Jays From the Couch reached out to Pirates Breakdown to find out just how likely it would be for the Toronto Blue Jays to trade for Andrew McCutchen
The Toronto Blue Jays will soon be set upon the task of improving their roster. Obviously, the whole winter will see many set about the task of opining about the best ways to do that. Some will be correct, others not so much. In all honesty, the correctness of it all mightn’t matter to many folks. These are the folks who enjoy a good old fashioned educated baseball discussion. These people know that ideas are just that, and their good for discussion and debate.
With that in mind, there is an idea that was around before, but has come back around. Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com speculated that trade possibilities for Toronto include Andrew McCutchen. Admittedly, after his much improved 2017, this idea might seem intriguing. He’s coming off a .279/.363/.486 season that saw him hit 28 HR and drive in 88. After seven season totaling 40 fWAR, Cutch saw just 0.6 fWAR in 2016. He rebounded to put up 3.7 last year, prompting me to wonder if he would be a realistic trade target.
The Pittsburgh Pirates picked up his 2018 option worth $14.75, which is definitely a sign that they have no intention of moving him. Of course, it could also mean that they are planning on holding on to an asset before moving him later. In order to figure it all out, I reached out to Jason Rollison of Pirates Breakdown to get his take on the situation. Jason and the folks at Pirates Breakdown do a fantastic job of covering the Bucs from an analytical angle. So, I knew I’d get a straight answer.
JFtC: Just how likely is it that the Pirates want to trade McCutchen? They picked up his $14.75M option, so would they really turn around and deal him?
PBD: The Pirates want to keep him and make one last run with him in a uniform. However, they will be realists, and if the club is out of it by June, he will absolutely be shopped. The pickup of the option was a formality; this was always the plan, and it’s all about controlling the asset.
This sounds a lot like what could play out with Toronto’s own superstar, Josh Donaldson. The plan is to keep him, but should things turn out poorly (and an extension couldn’t be worked out) by the middle of the summer, we could see an active Trade Deadline. Perhaps this winter is not the time to jump on Cutch. His price would likely be higher now than it would be months from now. That would mean that Toronto would be paying that much more for a commodity that would cost less if they waited.
JFtC: What would it take to pry him away?
PBD: The Pirates would undoubtedly want one major league, or very near-major league piece, and a pitching prospect, at a minimum. They are actually pretty well stocked in the pipeline, so a player who can contribute right away will turn their heads.
This is where Toronto might not be able to step up to the proverbial plate. They have a great deal of talent in their system, the most valuable of which is not as close to ‘big league ready’ as Pittsburgh would like. That said, if Toronto were to offer up pieces close to the big league roster, perhaps a Dalton Pompey or Ryan Tepera could be in play. But, removing any bullpen piece – those pieces have taken a step forward in increasing their value – would be akin to creating a hole to fill another.
JFtC: Is he still a CF?
PBD: In his mind, yes. In reality, probably not.
JFtC: What kind of clubhouse presence is Cutch?
PBD: Overall, you never hear a bad thing said about him in this regard, though at some times a faint whiff of self-centeredness comes through.
JFtC: Can we trust in Cutch’s 2017? Was it a bounce back, or a fluke?
PBD: Somewhere in between? The truth is, this is the type of hitter he is now. Someone who will hit for a decent (read: .270-.290) average, drive in 80-100 runs, and post a .370-.400 OBP. The days of his 2013 MVP – where he hit over .300 while posting a .410 OBP w/ 27 SBs, are LONG gone.
But, this just might be exactly what the Blue Jays would pay dearly for. Imagine McCutchen producing like this from the left field position. This wouldn’t be about finding a long term solution. This would be about ‘going for it’ in 2018. Even the numbers Jason describes would be a dramatic improvement over what Ezequiel Carrera and/or Steve Pearce would provide. And, after the season, Cutch would enter free agency, possibly with even stronger numbers from playing in the AL East. Just on his numbers alone, this is a deal that looks good. But, all things considered, it is a stretch.
Instead, there might be a more realistic trade scenario to be found. The Blue Jays could look to find a utility player of value in Pittsburgh. Josh Harrison has experience at 2B, 3B, SS and the outfield, making him an intriguing commodity. He put up 2.6 fWAR in 128 games for the Bucs. He slashed .272/.339/.432 and has some pop and decent speed. Given the team need for a guy who can back up multiple positions AND contribute with the bat, Harrison just might be a good target.
JFtC: Is Josh Harrison a more likely piece for the Blue Jays to target?
PBD: His contract is an albatross for the Pirates, who have pretty considerable talent right behind Harrison in the pipeline, so yes, absolutely. The Bucs would love to make that contract someone else’s problem.
This is where the Blue Jays can flex their muscles a bit. Harrison is due $10M in 2018, which is good value for a couple of wins. He has two team option years ($10.5M and $11M) on the end of his deal. For a team like the Pirates, this might seem like a hefty price to pay. But, for Toronto, paying for 2018 mightn’t be so bad if they feel he can play as much as Ryan Goins did in 2017. Goodness knows they’d be getting more from Harrison. And, they do not have to pick up his options if 2018 convinces the team to go in a different direction.
It is always fun to speculate about what the Toronto Blue Jays would, could or should do in the offseason. One could go cross eyed thinking about all of the possibilities out there. Some are more realistic than others. On the surface, McCutchen may seem like a great fit for Toronto. He makes sense for several reasons. But, the reality is that chances are slim that he starts the 2018 season in a Blue Jays uniform. But, that doesn’t mean that Pittsburgh isn’t an interesting trade partner. Harrison could be a realistic possibility.
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