The Pittsburgh Pirates are on the verge of a total rebuild, and that means All-Star Andrew McCutchen could be on his way out of town before the offseason ends.
With last weekend’s trade of Gerrit Cole to the Houston Astros, the Pittsburgh Pirates have finally made clear what most baseball fans already knew — a rebuild is coming. From 2013 to 2015, the small-market Buccos gamely held serve with the biggest spenders in the league, making the playoffs three times and compiling a 280-206 record. As nice as that was, the Pirates were never able to spend enough to get over the hump.
Two losing seasons in a row, with several big names approaching free agency, has forced the Pirates to accept that the ship has sailed on their current window of contention. That means franchise icon Andrew McCutchen, who was shopped aggressively last winter and is a free agent after the 2018 season, is most likely the next name to go. The Pirates do not stand to gain much by holding out for a deadline deal. The return is going to be what it is for a one-year rental player, and might actually be higher if a team can get the 2013 NL MVP and five-time All-Star for an entire year.
McCutchen bounced back in a big way last season after slogging through the worst year of his career in 2016. He did start the year slowly, but hit .303/.389/.517 from the middle of May on to finish the year with a .279/.363/.486 line and 28 home runs and 88 RBI. At 31, and having spent nine years playing a very rough center field, McCutchen’s best days as a true five-tool player are behind him, but he is far from the twilight of his career.
Rental or not, McCutchen still makes any team that acquires him instantly better. The Pirates should do their best to make a clean break from one of the best players in team history before the year starts. Feelers have already been put out around the league, and these five teams make the most sense as potential landing spots.
5. New York Mets
Yoenis Cespedes is not a center fielder. That much should be painfully clear for the New York Mets. Cespedes is a left fielder playing out of position and risking injury due to the extra wear and tear of playing the most taxing position in the outfield when his body isn’t really cut out for it. If the Mets were a team that spent to the size of their market, Lorenzo Cain would already be their center fielder for 2018 and beyond. The fit is too obvious.
However, the Mets are the Mets, and their answer for everything is keeping Jay Bruce. Don’t get me wrong, Bruce is a nice, one-dimensional power bat, but the Mets are a much better team if he plays first base and Cespedes, Michael Conforto and another plus defender play the outfield. Assuming Cain is out of the question, McCutchen is a great fallback option who still plays a decent center field. If the Mets can keep their rotation healthy in 2018, a return to the playoffs is not out of the question. One more high-caliber bat who can do more than hit home runs, would certainly help, though.