Set your oven to 400 degrees, and start boiling that water, the MLB hot stove is officially heating up. Now, before I go on any further, I would like to clarify that I hate writing these types of articles, it is the definition of click-bait, but lately I’ve been seeing some news that’s got me thinking. It looks like the Pittsburgh Pirates might be shopping Andrew McCutchen around this offseason, and the Indians could be just the right partners to make a deal happen. First off, where in the world did I get this rumor? As ESPN has been known to do, they wrote an article that holds almost no truth to it, but it was interesting nonetheless. Here’s what they wrote about a POTENTIAL (bold so you now that the trade has not, and probably won’t happen) trade with the Tribe and the Pirates (you can read the full article here).
“Pittsburgh Pirates trade OF Andrew McCutchen to the Cleveland Indians for RHP Mike Clevinger, RHP Triston McKenzie and SS Erik Gonzalez.
All the AL contenders get better! What’s McCutchen worth for the remaining two years on his contract? Hard to say after a tough 2016, and he’s not really a center fielder anymore. But Tyler Naquin rated as the worst defensive center fielder in the majors in 2016, so the Indians managed OK with poor defense there as is. The Pirates get two major league-ready assets in Clevinger and Gonzalez (.296/.329/.450 at Triple-A), plus a projectable arm in McKenzie (104 SO, 22 BB in 83 1/3 innings in the minors).” — David Schoenfield
This trade looks great on the surface, as the Indians would go in to 2017 with an outfield of Michael Brantley, Andrew McCutchen, and the platoon of Lonnie Chisenhall/Brandon Guyer. And let it be known that I would love to see this trade happen, but is it really all that great?
We all know what Andrew McCutchen is (or what he used to be), 5-time All-star, gold glove/silver slugger winner, and former MVP. But did you know that he was also a below replacement level player last year? That’s right Cutch finished the 2016 season with a -0.7 WAR, mainly due to some atrocious defense in centerfield where he yielded -28 runs from fielding. Tyler Naquin, no gold glover by comparison gave up -18 run from fielding. McCutchen will be 30 years old next season, and history has shown that defense doesn’t tend to improve the older a player gets, but acquiring McCutchen could also mean a move to a corner outfield spot, where he is much more suited and would probably put up much more respectable defensive numbers. Here’s the problem though, the Indians have a glut of corner outfielders, meaning that they would have to get rid of some. Plus, centerfield would still be a huge hole, unless you count on top prospect Bradley Zimmer filling that void.
By any measure, McCutchen put up his worst statistical season of his career, but that still included swatting 24 home runs, along with an OPS+ of 103, meaning his bat was still above league average. On the down side, he saw his OBP, which was at .400+ over the last four season, plummet all the way to .336. He is also no longer the base stealing threat he was earlier in his career, in fact in 2016 he was caught stealing more than he was successful at stealing. A lot of people would probably just point to a bad season, everyone has down year eventually, and if you’re looking for a bounce back candidate, McCutchen will probably top a lot of pre-season lists. A player that talented doesn’t just fall off a cliff unless a major injury occurs, which in McCutchen’s case, hasn’t. And we still haven’t even gotten into his contract.
Which is a steal by the way. Josh Reddick just got a 4-year, $52 million contract from the Astros, Josh Reddick is not nearly as talented or as good as Andrew McCutchen, who has 1-year and $14 million left on his contract, with a $14.75 million team option for 2018 (assuming the Indians don’t buy him out for $1 million). A trade for McCutchen probably signals the end for an “After party at Napoli’s”, along with bringing back Rajai Davis. But with McCutchen on board, it opens up the door for Michael Brantley to spend more time at DH, and more time for Santana (who quietly had a better defensive year at first base than Napoli) at first base. There should be no problem adding McCutchen’s salary.
As for the players the Indians would be giving up in this proposed trade, I think the Indians can take the hit of giving up Clevinger, who will most likely start the season as the Indians fifth starter or bullpen piece. The Indians rotation is set up for the next few seasons, and the Indians wouldn’t lose that much in trading Clevinger, who will already be 26 by next season. Erik Gonzalez is more of future Michael Martinez, and will probably be a solid bench piece, but the Indians have plenty of those guys in the minors, and they are a dime a dozen on the free agent market. Triston McKenzie gives me the most pause on this trade. McKenzie had ridiculous numbers in the minors this past year (he spent time in low-A and A ball). In 83.1 total innings, McKenzie had a 2.05 ERA, a 0.960 WHIP, and struck out 11.2 batters per 9-innings. He’s a right-handed pitcher who stands 6 feet 5 inches, and could probably eat a few more cheeseburgers, as he tips the scale at only 165 lbs. He is currently the Indians fifth best prospect and their second best pitching prospect (behind Brady Aiken). He’s still only 19 years old and isn’t projected to reach the majors until 2019. Sure he has talent, but he is no sure thing.
By no means are the Indians selling the farm in this trade, as the Andrew Miller, and even the proposed Jon Lucroy trade had the Indians giving up more. With the Indians in the middle of the contention window, they need to do all they can to get back to the World Series, and this trade would definitely be a win-now mode, and would even be Michael Brantley insurance. Look, I know I bashed McCutchen a lot in this article, but I would love to see the Indians make this trade. This is the reason I hate writing these articles, for one, I hate getting my hopes up on trades that will never happen, and two, it makes me look like a sell-out phony who only cares about clicks. It also makes me yearn for baseball. So, I’ve laid everything thing out, you decide how serious this is.
— Chris Sladoje (@The_Doje)
Photo courtesy Flickr | Keith Allison