Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen from 2012-15 enjoyed one of the great peaks in recent history. Over that span, he batted .313/.404/.523 (157 OPS+) with 100 homers, 141 doubles, and 76 stolen bases. Along the way, he garnered four top-five finishes in the NL MVP balloting -- including a win in 2013 -- a Gold Glove, and four Silver Sluggers.
The 2016 season saw a serious reversal of fortunes, though, as McCutchen enters the final day of the regular season with a line of .255/.336/.430. Those aren't bad numbers, necessarily -- a 103 OPS+ for an up-the-middle defender -- but they're far below McCutchen's established standards. As well, he's shown signs of decline on the bases and in the field.
All of that brings us to word of McCutchen's possible departure from the organization that drafted and signed him in 2005. Here's the scoop from Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
Now there is a growing sense among industry insiders that the team will try to deal McCutchen before he reaches free agency in either one or two years. General manager Neal Huntington likely will quietly shop the five-time All-Star during the offseason, if only to gauge the level of interest.
Biertempfel's piece has much more, including what some scouts think of McCutchen's struggles and when one former GM thinks he might be dealt.
McCutchen's contract is guaranteed through next season at a salary of $14 million and includes a $14.75 million option/$1 million buyout for 2018. There's been talk of an extension in the past, but McCutchen's 2016 struggles have perhaps complicated what was once a mutual goal.
To be sure, GM Neal Huntington must navigate some tricky shoals if he's to move McCutchen. First, he's a wildly popular player in Pittsburgh, with very good reason. In addition to being an excellent player for so long, McCutchen has been a tremendous ambassador for the game, and he's the face of the baseball renaissance in Pittsburgh. Trading him away could be a highly-divisive move. Also, he will be going into his age-30 season, so he's hardly at an age that necessarily means deep decline, especially given his athleticism and commitment to conditioning. If the 2016 struggles are a consequence of nagging injuries rather than premature decline -- highly plausible -- then the Pirates could be parting with a player who's going to provide a lot of value in 2017, when they hope to return to contention. Of course, that very same possibility is why McCutchen might net a healthy return on the trade market, especially with a weak upcoming free agent crop.
It's complicated, of course, which is always the case when a team tries to find a way forward with a possibly fading superstar. In Pittsburgh, the winter ahead could be a roiling one.