Andrew McCutchen has been the face of the Pittsburgh Pirates for the better part of a decade, but a combination of injuries and younger outfield talent marginalized Cutch in 2016.
The National League MVP in 2013, McCutchen was clearly one of the best players in baseball for a solid stretch of time, with a great bat and solid-to-excellent defensive work in center. He was the catalyst for the rebirth of the franchise, with the Pirates having excellent seasons from 2013-2015, culminating with a 98-win team in 2015.
Of course, that year featured the best division in recent baseball memory, as the Cardinals won 100 games to take the division, leaving the Pirates to take on the 97-win Cubs in the Wild Card game. (Which they lost.)
In 2016, McCutchen was beset by injuries, playing through them for 153 games but finishing as a negative-WAR player. That’s really bad, and clearly his worst year as a professional. That, and the emergence of young Pirates outfielders Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, fueled offseason trade speculation.
How much? Well, according to his piece in the Players’ Tribune, McCutchen thought he might be traded at any minute, and turned to the best source he knew of to track rumors:
I’m not gonna lie. I Googled my own name more than a few times this off-season to see if there was any news. It was hard not to when just about every conversation I had with friends, family and even strangers started with them asking me, “So, what’s the latest?”
Truth was, I didn’t know any more than anybody else. But there were times when the rumors got so intense and the stove got so hot that I would look down at my phone, almost expecting it to ring.
That’s amazing. It makes sense, though; these days, reporters get things out so quickly that teams sometimes don’t have time to contact a player.
But decided not to sell low on their homegrown superstar, which is probably the sound move. Even if they’re still open to moving him, his value after demonstrating health and a return to even close to normal production would be much higher than it is now.
They are, however, moving him to right, a move the team apparently didn’t leave up for discussion:
So it was definitely a shock when I spoke with upper management a few weeks ago and they told me that they were shaking things up in the outfield and that they would be moving me to right.
And they weren’t asking me. They were telling me
The Pirates have been a progressive team when it comes to valuing defense, and after the year McCutchen had last season, it makes sense to both protect him from daily wear and to get younger in center. As Cutch says, it was a tough thing for him to hear; he’s only 30, after all.
As has typified his career so far, though, he’s taking it in stride, and putting the team first. Sometimes these Players Tribune pieces are, well, obviously slanted to make the player look good.
But in this case, given everything McCutchen has done over his career, there’s no reason not to take him at his word. Hopefully he gets back to form, because the sport is much more fun when he’s out there being amazing, and doing things like this: