When Baseball Prospectus released their 2017 PECOTA projections, the Chicago Cubs could be found at top of the NL Central with 94 wins.
While a Chicago repeat in the Central was likely expected by most parties, the runner-up was a bit of a surprise. Instead of the Cardinals resuming their usual spot in contention of the Central, it was the Pittsburgh Pirates who found themselves with the silver medal.
Although the Pirates have been a very good team lately – making the postseason in three of the past four seasons – 2017 sure looked like it was going to be different, especially back in December. The Pirates had already lost their closer, Mark Melancon, had traded Francisco Liriano, it looked like Ivan Nova was going to walk, and reports suggested that long-time star center fielder Andrew McCutchen was going to be on the move, too.
But after a rumored deal with the Nationals fell through (with Washington pivoting towards the White Sox Adam Eaton instead), the Pirates changed course. Instead of tearing things down and rebuilding, they re-signed starter Ivan Nova, signed righty reliever Daniel Hudson, and were even reportedly “working hard” to trade for White Sox de facto ace, Jose Quintana.
And when additional reports started pouring in regarding McCutchen’s move from center field to right, it seemed even more likely that the former MVP was staying put in Pittsburgh (after all, why would the Pirates risk disrupting the status quo while also lessening McCutchen’s trade value, if they were anticipating a trade before the start of the season?). Of course, like everything else in baseball, the motives of a front office are often difficult to predict.
General manager Neal Huntington mulled trade offers for Andrew McCutchen and Josh Harrison (and Huntington remains willing to deal either player), but didn’t pull off a move.
That’s a note from Rob Biertempfel (Trib Live) confirming that Pirates GM Neal Huntington received and mulled trade offers for McCutchen this offseason, and, more notably, continues to be open to a trade in the near future.
To be completely fair, Biertempfel’s broader point seems to be that McCutchen will be staying put for 2017, but Huntington’s continued willingness to deal the Pirates’ star is certainly noteworthy – and it definitely doesn’t preclude a trade going down after the season begins.
Or, more probably, the 2017 Trade Deadline.
McCutchen is under team control for $14 million in 2017, plus a club option worth $14.5 million in 2018 (with a $1M buyout). In that respect, McCutchen seems like a good trade candidate for the upcoming deadline. His value is arguably lower than it’s ever been, but a bounce back (offensively) is entirely within reach. And if he takes to right field, the defensive numbers can bounce, too.
So the Pirates, then, will probably allow McCutchen to rebuild his value early in the season, before potentially moving on with their former star later in the year. All of this, of course, revolves around the Pirates relative positioning within the standings.
But even still, as no team is going to hand the NL Central to the Cubs, the Pirates’ relationship with McCutchen could quickly become one of the most important storylines to follow.