SEATTLE — This is an unusual feeling for Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen. When McCutchen normally scrolls through his phone this time of year, he sees articles suggesting he deserves to start the All-Star game. Though it’s June, he usually sees articles making his case for National League MVP. And, of course, he sees trade rumors. Which players should the Pirates try to acquire for their playoff run?
This season, however, he’s seeing his name prominently featured in those rumors.
“I’ve been around long enough now to where my name is being brought up,” McCutchen told Yahoo Sports. “So, for me, it’s something that is new.”
To some, it seems crazy. McCutchen is undoubtedly the face of the Pirates. He came up with the organization as a 22-year-old in 2009, and developed into a superstar. In every way, the perennial MVP candidate represented the future of the organization.
He was the first of a number of promising prospects expected to lead the Pirates out of the cellar and into the playoffs. Despite his performance, the Pirates posted four-straight losing seasons before McCutchen had enough help around him to put together a competitive club.
Now, he’s on the block.
From a logical perspective, this makes sense. The Pirates are currently 37-40, and find themselves in third place in the NL Central. While it’s still possible to make a surge, the club likely won’t catch the Chicago Cubs. That means they’ll have to beat out at least four other teams for a wild card spot. For the first time in a few seasons, the Pirates might be sellers at the deadline.
While the 29-year-old McCutchen hasn’t been his usual self early, stumbling to a .243/.318/.421 slash line over 324 plate appearances, his track record still makes him a valuable asset. Though McCutchen is still under contract with the club through 2018, it’s assumed the Pirates won’t be able to afford him once he hits free agency due to their spending limitations.
On top of all that, his eventual replacement, 21-year-old outfielder Austin Meadows, posted a .311/.365/.611 slash line in 45 games at Double-A, earning himself a promotion to Triple-A on June 18.
Players deal with trade rumors in different ways. Some completely ignore them, some get angry and others allow them to become a distraction. McCutchen, however, isn’t fazed by what he reads. He completely understands.
“I know it’s the business side,” McCutchen says. “It’s people assessing situations. It’s people throwing out numbers and teams and this and this and this and they put it all together.
“I don’t let it get to me because I do also understand the other side of it. It’s not just like, ‘oh well, he’s sucking, so [he] needs to go here.’ It’s not that. I understand that. It’s just that side of the game.”
McCutchen also gets why he would be a valuable trade asset. It’s not just the production on the field, it helps that he has a favorable contract.
“I just know that I’m coming toward the back end of my contract,” he says. “And with the way that contracts are now, I’m sure my contract seems affordable for other teams.”
He’s right. McCutchen is making a little over $13 million this season. He’ll make slightly over $14 million in 2017, and has a $14.5 million option for 2018. If he can get back to his usual ways at the plate, he’s an absolute bargain at that price.
The idea of McCutchen playing for a team other than the Pirates seems crazy, even to him. And while the future is uncertain, especially when his contract is up, he has considered the possibility of staying with one team for his entire career.
“That’s the ultimate goal for most people,” he says. “You sign with a team and your goal as a person is to have that guaranteed-type career. You want a career where you do well and win championships. In that franchise, you become ‘The Guy.’
“Everyone dreams of that. I don’t see how many people go get drafted by a team and then say, ‘dang, I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be here. I want to go somewhere else.’ You always want to be where you start. And if that happens, that’s awesome. That would be great. And I do think about that.”
For the first time in his career, it looks like McCutchen may not have a choice in the matter. Unless the Pirates can right the ship in the coming weeks, McCutchen may literally find himself in an unusual place to open the second half.