just .252 with 14 home runs and 52 RBI in 2016. 

Padilla noted the Dodgers would have to send a package centering around someone such as pitcher Jose De LeonLos Angeles’ No. 2 prospect, according to MLB.com. However, Alex Tekip of ESPN.com added that the Dodgers would be “reluctant to part with” him, which could make acquiring Dozier all but impossible.


Brett Gardner

The New York Yankees look like they still want to add some pitching help despite getting Aroldis Chapman back during the winter meetings.

A swollen payroll that is near $210 million could be a problem though, considering that team owner Hal Steinbrenner wants to see that number decrease to $197 million by 2018, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post.

Sherman added that the Yankees are interested in adding a free-agent reliever such as Boone Logan and Brad Ziegler to provide some support for Chapman and setup man Dellin Betances.

In an attempt to cut some of that salary, the Yankees have been floating veteran left fielder Brett Gardner’s name, per Sherman.

The 33-year-old is owed $23 million over the final two years of his contract, according to Spotrac, and his departure could provide some financial relief for New York to mount a serious bid for either Logan or Ziegler.

A speedy presence who has carved his niche at the top of the Yankees lineup for the past nine years, Gardner could be an effective table-setter for a team that has some big bats but little support for them. 


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Playing Fact or Fiction with All of MLB’s Hottest 2016 Winter Meetings Buzz

Like a cotton candy maker, baseball’s winter meetings tend to spit out anything that sticks.

Sure, deals are made like the one that saw Chris Sale traded to the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday. But speculation, more than anything, is the product of the meetings.

It’s tough to determine which of the hottest thoughts, rumors and conjecture might end up being true, but we’ll give it a try and play or fiction with what has emerged thus far from baseball’s annual conclave.

Begin Slideshow

Andrew McCutchen Blockbuster Trade Is Calculated Risk Nationals Must Take

In a baseball year that was about ending droughts, the Washington Nationals had to sit back and wonder why they were left out.

They have a good team. They won 95 games, the third time in the last five years they’ve won at least that many (no one else has done it more than twice).

All it got them was another chance at October frustration. The Nationals didn’t win a postseason series. The Nationals have never won a postseason series.

You want to talk about droughts? That’s a drought.

They can ask why, or they can do something about it. They can ask why, or they can ask the question Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein famously posed after his July trade for Aroldis Chapman, per ESPN.com:

“If not now, when?”

Now is when for the Nationals, and it’s clear they understand it. A National League executive who knows the Nationals well said early in the offseason they would make Chris Sale a priority, and sure enough, reporting by FanRag‘s Jon Heyman and Fox Sports‘ Ken Rosenthal suggests they are among the front-runners for the Chicago White Sox ace. Rosenthal also reported on Twitter the Nationals are among at least two teams with a four-year, $60 million offer for Mark Melancon, the closer they acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates in July.

Then there’s Andrew McCutchen.

This is the time for the Pittsburgh Pirates to trade their star center fielder, and this is the time for the Nationals to go get him.

Trea Turner did a fine job in center field the second half of the season, but the best way for the Nationals to make the most of his talent is to put Turner back at shortstop. Bryce Harper could move to center field if the Nationals acquired another corner guy, but Harper is best if he’s playing one of the corner spots.

McCutchen isn’t the all-around threat he was in 2013, when he was the National League’s Most Valuable Player and helped end Dusty Baker’s tenure with the Cincinnati Reds (after McCutchen‘s Pirates beat Baker’s Reds in the NL Wild Card Game). But his subpar 2016 ended with enough improvement in August and September to convince scouts he can still be a star.

He’d be a fit in the Nationals clubhouse, and he’d be a great fit in the Nationals lineup, a right-handed force for Baker to mix with the left-handed hitting Harper and Daniel Murphy in the middle of the order.

As ESPN.com‘s Jayson Stark reported, the Pirates and Nationals “ramped up” talks about a McCutchen deal last week. Stark suggested pitchers Joe Ross and Reynaldo Lopez as possible Pittsburgh targets in a deal. Other speculation has centered on 19-year-old outfield prospect Victor Robles, who Rosenthal identified as a Pirates target in a possible Pirates-Nationals McCutchen deal that fell through last summer.

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo is notoriously hesitant to part with his best prospects. Rizzo has shown a willingness to make trades—he got Melancon from the Pirates and has made other deals for Gio Gonzalez and Denard Span in recent years—but he has also been conscious of the future.

The future is fine, and the Nationals’ future remains bright, but they also understand they have a window to win big that might not remain open that long. Harper and Murphy have two years to go to free agency, and while ace Max Scherzer is signed through 2021, he turns 33 next July.

In other words, if not now, when?

Like Sale, McCutchen has the added attraction of carrying a reasonable contract. That’s significant for a Nationals team that has more than $100 million committed to six players for 2017. Sale would add just $12 million to the 2017 payroll, a true bargain for a left-handed ace.

McCutchen will make $14 million in 2017, with a club option for $14.5 million the following year.

As I wrote last month, he’s a bargain if he comes anywhere near the form that put him in the top five in MVP voting four straight years from 2012-15. The risk would come if last year’s decline was a sign McCutchen‘s age (30) has already robbed him of the speed that made him such a dynamic force with the Pirates.

Pirates general manager Neal Huntington told me he expects “he’s going to come to camp and be Andrew McCutchen again,” but Huntington also admitted the Pirates have had discussions about whether to move McCutchen out of center field. They don’t totally agree with the defensive metrics that painted McCutchen as the worst defensive center fielder in the game (as detailed in the column I did on McCutchen last month), but scouts said the eye test also showed a decline in his defensive skills.

The Nationals would be betting on a bounce-back, but it would be a smart and worthy bet. And a timely bet, too.

After all, if not now, when?


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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MLB Rumors: Hottest Trade Rumors Entering Winter Meetings 2016

The 2016 Major League Baseball winter meetings will run from Sunday through Thursday in National Harbor, Maryland, and trade buzz is picking up as general managers get ready to intensify discussions regarding some of the sport’s biggest names.

From All-Star starting pitchers to game-changing outfielders, there are plenty of enticing names circulating in advance of hot-stove season.

“It’s one of the worst free-agent groups I can remember,” a National League executive told ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark. “So I think people are saying, ‘Let’s go make a trade.'”

As the meetings get underway, here’s a rundown of the latest rumblings from across the sport. 


White Sox Seeking King’s Ransom for Sale

Chris Sale’s name has been popular in the rumor mill for some time, and the Chicago White Sox are reportedly seeking a major haul in exchange for the five-time All-Star.

“We’re hearing the same grumbling about the White Sox’s price tag this winter as we heard last July,” Stark reported. “One exec described them as asking for ‘the Shelby Miller deal,’ plus at least two additional pieces.”

As NESN’s Mike Cole pointed out, the Arizona Diamondbacks had to part with Dansby Swanson, Ender Inciarte and Aaron Blair to snag Miller and Gabe Speier

However, the belief around baseball seems to be that the White Sox could lower their asking price to part ways with the ace, who’s under team control for three more years at a reasonable price of $39.5 million.  

“I think the price is going to come down…and I think they’re going to move him,” a National League executive told Stark. “In fact, I’d be surprised if they don’t.”

Considering Sale has never recorded an ERA above 3.50 and is coming off a season in which he led the AL in complete games (six) while notching 233 strikeouts and 45 walks, the White Sox should have no trouble finding a solid package of prospects to help stabilize their future.


Nationals Leading the Chase for McCutchen

An NL executive told Stark the Pittsburgh Pirates are “actively trying to move” outfielder Andrew McCutchen, and it appears as though there’s a front-runner for his services, according to ESPN.com’s Jim Bowden:

MLB Network’s Jon Morosi added that the Nationals remain in the lead for McCutchen, but he noted the Texas Rangers have also contacted the Pirates about a potential swap. 

The Nationals were seemingly a bat away from solidifying their status as World Series favorites a season ago, so snagging McCutchen—if he’s not too expensive—would be a no-brainer for the reigning NL East champions.

Not only is McCutchen a lifetime .292 hitter with a .381 on-base percentage, but he’s also hit more than 20 home runs every season dating back to 2011. Plus, he’s captured five All-Star berths during that six-season span.

Furthermore, McCutchen is on a team-friendly deal that would be manageable for the Nationals moving forward. The 30-year-old is due $14 million in 2017 with a club option worth $14.5 for 2018 before his contract expires.

If the Nationals are able to swing a deal for McCutchen, they would be able to shift some pieces around and field one of the league’s most dangerous lineups.

According to Stark, the hope is that McCutchen would play center field, while Trea Turner would shift over to shortstop.


Justin Verlander on the Block

At first glance, Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander would seem like a tough sell on the trade market.

He’s owed $28 million in each of the next three seasons, and he owns a $22 million option for the 2020 season that vests if he finishes among the top five in Cy Young Award voting.

However, those financial considerations haven’t stopped competing clubs from doing their homework on a potential deal for the 2016 Cy Young runner-up.

“There’s a big difference between them and the White Sox,” an AL executive told Bleacher Report’s Danny Knobler. “The White Sox would have to get a ton to trade [Chris] Sale, and even then, their owner might not really want to do it. The Tigers are looking for value, but I think they would like to make a trade.”

With that said, there could be a hang-up even if the Tigers are able to hammer out the framework of a deal with a rival club.

Verlander’s contract contains a no-trade clause, so he would need to approve any deal before it’s signed, sealed and delivered.

From that standpoint, it’s no wonder an AL executive estimated the chances of Verlander being dealt hover around 20 percent, according to Knobler.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com. Contract information courtesy of Spotrac.

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Andrew McCutchen’s Exit Would End One Pirates Era, Usher in a New One

If anyone’s having trouble imagining Andrew McCutchen wearing something other than a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform, don’t worry. Soon you won’t have to.

Because it’ll be reality.

This is according to the hot-stove season’s Masters of Whispers. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported Wednesday that McCutchen, a five-time National League All-Star and one-time NL MVP, is the “most likely to go” of the star players on the trading block this winter. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports forcefully concurred:

McCutchen, 30, obviously hasn’t been moved yet. If the center fielder is still in the same frame of mind he was at the end of the season, he’s not sweating it wherever he is.

“I’m under contract with them, right? That’s the way I’m looking at it,” he told MLB.com’s Adam Berry. “I don’t align the stars. I’m not the person that controls all that. I don’t do that. It’s all in God’s hands.”

Well, in this case, McCutchen‘s fate is technically in the hands of Pirates general manager Neal Huntington. While he hasn’t yet moved McCutchen, that could change before you even get to the period at the end of this sentence.

Although nothing ultimately happened, Jayson Stark of ESPN.com reported Thursday the Pirates had “ramped up” talks with the Washington Nationals, who preferred to get a deal done by the end of the day. They didn’t, but Friday’s a new day with plenty of time for wheelin‘ and dealin‘.

The writing on the wall is easy for the people of Pittsburgh to read: Time to say goodbye.

Oh, it’ll get dusty in there for sure. McCutchen has been with the organization since the Pirates drafted him in the first round back in 2005, after which he largely made a mockery of the minor leagues en route to his major league debut in 2009.

From then on, he’s been the Pirate.

Early on, that only meant being a bright spot on teams that were carrying on a legacy of futility dating back to the team’s last postseason trip in 1992. McCutchen averaged an .822 OPS with 17 homers and 26 stolen bases in his first three seasons, but the Pirates topped 90 losses each year.

Things started to change before the 2012 season even began. The Pirates rewarded McCutchen‘s strong beginning by brightening his future with a six-year contract extension.

“Knowing that Andrew will continue to lead the team for a bright, successful, championship future at PNC Park is a thrill for me—the organization is in a wonderful place,” Pirates chairman Bob Nutting said, via Tom Singer of MLB.com.

Nutting then turned to McCutchen and said, “You’re going to be a critical part of that as we go forward.”

Spoken like a true prophet. 

McCutchen broke out as a superstar in 2012 with a .953 OPS, 31 homers and 20 stolen bases, winning a Gold Glove as well. That helped the Pirates improve to just 83 losses. His MVP season in 2013 boosted them to 94 wins and put them back in the playoffs as one of the NL’s wild-card teams. They were a wild card again in 2014 and again in 2015 after a 98-win regular season.

McCutchen‘s average season in these three years: a .917 OPS with 23 home runs and 19 stolen bases. In the National League, only Paul Goldschmidt was worth more wins above replacement.

Which brings us to 2016, and where this story gets considerably less nostalgic.

Star players tend to fall off gradually, taking several years to go from great to good to mediocre to bad. This past season saw McCutchen take an express elevator straight to bad. His bat produced a career-low .766 OPS, and defensive runs saved charges that his defense cost the Pirates 28 runs.

Maybe this wasn’t the biggest factor in the Pirates going from 98 wins to 78, but it was a big one. Nor is it the most encouraging stepping stone toward the rest of his contract, which calls for $14 million in 2017 with a $14.5 million option for 2018.

As Passan reported, Pirates ownership did not issue a mandate that McCutchen be moved this winter. There’s a good argument that they shouldn’t move him. Jorge L. Ortiz of USA Today cited that $28.5 million is plenty reasonable for a player of McCutchen‘s status, and moving him would be a jab at a fanbase that’s “certainly grown tired of hearing their management cry poor.”

Like it or not, the Pirates are a small-market team with a payroll that can only go so high. With extensive repairs to make, clearing McCutchen‘s deal and getting some talent back before his value declines any further does make sense.

As much as the man himself feels like a Pittsburgh landmark, McCutchen might need a change of scenery. For whatever reason, be it knee soreness left over from 2015 or something else, eagle-eyed observers didn’t see the same bounce in his step in 2016.

“He didn’t play with that Andrew McCutchen edge,” one American League scout told B/R’s Danny Knobler. “Maybe he just needs to get out of there and get some new scenery—unless there’s some long-term medical issue. He has been banged up.”

There is a bright side: Life after McCutchen could be just as fruitful as life with him.

In the short term, the Pirates could fill his shoes in center with the feet of Starling Marte, who’s been an elite defender in left field in addition to a fine offensive player. If Josh Bell lives up to his potential in his first full season at first base, he could more than make up for McCutchen‘s offense from 2016. Coming off a breakout season, right fielder Gregory Polanco can also help pick up the slack.

In the long term, the Pirates will reap the benefits of a farm system that could soon be in the running for the best in the league.

Jim Callis of MLB.com ranked Pittsburgh’s system at No. 4 in August. Although they’ve debuted in the majors, said system still includes Bell and right-hander Tyler Glasnow alongside well-regarded prospects such as outfielder Austin Meadows, shortstop Kevin Newman and right-hander Mitch Keller.

Per Rosenthal, there’s now buzz on getting outfielder Victor Robles from the Nationals. That would mean adding MLB.com’s No. 10 prospect.

It’s easy to hear all this and point to the big ol‘ “Maybe” implied in prospect chatter. But cultivating and establishing a core of homegrown players is essential to winning in today’s MLB. The Pirates know this from their experiences with McCutchen, Marte, Polanco, Gerrit Cole and others. They can do it again.

Trading McCutchen will be the end of an era for the Pirates. That’ll be worth lamenting. It was the first era in a while that was worth a damn, and he made it not only possible but that much more enjoyable. There should be a special place in the all-time Pirates pantheon for him.

But it’s not often that a team gets to say goodbye to one good era and hello to another. The Pirates will be in a position to do that if they trade McCutchen, and that would mean just another nice thing to say about his time in Pittsburgh.

He was always good for the Pirates, even on his way out the door.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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Andrew McCutchen Trade Rumors: Latest News, Speculation on Pirates Star

With the Pittsburgh Pirates facing an uncertain future after a disappointing 2016 season, the likelihood that Andrew McCutchen will be traded seems to be increasing.

Continue for updates.

Pirates Exploring McCutchen Deal

Saturday, Dec. 3

A member of the Pirates organization said the team “doesn’t feel compelled to move McCutchen if the price isn’t right,” per Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball.

On Nov. 30, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports noted that McCutchen’s likelihood of playing in Pittsburgh next season is “dwindling.” Passan also reported the Pirates have been the aggressors in the McCutchen trade talks.

Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported on Nov. 30 that the Texas Rangers are a potential option for McCutchen and that the Pirates are talking to other clubs as well.

Nationals Pushing Hard to Land McCutchen

Saturday, Dec. 3

The Washington Nationals remain in talks with the Pirates regarding McCutchen, per Rosenthal.

Jayson Stark of ESPN.com reported Thursday the Pirates and Nationals “have ramped up” talks about McCutchen, noting the Nationals “would like to make this deal today” given the “ripple effect of trading for McCutchen would likely be a move to nontender shortstop Danny Espinosa before tomorrow’s tender date.”

Rosenthal also reported Thursday the Pirates are “targeting” minor league outfielder Victor Robles in talks. Rosenthal added the Nationals have several starting pitching prospects who are almost ready for the majors and that the Pirates would presumably want one of those pitchers in addition to Robles. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette‘s Stephen J. Nesbitt reported Friday morning the Pirates were “breaking down video of Nats prospects.”

On Wednesday, Rosenthal reported the Pirates were still exploring potential deals involving McCutchen and that the Nationals were among the clubs showing interest.

The Nationals could be an easy fit as a trade partner with the Pirates. Rosenthal reported earlier this month the two teams discussed a blockbuster deal at the trade deadline in July that would have sent McCutchen to Washington, but it fell apart because of the vast number of moving parts. 

Those previous discussions at least gave the Pirates a reason to study Washington’s farm system.

McCutchen Coming Off Down Year in 2016

McCutchen is a strong buy-low trade candidate this offseason. He is coming off the worst year of his career, with a .256/.336/.430 slash line and the lowest FanGraphs WAR (0.7) among all center fielders who qualified for the batting title.

Now that he’s 30 years old and likely not a viable option in center anymore after putting up an MLB-worst minus-28 defensive runs saved in 2016, his $14 million salary is an albatross for the small-market Pirates.

McCutchen has been a fantastic ambassador for the Pirates and Major League Baseball since he debuted in 2009, but the team has to focus on its long-term outlook.

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MLB Trade Rumors: Analyzing Buzz on Andrew McCutchen, Ian Kinsler and More

Free agency gets all the headlines this time of year in Major League Baseball, but a dreadful crop of talent for all 30 teams to choose from should boost interest and activity in the trade market over the winter. 

The end of November is often the calm before the storm, as MLB players and executives are making their final preparations for the winter meetings that will begin on Dec. 4. 

That is the key date to focus on for when a deluge of trades is likely to happen. Teams already have a strong idea of what their payroll will be for 2017 and how much they have to spend, though trades are more complex because they require teams to give up assets and money in order to improve. 

Given what the trade market could bring this hot-stove season, here are the hottest rumors two weeks away from the winter meetings. 


McCutchen’s Market

Coming off the worst season of his career, Pittsburgh Pirates star Andrew McCutchen finds himself at a crossroads. He’s only 30 years old and finished in the top five of National League MVP voting each year from 2012-15, so there is reason to be optimistic about a turnaround next season.

Other teams are aware of this, which is why they have called the Pirates about McCutchen. 

MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reported the Seattle Mariners inquired about McCutchen earlier this offseason, but whatever talks the two sides had did not advance. 

The Pirates may not be able to wait around for McCutchen to figure things out in 2017. His salary will be $14 million, per Spotrac, which is a manageable figure for most teams. 

Per Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the Pirates’ payroll has exceeded $90 million the previous two seasons and their obligations for next season when factoring in estimated arbitration salaries. They also have to supplement the roster with free agents. 

The Pirates are a small-market team, so having one player eating up a significant portion of the payroll severely limits what they are capable of adding around him. They also have a nearly ready center field prospect in Austin Meadows, who ended this season in Triple-A. 

ESPN.com’s Keith Law highlighted another reason it could be enticing for the Pirates to move McCutchen now:

Trading McCutchen, as painful as it might be, could be a big retooling move for the Pirates, who still have a strong farm system and could use Cutch to keep the team competitive without having to go through a few losing seasons first. There should be 20 clubs lined up to make offers, as anyone could take him and put him in left field, where I expect his defense to be plus and his offense, at pre-2016 levels, to still make him an above-average or better regular.

McCutchen hit .256/.336/.430 with a career-high 143 strikeouts in 598 at-bats. His defense fell off a cliff, with FanGraphs’ defensive runs saved noting he cost the Pirates 28 runs in center field. 

There is an injury explanation for McCutchen’s offensive performance. He had a right thumb issue that flared up in May and June, and any issue with the hand is going to impact bat speed and power. 

The defensive fall is more worrisome since it could be an indication McCutchen is losing a step now that he’s reached 30. 

If the thumb issue is a problem in the rearview mirror, McCutchen’s offense should at least approach his 2012-15 levels and make his $14 million salary a relative bargain. He’s exponentially more valuable if he can play center, as opposed to moving to a corner, but the bat will play anywhere. 

The Pirates certainly don’t want to trade McCutchen because of how important he’s been to the franchise, but they also can’t afford to hang onto him one year too long when his market could completely collapse if he has another down season. 

The Mariners may be the most recent team linked to McCutchen, but when the winter meetings begin, any team that might think it needs an outfielder should be calling the Pirates to see how serious they are about engaging in trade talks. 


The Kinsler Complication

The Detroit Tigers could be at the epicenter of trade discussions this offseason. General manager Al Avila said in October the team has been operating “way above its means for some time,” per MLB.com’s Jason Beck

Owner Mike Ilitch has been willing to spend freely for the last five years in hopes of bringing Detroit a World Series title, but that strategy has limitations. The Tigers are now saddled with a lot of large multiyear contracts for players well into their 30s. 

Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander are still terrific players. However, they are almost impossible to move because they will make a combined $172 million through 2019, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts, and Cabrera is signed through 2023 (excluding option years), when he will be 40 years old. 

Ian Kinsler becomes one of the most valuable trade chips for the Tigers because he’s still a star player who is signed to a modest deal that pays him $11 million in 2017 with a $10 million team option for 2018, per Spotrac

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported the Tigers and Los Angeles Dodgers have had talks regarding Kinsler. 

Things would not be as simple as merely agreeing on pieces being moved if the two sides were to strike a deal.

Rosenthal noted Kinsler has a limited no-trade clause with 10 teams on the list, including the Dodgers. Kinsler’s agent, Jay Franklin, told Rosenthal his client would be open to agreeing to a deal under one condition.

“If one of the 10 teams happens to call and wants to talk about it, we’re open to talking about it,” Franklin said. “(But) they’re going to have to extend him for us to waive the no-trade.”

The problem with extending Kinsler is he will turn 35 in June. He’s coming off a strong 2016 in which he hit .288/.348/.484 with 28 homers and won his first Gold Glove. 

As a result of that success, Kinsler could and should be seeking a multiyear extension. But how many more years can he realistically be expected to have anywhere near that kind of production?

The Dodgers would be a perfect fit because they need a second baseman with Chase Utley being a free agent, and they certainly have the money to do whatever they want. Yet this front office, led by Andrew Friedman, let Zack Greinke walk last winter after he had a 1.66 ERA in 2015. 


Wacha’s Last Stand

When Michael Wacha burst onto the scene in 2013, the natural assumption was he would be the St. Louis Cardinals’ No. 2 starter and heir apparent to Adam Wainwright as the ace. 

Three years later, Wacha’s career has been a disappointment due to a series of injuries that have hindered his performance. 

Perhaps as an indication the Cardinals don’t want to wait around for Wacha to regain his 2013 form, Rosenthal reported the team has “floated” his name around in trade discussions. 

However, Rosenthal added “it’s unlikely they would get much for a pitcher who has a history of shoulder trouble.”

Last year was rock-bottom for Wacha. He had a 5.09 ERA with 159 hits allowed in 138 innings over 27 appearances (24 starts). He missed one month from Aug. 8 through Sept. 14 with a shoulder issue. 

Per MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch, Wacha and the Cardinals doctors worked together to develop a new rehab strategy to get him healthy. The results didn’t show upon his return, as he allowed 13 earned runs in 6.2 innings. 

One advantage Wacha has for any team potentially interested is age. He’s only 25 years old and under team control through 2019. His struggles last season will help keep his arbitration salary down next season, with Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors estimating he will make $3.2 million. 

Wacha is just one year removed from making 30 starts with a 3.38 ERA and posting a career-high 2.3 wins above replacement, per FanGraphs.

He may never be the pitcher who looked like an ace and carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning of his first playoff start in 2013, but a low-cost starting pitcher is the most valuable commodity in baseball. 

The Cardinals are smart to dangle Wacha out there to see if any market develops. If it does, they can deal him without hesitation. If it doesn’t, they will do everything in their power to make sure he starts 30 games once again.

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Andrew McCutchen Is the Forgotten Superstar on the MLB Trade Market

There’s a club of major league superstars so exclusive it has just two members.

To get in requires a number of recent top-five finishes in Most Valuable Player voting. One year won’t do—sorry, Bryce Harper—and neither will two. You might get there soon, Manny Machado, but not just yet.

No, to get into this most exclusive club will take at least four years of top-five finishes, all in the last five seasons.

Mike Trout is in, obviously. And less obviously, so is Andrew McCutchen.

The Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder had a bad year in 2016. There’s no question about that. His offense dropped off, his baserunning wasn’t great and his defense in center field was the worst in the game by some measures.

He wasn’t an MVP this year. He wasn’t an MVP candidate.

He certainly isn’t Mike Trout.

But McCutchen shouldn’t be forgotten, not in a winter when the Pirates are willing to listen to trade offers for a guy an acquiring team would control for the next two years. There just aren’t many guys out there who can do what he has already done. 

If McCutchen is anything close to the perennial MVP candidate he was from 2012 to 2015 (including his MVP-winning season in 2013), then he’s a bargain at $14 million next year. If he’s the player he was for much of 2016, he’s a drag on your payroll at any price.

“He’s going to come to camp and be Andrew McCutchen again,” Neal Huntington predicted to Bleacher Report last week.

Huntington is hardly a neutral observer. He’s the Pirates general manager, which means he needs McCutchen‘s value to be high for a trade or his performance level to be high if the Pirates keep him.

“We don’t think it’s a coincidence we were really good when he was really good,” Huntington said.

He was the very symbol of the Pirates’ return to relevance, a first-round draft pick who emerged as a star just as the team was becoming a contender. The six-year, $51.5 million contract McCutchen signed during spring training in 2012 was a strong signal from both the team and the player.

He’s available now because limited-budget teams like the Pirates can’t afford to offer big contracts that take players deep into their 30s. McCutchen turned 30 last month, and if that doesn’t make him old now, it means he will be old before his next contract runs out.

It’s the perfect time for a team like the Pirates to think about a trade—or it would be if McCutchen were coming off anything but the worst season of his career. But that might make it the perfect time to acquire him if he’s about to bounce back.

He was bad enough in 2016 to make you wonder if age is already catching up with him. He was bad enough to make you wonder if the injuries that contributed to his drop-off were even worse than he and the Pirates admitted, or if he had issues with manager Clint Hurdle.

“He didn’t play with that Andrew McCutchen edge,” said one American League scout who has followed his career. “Maybe he just needs to get out of there and get some new scenery—unless there’s some long-term medical issue. He has been banged up.”

“His body language wasn’t the same,” said another scout, who works for a National League team. “Was it him getting older or being hurt? This guy played like his hair was on fire before.”

Huntington agreed a hand injury was a factor in McCutchen starting so slow in 2016, but he shot down rumors there could be a lingering knee issue.

“No player is the same at 30 as he was at 25, but he has no long-term health issues at all,” Huntington said.

Huntington pointed to McCutchen‘s stronger performance at the end of the season. His walk-to-strikeout ratio got much better in the final two months, and Huntington said better bat speed led to McCutchen handling high-velocity pitching better as the year went on.

The National League scout said the body language also improved.

“I saw more energy later in the year,” he said.

Another American League scout saw similar improvement and called it a possible sign McCutchen could return to star status.

“He can be a star again,” the scout said. “But I doubt he can be a superstar, because the speed element is somewhat gone.”

Observers generally agree McCutchen has lost a step, cutting down on his ability to steal bases and turning an above-average center fielder into one who is average or worse.

The Pirates believe the defensive metrics are somewhat unfair. Huntington said the Pirates asked McCutchen to play shallower to cut off base hits in front of him, and when pitchers failed to execute, it resulted in him allowing balls to get past him.

But Huntington also admitted the Pirates will consider changing their outfield alignment if McCutchen is back in 2017, with Starling Marte possibly taking over in center field and McCutchen taking a corner spot.

The same metric that gave McCutchen a minus-28 in defensive runs saved, per FanGraphs (the worst by a full-time center fielder since Matt Kemp in 2010), had Marte as plus-19 in left field.

Kemp is one example of a star rebounding from a bad season. He wasn’t good offensively (by his standards) or defensively in 2010, but he bounced back so well he finished second in MVP voting in 2011. Then again, he was only 26.

McCutchen is 30, old enough to make you wonder how many more good years he has left. Remember, though, a team trading for him this winter should mainly be concerned that he has a good 2017-18 remaining.

“I personally think he’s got a couple years,” the National League scout said.

Not surprisingly, McCutchen agrees. Before the season ended, he told Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review he knows he needs to do better.

“I’ve got to prove—not to [fans] but to the team and to ownership—that I’m able to play out my career at a high level,” McCutchen said. “I didn’t do that this year. I didn’t play at my best level.”

We’ve seen McCutchen at his best level. Few players in the game ever reach that level.

That shouldn’t be forgotten.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.

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MLB Trade Rumors: Latest Buzz on Andrew McCutchen, Miguel Cabrera, More

Hot-stove season is upon us, which means trade rumors are starting to fly at a fast and furious pace as teams across Major League Baseball seek to retool their rosters and gear up for title runs in 2017. 

And with big names like Andrew McCutchen and Miguel Cabrera surfacing in advance of this year’s winter meetings, the rumor mill shouldn’t stop churning anytime soon. 

Here’s a rundown of the latest buzz from across MLB


Pirates Entertaining Offers for McCutchen

The Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals were reportedly engaged in trade talks centered around McCutchen at the non-waiver trade deadline, according to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, but the discussions didn’t yield a completed deal.

However, those trade talks may have been indicative of the Pirates’ larger desire to move McCutchen at some point in the near future. 

“The talks, while unlikely to revive because of differences in McCutchen‘s perceived value, amount to the strongest indication yet that the Pirates are willing to move their five-time All-Star and franchise player,” Rosenthal wrote. 

A day after Rosenthal‘s news broke, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington disclosed the Pirates have been open to hearing proposals regarding their star center fielder, according to the Associated Press’ Ronald Blum

They recognize that we haven’t been adverse to moving guys as their contract nears expiration. It’s a part of how we believe we need to do things to continue to be competitive and continue to give ourselves a shot to win. If they see his name out there, they do what we do. If a really good player’s name gets popped out there, we make a call just to make sure we do our due diligence and to see if there might be a fit.

The five-time All-Star is coming off a down year at the plate that saw him bat .256 with a .336 on-base percentage, 24 home runs and 79 RBI, and based on his contractual status, it would make sense for the Pirates to shop the 30-year-old. 

McCutchen is owed $14 million in 2017 and has a club option for $14.5 million in 2018, so if Pittsburgh doesn’t want to invest more money in the aging outfielder long term, dealing him now for younger, cost-controlled pieces would be a prudent move. 

When it comes to potential buyers, contenders in win-now mode could do much worse than McCutchen

Although he could be starting to decline following a year that saw him finish with minus-0.7 wins above replacement, the 2013 NL MVP would be an upgrade in center for a load of prospective title hopefuls, and he could help shift the league’s balance of power. 


Astros Eyeing Cabrera? 

The Houston Astros are reportedly looking for a superstar addition, and they’re not afraid to pay for one. 

According to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, that could mean making offers to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for Cabrera: 

However, the Astros’ history suggests that dealing for Cabrera doesn’t align with their standard operating procedure. 

“Cabrera, 33, is guaranteed $212 million over the next seven seasons,” the Houston Chronicle‘s Jake Kaplan wrote. “The Astros under Jim Crane’s ownership group have not spent more than $47.5 million on a single player (Yulieski Gurriel).” 

Kaplan also noted that Cabrera would need to approve any trade to the Astros, which would also complicate matters for the AL West hopefuls. 

Furthermore, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow pumped the breaks on rumors that Cabrera could be Houston-bound. 

“I was asked, ‘Would we consider a trade for a Hall of Fame-caliber first baseman,’ and we’re considering everything,” he said, per Kaplan. “I think the media kind of ran with that.”

In other words, don’t bank on Cabrera suiting up for the Astros anytime soon. 


Rays Reportedly Intent on Dealing Pitching

The Tampa Bay Rays have a surplus of starting pitchers, and they appear intent on making a deal to take advantage of that as the offseason progresses.

The New York Post‘s Joel Sherman provided the details:  

“The demand is there,” Rays general manager Erik Neander said, according to the Tampa Bay TimesMarc Topkin. “When you have really good players, especially in an area where there is need across the league, I think it certainly plays that way.”

Topkin noted Chris Archer logically garners the most interest, but the 28-year-old told reporters he has “very good insight” he won’t be traded this offseason. 

That leaves the cost-controlled likes of Jake Odorizzi and Drew Smyly as the Rays’ most compelling potential trade chips for the time being. 

Among those two, Odorizzi would appear to be the more appealing pitcher to prospective buyers. 

The 26-year-old went 10-6 during the 2016 season, and he was steady to the tune of a 3.69 ERA, 1.194 WHIP and a mark of eight strikeouts per nine inningsSmyly, on the other hand, went 7-12 with a career-worst 4.88 ERA. 

Now, those numbers aren’t necessarily indicative of Smyly‘s overall skill set, but considering Odorizzi is younger and has more upside, the Rays could likely net a more lucrative haul if they deal him to try to reinforce other areas of their lineup. 


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com. Contract information courtesy of Spotrac.com

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