Williams: What Kind of Trade Value Does Andrew McCutchen Have?

Last offseason I wrote a primer covering every angle of a potential Andrew McCutchen trade. The Pirates didn’t end up trading McCutchen, although they came close.

A big part of the primer involved the emotional aspect of trading McCutchen and the business side of a deal. I’m not going to recap that, except to point out that the business side has clearly won over the emotional side in the last year. When McCutchen struggles, which he has done for months at a time in each of the last two seasons, fans are open to the idea of letting him go. That’s a nice way of saying they boo him, and get upset that the Pirates didn’t trade him at a high value.

When McCutchen performs like he did in June and July this year, everyone is on board the extension bandwagon. That of course is when his trade value is the highest, and when it makes the most sense to trade him.

As we’ve seen the last two years, the reasons to trade him are starting to outweigh the reasons to keep him around. He’s starting his decline, and will only get more expensive. Even if the Pirates don’t trade him, and decide to keep him around in 2018, it won’t make sense to extend him. The emotional aspect will still be there, even if it does disappear when he is slumping, but the business reasons are making this an easier decision than last year.

I don’t know if the Pirates will trade McCutchen this offseason, or keep him to try and contend in 2018. What I do know is that he still has trade value, and there are still factors to debate in regards to keeping him versus letting him go. Here is an update on where we are now with all of those topics, following up on last year’s article.

McCutchen’s Trade Value

There was a question last offseason over whether the Pirates were trying to trade McCutchen at a low value. It’s hard to really say what type of value he actually had, since no trade was completed, and very few rumors came out involving actual players that were discussed. There was one rumor that had Lucas Giolito, Dane Dunning, and a third player as a close deal. But the Nationals ended up trading for Adam Eaton.

At the time, McCutchen was coming off a year where he was close to replacement level. There was one theory that the Pirates could keep him around, get his value back to being a 6.0 WAR player, and trade him during this offseason when his value was higher. That came with the risk that he might not fully regain his former value, which is basically what happened.

McCutchen put up a 3.7 fWAR this year, and following his 2016 production, it’s extremely unlikely that he will be worth anything close to 5-6 WAR on the trade market. At this point, the best you can hope for is a 4 WAR trade value, which would amount to about $21.25 M if you value a win at $9 M.

By comparison, McCutchen would have been worth $52 M last year if he would have been valued as a 5 WAR player. He would have been worth about $40 M this offseason if he would have returned to a 6 WAR player. The bright side here is that it could have been worse. He could have had another year like 2016, leaving him with no trade value.

The argument gets brought up every year that the team should hold on to McCutchen and see how the team does, then trade him at a later date (deadline, next year, etc). That wouldn’t be a wise move at this point. Trading him at the deadline would lead to about $7 M in trade value if he maintains a 4 WAR value. By keeping him, you’re reducing his value to a third of what it is right now. And considering his trend of struggling early in the season, saving him for the deadline might be a bad idea.

There’s also the option of keeping him and just getting a draft pick. That would have a pretty low value to what he could get in a trade, which right now could still be a top 100 prospect and more. Then there’s the extension talk, which I’ll get to later.

The Attendance Factor

One argument against trading McCutchen was that it could have a negative impact on the attendance. The idea was that the Pirates would damage their loyalty with fans by trading away a team favorite. The opposite idea here is that they would generate some goodwill by keeping McCutchen around.

I think the actual results showed that this argument was overblown, and the only real impact on the attendance is the won/loss record.

The Pirates kept McCutchen. They also had a losing season, winning only 75 games. Their attendance went down to just under 1.92 million fans, which was their lowest total since 2010, and just below their 2011 season total of 1.94 million fans.

To put that in perspective, McCutchen was still a rising star in 2011, coming off a 3.5 fWAR season in his first full year in the majors. In fact, no one even knew if he would be a star at that point. He had a 5.5 fWAR in 2011, but really broke out in 2012 with a 6.8 fWAR and a third place finish in the MVP race. He wasn’t even an MLB icon at that point, and wasn’t the fan favorite he is today.

The only thing that is going to impact the attendance is winning. There is no goodwill to be had from an attendance standpoint in keeping McCutchen. If the team wins, fans will show up. If they lose, fans won’t show up. It really won’t matter whether they keep McCutchen around or not.

The Extension Debate

I think you could have an interesting debate between keeping McCutchen and trying to contend in 2018, or trading him away and starting some sort of rebuild. That said, I still don’t think there’s a reason to extend McCutchen.

When the “Extend Cutch” talk started, he was an MVP candidate. He was a guy who would lead your team to being a contender every year. You could dream that he would continue this in his age 31 season and beyond.

Over the last three years, we’ve seen that this was clearly a dream. McCutchen struggled for a month in 2015. He struggled for two-thirds of the season in 2016. And he struggled for half of the 2017 season, with a two month slump to start the year, and another month-long slump in August.

Things will only get worse as he gets older. This isn’t a guy who will return to being a 6 WAR player and stay that way in his low-to-mid 30s. McCutchen has lost speed. He has lost defensive value. He has lost bat speed. McCutchen is on the decline, and anyone paying for him is going to be paying for the player he was before, and not the player he will be beyond the 2018 season.

The Pirates might be better off with McCutchen in 2018, and maybe even in 2019. But they can’t get him in 2019 without buying extra years where they will be worse off with him, due to the expected decline.

The only argument for an extension is the goodwill toward him, and the goodwill toward the fans. But as we’ve seen, that is a myth. The only thing that will help the Pirates with the fans is winning, and paying a lot of money for a McCutchen extension will hurt them in this regard.

Replacing McCutchen

The replacement for McCutchen is still Austin Meadows. That won’t happen at the start of the 2018 season, as the injuries to Meadows have held him back from making the jump to the majors. The Pirates will hope that Meadows stays healthy enough in 2018 to allow him to develop in Triple-A, and make it to the majors for the second half of the season.

Meadows will arrive eventually to take over the third outfield spot. If the Pirates deal McCutchen before that, they will need a short-term replacement to take over in the outfield. Of course if they do trade McCutchen and go for a rebuild in 2018, it wouldn’t hurt to give Jordan Luplow a shot to see if he can be a starter in the majors, at least until Meadows arrives.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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joe s

with the surplus of outfielders in free agency, I doubt the Pirates can even trade McCutchen. If they do; trade him, I do not think he will bring back allot of top prospects, but if they trade him and Kang is not available this year, they better get someone to play third.

michael schalke

I believe Washington is still a place where Cutch can be dealt. Werth is old and has an expiring contract. Harper will be gone after next season. I know Eaton will be back and Robles is close but probably a year away so they’ll possibly be looking for some help. Getting Michael Taylor and a pitching prospect would get it done.

sammykhalifa

I’m sure it would. Why wouldn’t the Nats just keep Michael Taylor instead?

Catch22

Bitch Slap Sammy from BD?

sammykhalifa

Haha, no I was before him. I was back on old Pirateball.com/the official MLB site, and you can currently find me over at OBN.

I was actually surprised when I headed over to BD and found someone using “my” name, haha. I’d been using it for almost all my online names since about the turn of the century and had never come across another.

michael schalke

Not the hitter Cutch is and they must have a sense of urgency to win right now.

sammykhalifa

But he’s more reliable and a better defender and younger. The premise of the article seems to be that we should probably move him since he’s on the down and not reliable month to month–why would a contender want a bat that disappears for one or two months at a time?

michael schalke

Good points but in Pittsburgh he’s the man where with Washington the pressure would be far less having the better cast of players around him. Cutch has never been clutch.

sammykhalifa

True enough that he might be more of a “nice to have” when he’s hot, if he’s lower down in the order

capirate

If they trade McCutchen, which I think they should do, they need to find a backup center fielder in case Marte gets hurt. I don’t know if Polanco can still play center, plus he is hurt so often you cannot depend on him for that backup role. The other current options (Frazier, Luplow, Osuna, S-Rod) don’t have the speed for center.

jaygray007

this is a really good point that i hadnt considered much.

maybe if marte gets hurt the plan would just be to throw meadows out there? then again, i guess we arent even sure he has CF chops anymore

jaygray007

and then *again* its not like cutch has the chops either.

hell, just throw Frazier out there and see what happens 😛

NMR

This is why the need for a *true* 4th outfielder is so important.

You could get by with somebody like Travis Snider as your 4th OF when you have both Cutch and Marte, but a *true* 4th OF has to be able to play CF.

Catch22

Jarrod Dyson.

eric i

Keon Broxton. Sorry, I just had to do it.

AttyMike

Realistically, Meadows is a long way off from replacing even the 2017 version of Cutch. The guy can’t stay on the field. We know from experience that young players aren’t instant studs when they arrive in the bigs. They have a problem after 2018 for a couple of years. Luplow and Frazier aren’t adequate replacements for Cutch. They are 4th outfielders or average starters at best.

zabrucky

Maybe we could pony up and sign Mike Moustakas in FA while keeping Cutch and Harrison. Trade Nova for an 8th inning guy. Hell trade Meadows too since he can’t stay on the damn field at age 22 (not sure how anyone expects home to make it through a major league season) and add a difference maker somewhere on this team. Change things up for once and get these damn players excited for something!!! Maybe make a run at getting to the NLCS. Instead of pinching pennies and hoping for the best every damn year and letting the talent we have waste away.

Kozy21

Yes! Moose Tacos! That’s where it’s at.

sammykhalifa

Are we SURE the return we’d get wouldn’t be as good as a first round pick?

ajax2448

Well under the new rules the best the Pirates can get is a compensatory pick after round 1. That would require McCutchen signing a $50+ million dollar contract in the 2018 off season. Teams no longer are required to forfeit their 1st round pick.

REEBS

You are NOT gonna get a massive “group” of prospects for Cutch or Harrison or both. Cole, yes….2 bigtiime prospects and 1 good prospect…but those thinking we will be getting this truckload of star young players are kidding themselves. Just keep Cutch and Cole and move them if u fall out of contention…trade Harrison for a good RH/LH RP (replace with combo of Rodrigz, Frazier, Moroff) and pray Kang comes back…best shot they have.

ajax2448

Cutch would still command a good prospect. I mean he had next to no value last year and the Nats were close to trading Giolito for him and Giolito was still considered one of the best pitching prospects in baseball.

beaverjp

Nats were pretty free and loose with Giolito I bet they acknowledged internally that Fedde was more likely to pan out.

ajax2448

Giolito was actually very good in the second half in both the minors and in the majors.

enrique romo

Tim—what type of return would the pirates get for Cutch?

freddylang

See article above.

enrique romo

Hi Freddylang—question was to Tim—his article “above” really doesn’t elaborate on the type of players or examples of those types of player we should expect in return for Cutch—only dollar values. But thanks for staying on others’ postings like a hawK

Y2JGQ2

Tim isn’t going to answer that- there is a million options

Arik Florimonte

I think what our man enrique is getting at is that Tim in the past has given the approx $ values of prospects. e.g. $xx million in trade value will get you a prospect ranked in the 50-75 range.

Y2JGQ2

I think he mentioned a top 100 prospect

MazsGoldGlove

Look folks, it’s always about the $$ with this FO. Assume for a moment that Cutch is dealt for a rebuild. The chance of contending this year falls, as does attendance. And so do the TV ratings. The contract with AT&TPitt is up this year, and the return on the next contact will be based on recent ratings. That’s long-term money, and it’s part of what has held back the Bucs in recent seasons (supposedly). The Pirates’ FO has been awaiting this next TV deal. Big time. The FO needs Cutch this year.
He’ll be back.

ajax2448

The Phillies got a monster TV deal coming off a 73 win season. I doubt their record will affect their TV deal much.

thecrow124

If baseball in general continues to follow its current trend, I am almost positive Jordan Luplow has a lot more value than Austin Meadows.

That being said, I have always been on the side of extending Cutch, for my own selfish reasons. However, after last season when he was getting boo’d at home, I hope he gets traded to a contender and puts up another great year.

So what does his $21 million value get the Pirates? A hitter in the 75-100 range, or less? If that is the case, it might be better to keep him, let someone sign him next offseason and hope to get a comp pick.

David Lewis

$21M surplus value is a 75-100 hitter, or maybe a 40-60 pitcher.

John W

Correct. But I doubt he is valued at 4 WAR as its highly unlikely he projects for 4WAR. I’m guessing he is seen as having 14-15M surplus value at most.

ajax2448

I think by Tim’s numbers that was supposed to be 31M. The 21 is a typo. 4 WAR at 9 mil per would be 36 so 3.7 is probably worth ~31.

thecrow124

Minus the 14.75 mil he is owed, from the 36 mil 4WAR value gets you 21.75 mil in value.

PiratesFan1975

It’s not a typo. You have to subtract his salary from the 36M. Hence, 21M surplus value.

dr dng

Ok Tim, here is a question (or two), I do not think you answered.

Question #1

If the Pirates TODAY offered McCutchen a new three (or four) year
extension,how much would it cost? I would assume it would be
one of those contracts where the salary decreases over time.
Personally, I think he has more upside than the two guys who
currently play on each side of him.

Question #2

If on December 25, 2018 a team offers McCutchen a three year
contract, what will they have to pay?

piraddict

Agreed!

jaygray007

It surprises me that you don’t mention Frazier at all.

He plays a decent LF, according to UZR, and sorta low-key broke out in the 2nd half last year (.304/.360/.462). he seems to have a higher shot at getting within a WAR of McCutchen than Luplow does at this point, doesnt he?

I’d be mighty tempted to go with Frazier – Marte – Polanco/Luplow platoon if they have a really fun plan with the Cutch money.

#CutchForBeltre #FreeGallo

lfhlaw

I think the only problem I have with Frazier is his Arm. He doesn’t seem to have much of an arm, so anything hit to him isn’t going to results in a play at the plate. Luplow IMO probably has a stronger arm than Frazier.

jaygray007

Arm is probably the tool i’m least concerned with, but fair point

DGT1977

Deal 22, let Meadows in AAA, and reload with prospects

Daryl Restly

I say if you’re going to deal 22, then you might as well deal Harrison and Cole and do a massive rebuild. Dealing McCutchen by itself will not get this team back to being consistent playoff contenders.

TNBucs

This deserves consideration. I prefer giving it one more try before losing Cutch and dealing Cole. But if the right deals are out there, then they might be able to reload without seeing that much of a drop-off in 2018. If they do deal Cutch and Cole, though, I’d also want them to look into what Rivero could bring back.

beaverjp

I’m not against the reload idea but I think it pushes out a resurgence to ’19 or ’20. In the meantime I don’t see them being a whole lot worse (although they will certainly be worse). The biggest issue with that sort of reload is ’18 will be a nasty year at the box office start to finish.

DGT1977

I could not agree more. I would love to see a ceiling and a floor salary cap like the NFL so teams must spend a certain amount or get penaltilized

David Lewis

You can’t have a salary cap/floor without significantly stronger revenue sharing than currently exists.

I would love to see NFL-style revenue sharing and salary cap/floor. But I think it would be hard to get the owners and the MLBPA to agree to all three legs of the stool.

SufferinBuccotash

That will never happen.

Bob Nutting wants ZERO part of a salary floor, which is why the Pirates voted for, and will continue to vote for, a collective bargaining agreement that includes neither.

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