NATIONAL HARBOR, MD. - While the talks for Chris Sale reportedly heated up late last night on the first weekday of the 2016 MLB Winter Meetings, the chatter about a deal between the Washington Nationals and Pittsburgh Pirates for center fielder Andrew McCutchen seemed to die down.
For a while there, rumors of the Nationals acquiring the Chicago White Sox’ lefty and the Pirates’ outfielder and making a big splash at the annual gathering of the baseball world’s executives and reporters were making headlines, but the Bucs’ rumored ask of the Nats’ top pitching prospect and outfield prospect was reportedly rejected.
“According to industry sources,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writer Rob Biertempfel wrote, “the Nationals rebuffed the Pirates' offer to swap McCutchen for outfielder Victor Robles and pitcher Lucas Giolito.”
“We put our heads down and do what we do,” Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington said when asked if that was the end of the talks for McCutchen, who struggled at the plate last season, finishing the 2016 campaign with a .256/.336/.430 line, 26 doubles, and 24 home runs, at 0.7 fWAR.
The 30-year-old outfielder is, however, only one year removed from a .292/.401/.488, 36 double and 23 HR, 5.8 fWAR campaign, and he is under contract for $14M in 2017 with a club option for 2018 at $14.5M or a $1M buyout.
His defensive numbers last season were an issue as well, as the eight-year veteran finished the 2016 season at an NL-worst -28 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) among qualified center fielders, with an NL-worst -18.7 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating)
Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo, asked about the rumors of interest in the outfielder, said he wasn’t concerned about the numbers.
“He’s a good player,” Rizzo said. “He’s a guy that, all I know, when he’s in the batter’s box against us, he’s not a guy I want to see up there.”
But the defensive metrics?
“He’s a good player, good defender, I like the whole package,” Rizzo said.
Asked on Monday afternoon about the possibility of either the Sale or McCutchen trades actually happening, Rizzo said as always, he’s willing to make the right deal.
“If the deal is right, we’ve shown in the past that we’re not afraid to pull the trigger and make a deal,” he told reporters.
“But the deal has to be right. We’re all about win/win deals, so if we get what we want and we give away what we feel is a fair deal for a player, we’ll make a deal. If we don’t, we won’t make one.”
In an MLB Network Radio interview earlier this morning, Huntington said, “We believe that our next good teams will probably have Andrew McCutchen on them, if not, we felt that a move of Andrew McCutchen had a better impact, a bigger impact on our future success.”
The Nationals are still looking for an outfield bat, of course. Is the possibility of a deal for McCutchen dead?
The package the Pirates asked for (Giolito/Robles) is reportedly the package on the table for Sale as the White Sox weigh that offer and wait for others.
USA TODAY’s Bob Nightengale wrote on Monday afternoon that the Nats asked the Tampa Bay Rays about center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, but found the “... asking price exorbitant.”
Rizzo said Monday the flexibility on the Nationals’ roster allows them to take a patient approach to roster building.
“The flexibility that [Trea Turner] and several other players on the roster give us is important,” he explained.
“It allows the pool of talent to expand, the tradable players, we’re not locked in to one position. The free agent market allows us to expand that market and go after a diverse skill set of players.
“Turner’s flexibility, [Bryce] Harper’s flexibility, the amount of different positions that each can play, the amount of players that we have on the roster with options, all that stuff comes into play, and it’s all about the roster organization and construction.”