By Jared Lankes
We’ve heard it before, and we hear it almost everyday; Andrew McCutchen is struggling. Not even sort of struggling. It is a massive struggle. With a slash line of .241/.315/406 with 12 HRs but just 32 RBIs and a whopping 86 strikeouts, it’s clear to see that the guy has not been anywhere near himself. The Pirates have been hesitant to change anything for him because they don’t want to mess with too much regarding him to this point, and for good reason. However, this hasn’t stopped many from trying to suggest a number of things that can help McCutchen. Whether they will work for him will likely never be known, but I will explore some of the possibilities that have been brought up.
First one I want to bring up is the position change. This is very unlikely to happen, in my opinion. Even though Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte are clearly better defenders and have wicked arms that puts McCutchen’s in the dust, I don’t think they’ll change the OF now. Something like that might happen when Meadows comes up, but they won’t do it with McCutchen now. He’s played his whole career in center field, and that won’t change, not in Pittsburgh anyways. Sometimes a position change can spark a player offensively for whatever reason, but other times it doesn’t and then it becomes a mess defensively as well (see: Pedro Alvarez). There’s no need to make this change right now. Even though a Polanco in LF, Marte in CF, and McCutchen in RF outfield looks better defensively, the fit isn’t good and the juggling of players is too risky at this point.
The second one I will mention is a move down in the lineup. McCutchen started the year batting 2nd but then got put back in his signature number 3 spot to try to spark him, which hasn’t really worked. Now, I do not think he will be moved down in the lineup for any reason. It gets to be a fragile scenario when you lose confidence in your star player to the point where you have to move him from the top of the lineup to somewhere else in the lineup. Pirates don’t want to do that at this point. The other thing is that it would juggle the whole lineup. Though Clint Hurdle is famous for his constant juggling of players in the lineup due to matchups, McCutchen has normally batted third, outside the outset of this year. Moving Cutch lower in the lineup has an affect on many players as well. Kang/Freese, Marte, Cervelli (when healthy), Harrison, and others are all affected by a lineup movement that significant. That’s not something that would fit the Pirates plans right now.
The final idea is, of course, trading him. I’m not going to get too far into this, but it’s worth mentioning. While I don’t think this is an option right now, it could be later on. However, that’s not the point. Trading McCutchen might fix him because of the “change of scenery” thing. However, that improvement wouldn’t help the Pirates; it would help someone else instead. It would just fix a problem for the Pirates, not because he needs to go away but because he’s struggling and Meadows is coming fast, which I talked about here:
All in all, this is not something that would help the Pirates besides clearing salary and a spot for Meadows and possibly to help Cutch get a fresh start. It won’t happen now, if ever honestly. We will just have to see how that plays out.
I honestly believe nothing the Pirates can do right now can help McCutchen, unless if he is genuinely bothered badly by that thumb. If he’s assumed healthy, which is a longshot actually, all the team can do is let him play it out and change nothing, hoping he will figure it out like he knows how to do. Currently, the Pirates are stuck with a star that is a shell of his former self and if that doesn’t change, the problem is evidently deeper than lineups, positions, or trades. All we can do is continue to root for the Pirates’ superstar in hopes he will look like that once again.