By Jason Shetler
The Pirates were still in the rebuilding process in 2009, and were looking to sell high on some players. One of those was Nate McLouth, who was coming off an All-Star campaign in 2008. It seems ridiculous now, but the McLouth trade in June of 2009 garnered so much criticism from the fan base, that it seemingly overshadowed the call up of Andrew McCutchen. McLouth’s replacement did quite well that season, as he posted an .836 OPS with a 121 OPS+ and a 3.4 WAR, while finishing fourth in the voting for National League Rookie of the Year.
McCutchen got his first All-Star selection in 2011, which prompted the Pirates to lock up their franchise player to a six-year extension worth $51.5 million in Spring Training of 2012. Since signing the extension, he’s been named to four All-Star teams, captured four Silver Slugger awards, a Gold Glove and was the recipient of the 2013 NL MVP award.
2016 however has been a much different story for McCutchen. Not only has he been unable to put MVP caliber numbers, he’s struggling right now to be even be a league player, posting an OPS+ of 98 along with a 0.6 WAR. His walk rate is still good at 9.9%, but the strikeout rate has gone up to 24.8%, which is about 7% higher than his career mark. McCutchen historically has been able to make contact with pitches outside of the strikezone with a career O-Contact rate of 63.8%. That hasn’t been the case this year, as that percentage is down almost 10%.
As I mentioned earlier, McCutchen was extended for six years in 2012. The extension also includes a 2018 club option worth $14.75 million. McCutchen will be 31 entering the 2018 season, which is generally when players exit their prime. If McCutchen isn’t putting up MVP or even All-Star type numbers up to that point, then there’s no reason for the Pirates to exercise his option, so if another team wants to sign him to a multi-year free agent deal for his declining years, then let them do it. Also keep in mind that Pirates top outfield prospect Austin Meadows should arrive to Pittsburgh by that time. Considering all those factors is why I think next season should be McCutchen’s last in a Pirates uniform.