With the rumors that the Pirates pursuit of Jose Quintana is dependent on their ability to move Andrew McCutchen, it’s a good time to reevaluate which teams might have an interest in the Pirates outfielder. Several competitive teams have poor projections from at least one of their outfield positions, and given McCutchen’s .363 projected wOBA and 3.4 WAR (steamer) he’d be an upgrade for most teams in search of outfield help. Given the glut of outfielders available on the free agent and trade markets it’s easy to understand why dealing McCutchen hasn’t been easy. The Nationals were the easiest fit, but there are several other teams that make sense as potential options.
RF:Melvin Upton (0.2)/Ezequiel Carrera (0.0)
The right field platoon of Upton and Carrera is bad. Andrew McCutchen is good. The Blue Jays would be better with Andrew McCutchen. Granted, the fit isn’t perfect. The Pirates were rumored to be looking for an MLB ready starter and at least one more top prospect, and the Blue Jays don’t seem likely to want to part with either. Jose Bautista is still a free agent, and Toronto is probably the most likely destination for him.
RF: Joey Rickard (0.0)
Last years rule five pick, Rickard’s projected .307 wOBA would be substantially improved upon by McCutchen’s .363. The Orioles farm system isn’t particularly good, and they’re seemingly more likely to fill this spot with one of the numerous free agents available than trade for McCutchen. Mark Trumbo isn’t exactly an outfielder, but he pretends to be one for money and after spending the season there last year, he’s been linked to Baltimore a lot this offseason. I’d bet on him here rather than McCutchen. They could also use a DH, though.
LF: Mikie Mahtook (-0.1)
Mahtook hasn’t been good, but the Rays aren’t going to trade prospects for McCutchen. Why would the Rays want McCutchen? They don’t have the type of front office that trades for a relatively expensive (though still cheap-ish) older player.
CF: Jacoby Ellsbury (1.5)
The only reason the Yankees are on this list is because they were linked to McCutchen earlier in the offseason and they’ve been rumored to have discussed a three team trade involving the White Sox and Pirates for Jose Quintana. But there doesn’t seem to be a fit here unless the Yankees can unload one of their own outfielders, which seems unlikely.
LF: Michael Brantley (2.0)
Brantley’s projected 2.0 WAR belies the fact that he missed all of 2016 with a shoulder injury, one that he might not be back from come opening day (although Cleveland seems confident that he will be back). If there are lingering concerns though, a McCutchen trade wouldn’t be impossible to imagine here. If Brantley does return, McCutchen is a better center fielder than Tyler Naquin, and if Brantley’s recovery progresses slower, one of the two can play left (neither UZR nor Defensive Runs Saved liked Naquin in center last season, pegging him at -5.1 and -17 runs above average respectively). Cleveland is going for it in a way that should have them trying to maximize their win probability, and although they’re likely to win the AL Central with or without McCutchen, they could take a strong step toward ensuring that happens by acquiring McCutchen. The question remains if they have enough money to take on the 14 million dollar salary commitment to McCutchen.
CF: George Springer (2.1)
RF: George Springer (1.6)
This is perhaps the best fit, given that the Astros currently have one person penciled in at two outfield positions. Some combination of Nori Aoki and Jake Marisnick are the likely starting right fielder. Replacing Marisnick and moving Aoki to the bench to add McCutchen would improve the Astros by about two wins this year, and make them a clear favorite to win the AL West. Rather than acquiring Quintana for a rotation that, frankly, looks good without him, the Astros should be looking at improving their outfield more. Dave Cameron at fangraphs wrote about this exact topic, although he didn’t speculate on a potential fit. The Astros haven’t been linked to McCutchen, though, and they might not be interested in acquiring him.
DH: Joey Gallo (0.2)
Should the Rangers be willing to acquire McCutchen, they’d likely move Shin-Soo Choo to DH. It’s probably likelier, though, that they sign one of the many free agent sluggers available on the market to specifically DH and play some first base. It would be interesting to see what Gallo could do given a starting spot and the organizations faith to work through his struggles, but the Rangers don’t seem to have that faith in him. Mike Napoli has been strongly linked to the Rangers, and he’d fill their first base gap, leaving just DH available to either Gallo, another free agent, or Choo, so this is an unlikely fit.
CF: Curtis Granderson (1.5)
RF: Jay Bruce (0.6)
The Mets have been trying very hard to trade Bruce, and that’s the only way McCutchen fits here. They could switch Granderson back to right field, and either play Juan Lagares in center or make a move for an outfielder. But no one seems very interested in Jay Bruce, so I wouldn’t hold my breath here. The Mets pitching staff does lead to some interesting hypothetical trade match-ups though, and that’s always fun.
LF: Andrew Toles (1.0)/Andre Ethier (0.4)
The Dodgers are currently going with some combination of Toles and Ethier even though both are left handed. Ethier missed most of last season with a broken leg, and Toles was out of professional baseball in 2015. Andrew McCutchen could easily fill this hole for the Dodgers, and they were linked earlier in the offseason, but they seem to be more focused on acquiring Brian Dozier from the Twins currently. They might not want to pay the cost in prospects (or cash) that it would take to acquire both.
LF: Jarrett Parker (0.2)/Mac Williamson (0.6)
The Giants have stated publicly that they’re content going forward with this platoon, so this might just be due diligence, but it seems like there could be a fit here. The Giants seem to be a good team, but a worse one than the Dodgers currently by about 7 games according to Fangraphs projections. Acquiring McCutchen wouldn’t close that gap completely, but it would help to bring them closer. This is a logical fit that hasn’t had a lot of rumor surrounding it, so perhaps both sides aren’t in agreement right now, but if the Pirates hold McCutchen until the trade deadline and perhaps look to move him then, this could be an interesting option.
The Pirates should have no shortage of teams interested in McCutchen, although there are plenty of alternative options. The free agent market is still saturated with outfielders, although none in McCutchen’s tier. Mark Trumbo, Angel Pagan, Rajai Davis, Michael Saunders, Brandon Moss, and Jose Bautista make up the best free agent outfielders. The Rockies seem likely to trade an outfielder, because if they actually play Ian Desmond at first base, they don’t seem to have any kind of a plan. The Mets, as previously mentioned, have been trying to trade Jay Bruce. There are numerous trade and free agent options available, so while about a third of the league is looking for outfielders (including the Pirates, who still lack a fourth outfielder to replace Matt Joyce) it won’t be easy for the Pirates to find a match for McCutchen. Once the free agent market sorts itself out more, and teams miss out on signing their top targets, perhaps they’ll be more likely to meet the Pirates asking price for McCutchen. Either way, a McCutchen trade doesn’t seem imminent, which seemingly makes it less likely they’ll be able to acquire Jose Quintana.