We’ll always call it the “Lukewarm Stove” around here, because we cover a range of things that may or may not objectively be described as “hot,” but it sure seems like things are picking up. A big signing yesterday, a lesser signing (by the Cubs) yesterday, a significant set of rumors, a big international rumor, and much more.
Much more, like this:
An Andrew McCutchen trade looks increasingly likely. Story:… https://t.co/SICFlFhcV2
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) November 30, 2016
Sources: Likelihood Andrew McCutchen plays in Pittsburgh in 2017 is dwindling. As @Ken_Rosenthal said, Pirates almost certain to move him.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) November 30, 2016
On the right team, perhaps one who could use him in left field, McCutchen could still be a very valuable player. His presence on the trade market – aggressive presence, based on these reports – is certainly interesting, especially given that most of the outfielders available in free agency are of the hulking, non-defense variety.
The implications here for the Cubs would most obviously be tied to what happens with the Pirates in the wake of any trade. (The other implication relates to Dexter Fowler, but that’s of less significant here, as (1) the Cubs seem very unlikely to re-up with Fowler after signing Jon Jay, and (2) it’s debatable whether McCutchen will even be viewed as a center fielder by pursuing teams, at least as compared to Fowler.)
To be sure, the Pirates finished five games under .500 last year even with McCutchen, but it’s important to remember that he, himself, had a brutal season. After not being worth fewer than five wins in any season going back to 2010, McCutchen posted a meager 0.7 WAR in 2016, as his bat slipped to near league average, and the defense in center took a huge step back. So it is not as if trading away McCutchen necessarily signals anything about the Pirates’ competitiveness in 2017. And, at 30 years old, it’s possible McCutchen could continue to regress from here (though last year was probably a bit of an aberration).
So, then, depending on what the Pirates would target in return, it can’t be assumed that this is the start of any kind of teardown, even in the short-term. They might, in fact, be able to improve for 2017 by way of this trade, and then also opening up some additional funds.
Given the possibility that the Pirates could compete in the NL Central next year, presumably with the Cubs and Cardinals at the top, this is very important to watch.