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Should the Pirates Bring Back Andrew McCutchen?

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On Wednesday, the Philadelphia Phillies declined their $15M club option on former Pirates’ star Andrew McCutchen, making him a free agent. McCutchen is now free to sign with any team this winter, so could the Bucs be interested in a reunion with the 2013 National League MVP?

McCutchen was the 11th overall selection by the Pirates in the 2005 MLB Draft. The centerfielder made his Major League debut in 2009 and quickly became a fan favorite in Pittsburgh. In his nine years wearing the black and gold, McCutchen was an MVP, a five-time All-Star, a four-time Silver Slugger and a Gold Glove recipient. He was the face of the franchise that got the Pirates back to the postseason three straight years starting in 2013.

Prior to the 2018 season, the Pirates traded McCutchen to the Giants in a deal involving Bryan Reynolds and Kyle Crick. He didn’t last long in San Francisco as he was traded to the Yankees later that year. McCutchen spent the last three years in Philadelphia after agreeing to a three-year deal during the 2018-2019 offseason. He carried a .778 OPS with 27 home runs and a 14.1% walk rate in 144 games for Philadelphia in 2021.

The Case For

Let’s start with the off the field stuff – the more sentimental reasons. McCutchen was and still is beloved in Pittsburgh. He, his wife, and their three young children – the oldest named Steel after the city of Pittsburgh, all still live in the suburbs of the city. He himself may have some interest in a reunion due to proximity to his family.

For the Pirates, not only would they be getting McCutchen for on-field purposes, but bringing him back would surely give a boost to the attendance woes the Pirates have experienced the past few seasons. Many fans would be ecstatic to see one of the most beloved Pirates in team history back in a Pirates’ uniform wearing No. 22. McCutchen, now 35 years old, eventually retiring as a Pirate would be a nice ending to what has been a fantastic career.

On the field, the Pirates have a need for a corner outfielder and need to add some thump to a lineup that finished last in the Major Leagues in home runs and slugging. Though McCutchen’s average has dipped over the years, his power and ability to get on base has remained consistent – he currently ranks fifth among active players with 926 career walks and 15th in home runs with 270. Additionally, McCutchen can act as a mentor to an increasingly young roster. This is especially true in the outfield as outfield prospects such as Travis Swaggerty, Canaan Smith-Njigba and Cal Mitchell are all on the cusp of reaching the Major Leagues.

The Case Against

From McCutchen’s perspective, would he really want to come to play for such an obvious non-contender in 2022? He hasn’t played in the postseason since 2017 with the Yankees and surely would like at least one more crack at trying to win a World Series. He’s surely to have a fairly strong market, even if he winds up signing a one-year deal. Since his defense has declined, his market would be especially strong if the National League adopts the DH as expected.

Should the Pirates, who are already handcuffed when it comes to spending in free agency, sign an aging corner outfielder who could command close to $10M on a one-year deal? The answer is probably no. If the Pirates really do intend to address the corner outfield situation, there are both cheaper and younger alternatives on the free agent and trade market that would make more sense for the Pirates’ situation. While it would be a nice story if a reunion did take place, it doesn’t make a lot of sense from that perspective. Plus, Ben Cherington has shown that defense is an important element for the Major League roster, and McCutchen’s work in the field has been on the decline since his last few years with the Pirates.

Ultimately, I would have to think McCutchen signs elsewhere this offseason – probably with a team more ready to compete for a playoff spot. After that, who knows? Maybe McCutchen does end up back in Pittsburgh for one more year to end his career and serve as a veteran leader just like A.J. Burnett, Russell Martin and those guys who helped the Pirates reach the postseason for the first time in two decades. For now, it just doesn’t feel like the right time for either side. McCutchen should take a crack at trying to win his first World Series ring and the money the Pirates do spend this offseason should probably go towards pitching.

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