MLB Hot Stove Rumors: Pirates reportedly certain to trade Andrew McCutchen

In our NL Central Winter Meetings primer on Tuesday, I discussed the possibility of Andrew McCutchen being traded by the Pirates. I noted that up to that point we'd hadn't heard many strong rumors about it, but that it was still distinctly possible.

In an example of how everything is fluid in the Hot Stove, things have firmed up.

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports writes that of all big names to possibly be traded this offseason, McCutchen "might be the most likely to go."

Then there's this:

"Almost certain" is pretty strong.

McCutchen, 30, is only signed through 2017 ($14M) with a $14.75 million club option for 2018. He's coming off a down year in 2016, as he hit .256/.336/.430 after averaging .313/.404/.523 the previous four seasons. He finished in the top five of NL MVP voting each year from 2012-15, winning the hardware in 2013.

We have reason to believe the offensive meltdown was an aberration. Sure, he's past the late-20s, so there's bound to be regression, but not to this extent. He played through injuries and had a dreadful first half. Things rebounded a bit down the stretch. In the last two months, McCutchen hit .284/.381/.471 and he closed hot (.333/.402/.597) in the final three weeks.

So anyone who thinks McCutchen wouldn't carry good offensive value isn't paying attention or has an agenda. Teams like the Giants, Rangers and Astros immediately come to mind (Orioles? Nationals?).

The main concern lies on defense, where McCutchen probably shouldn't be playing center anymore. Many would say I'm being nice with the "probably" there, because he ranked dead last in Defensive Runs Saved at -28 among center fielders. The next worst was Tyler Naquin at -17. By way of comparison, Kevin Kiermaier led the majors at +25.

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Will McCutchen move to corner outfield? USATSI

In Rosenthal's story, he says that sources indicate to him McCutchen doesn't want to move to a corner.

One can't help but wonder if McCutchen trade talk is at least partially spurred on by this. Starling Marte is an exceptional defender and would work well in center. The Pirates could then grab a cheaper option than McCutchen to play left field while waiting on highly-touted outfield prospect Austin Meadows (he hit .214 with a .757 OPS in 37 Triple-A games last year at age 21) to ready himself for the majors.

Meantime, having shed McCutchen's salary, the Pirates could use this money to shore up other roster holes (pitching depth, for one).

As for any acquiring team, obviously they would need to hash things out with McCutchen if they are planning to move him to left field before consummating a deal with the Pirates. Things like this happen, though.

Trading McCutchen now definitely makes sense for the Pirates and it sounds like we might see that sooner rather than later.

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Snyder has been a baseball writer with CBS Sports since 2011. A member of the BBWAA, he's now covered the last five World Series beginning with the epic 2011 Fall Classic. The former Indiana University... Full Bio

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