Superstar outfielder Andrew McCutchen’s days with the Pittsburgh Pirates could be numbered, as the club is reportedly actively trying to trade the five-time All-Star and the Washington Nationals are said to be in hot pursuit.
Washington has been in talks with Pittsburgh regarding McCutchen, with the Pirates eyeing 19-year-old outfield prospect Victor Robles as the centerpiece of a potential deal, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.
Robles, a speedy center fielder who hit .280/.376/.423 with 34 extra-base hits and 37 steals in 110 games mostly in Class A in 2016, was rated the 29th-best prospect in baseball by MLB.com before the 2016 season and ranked 33rd by Baseball America.
McCutchen is coming off a down season, hitting .256/.336/.430, a 103 OPS+, with 24 home runs and 26 doubles in 153 games. That was, by far, his worst of his eight major league seasons, after averaging .299/.391/.499, a 146 OPS+, 23 home runs, 35 doubles, 94 runs, 84 RBI, and 22 steals from 2010-15.
He won the 2013 National League MVP award, and has been the face of a franchise on the rise, with three straight Wild Card Game appearances from 2013-15 after 20 full years without a sniff of the postseason.
The Pirates fell to 79-83 in 2016 — and that’s part of the problem for Pittsburgh, which needs to compete in a division with the juggernaut Chicago Cubs and always-contending St. Louis Cardinals.
McCutchen turned 30 in October, and has one year plus a club option remaining on his contract that would pay him a total of $28.5 million in 2017-18. If the Pirates don’t plan to retain McCutchen beyond his current contract, and with the new collective bargaining agreement reducing the compensation for high-end free agents, it is understandable that Pittsburgh is trying to cash in now and rebuild with the haul it can get for its five-time All-Star.
Adam Berry of MLB.com reported the Pirates would move McCutchen “only for the right offer,” but Jeff Passan of Yahoo described the Pirates as the “aggressors” in trade talks, actively shopping McCutchen.
Robles might prove too costly for the Nationals to give up, according to Bill Brink of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, who also reported the Pirates have had trade talks with the Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers, among other teams.
But there is still a sense of urgency with the Nationals, per Jayson Stark of ESPN:
The Nationals, according to one exec, would like to make this deal today, because the ripple effect of trading for McCutchen would likely be a move to nontender shortstop Danny Espinosa before tomorrow's tender date.
Acquiring McCutchen would allow Washington to move NL Rookie of the Year runner-up Trea Turner from center field to his natural position of shortstop, which would in turn make Espinosa expendable. Espinosa, who hit .209/.306/.378 with 24 home runs in 2016, is eligible for salary arbitration this winter after earning $2.88 million last year.
Friday night is the deadline to tender 2017 contracts to arbitration-eligible players.
Stark also reported the Pirates are interested in pitchers as well, with Joe Ross and Reynaldo Lopez mentioned as possibilities.
So we will find out on Friday whether the Nationals are truly in a hurry to get McCutchen. But even if they aren’t able to come to an agreement on a trade, the Pirates seem intent on shopping their star. With the Winter Meetings starting on Sunday at the Gaylord National Harbor Hotel in Maryland, talks could intensify again, whether with Washington or some other team.