It appears the Pittsburgh Pirates are open for business on former National League MVP Andrew McCutchen, which naturally has led to some suggesting that the team across the state, the Philadelphia Phillies, should aggressively pursue the 30-year-old.
While having interest in a former MVP who still age-wise should be very much in his prime makes sense for a team that hopes to become a contender over the next few seasons, the timing on McCutchen may not make sense for the Phillies.
On one hand, McCutchen is two years removed from posting a .292/.401/.488 slash line, with 23 home runs, 91 RBIs and posting a 5.8 WAR (per FanGraphs). However, in 2016, McCutchen saw his slash line dip to .256/.336/.430, while posting a dWAR of -16.5, his second consecutive negative dWAR, and a total WAR of just 0.7.
You can have different takeaways from McCutchen's 2016 season. It could just be one down season in a career that seemed destined for Hall of Fame consideration. Putting him a lineup where the best hitters currently are Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera, both of whom were less than impressive for stretches of the 2016 season, doesn't seem to be a recipe for a bounce-back, though.
Perhaps McCutchen will bounce-back to being the player that was worth 33.3 WAR between 2011 and 2015. Or perhaps, he'll be something in between. Steamers projects that McCutchen will slash .283/.378/.469 in 2017, while driving in 80 runs and posting a 3.4 WAR. This would be more in line with the type of production that McCutchen posted the first two years of his career, which is still very strong, but probably not so good that you would want to back the truck up for McCutchen.
When considering a potential McCutchen deal, it's important to keep these three angles in mind.
Is the timing right?
The Phillies are not going to be a contender in 2017. Aaron Nola will be on an innings limit. It remains to be seen if Vince Velasquez is capable of being a successful starter throughout a full big league season. The already not that strong bullpen was overworked in 2016, so it could take a dip in 2017. I could go on.
2018 seems to be the season that many have projected the Phillies to return to playoff contention in, but until strides are shown by Franco, Herrera, Nola and Velasquez, it's hard to be sure of that. The team also isn't sure what players like Jorge Alfaro, Aaron Altherr, Roman Quinn, J.P. Crawford and Jake Thompson are at the major league level yet.
Perhaps trading for McCutchen would have a positive impact across the board and advance the Phillies timeline, but if we aren't sure if the Phillies are going to be ready to contend for the playoffs in two years, does it make sense to trade for a player that had a fairly steep decline in 2016?
What would the price be?
This one is hard to say. John Perrotto of FanRag Sports suggested that a package headlined by Jake Thompson that also featured prospects Rhys Hoskins and Sixto Sanchez could be of interest to the Pirates.
I think Thompson could headline a package, but with the amount of interest the Pirates are likely to get in McCutchen, it's hard to imagine not having to include Herrera and Cornelius Randolph, among others, in a deal. I'm not sure how much interest there would be in Hoskins or Dylan Cozens in a trade of this magnitude. Names like Scott Kingery, Cole Stobbe and Jhailyn Ortiz could also be of interest to the Pirates.
Thompson wasn't impressive in 10 starts at the big league level last year, but given how dominant he was at Triple A, moving him doesn't seem to make a ton of sense. In fact, Andy MacPhail and Matt Klentak have suggested on numerous occasions that their organizational model will be to build around homegrown pitching, and then buy bats at a later time. A trade like this, which would seemingly have to include numerous talented young pitchers, would seem to deviate from that plan.
Given the 2018-19 free-agent class, would a mega-trade now make sense?
The other angle to consider is that McCutchen isn't on a Ryan Braun type deal where he's under team control through at least 2020. He's under contract for two more seasons, but if the Phillies aren't going to be ready to compete until at least 2018 and then would have to dish out a massive extension to McCutchen after the 2018 season, when he would be 32, it's again fair to wonder if he fits their timeline.
If the Phillies are ready to compete for a World Series in 2019 and McCutchen is still playing at an MVP caliber, they could just wait and attempt to sign him if he becomes a free-agent after the 2018 season. If he doesn't, or they deem him not to be worth the financial commitment, then Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado, Adam Jones and A.J. Pollock are among the hitters who could be available to sign in what is expected to be the greatest free-agent class in the history of the league. And they should have plenty of young, controllable talent that they could trade if the right opportunity presented itself at that time.
Stephen Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette reported Wednesday that the Pirates are 'actively shopping' McCutchen, making him the latest in a string of reporters to suggest that McCutchen could be dealt at next week's MLB Winter Meetings. While the Phillies may be one of the better equipped teams in the league to make a play for McCutchen, it seems that their best bet may be to check in on McCutchen, but unless the price is much lower than expected (it won't be), a trade for him doesn't seem to make sense right now for the Phillies.