With the annual Winter Meetings beginning on Monday, the Los Angeles Dodgers figure to be at the center of several trade rumors in the coming days. One specific area the front office presumably will attempt to improve is the team’s struggles against left-handed pitching in 2016.
While the Dodgers have been connected to the likes of Ian Kinsler, Brian Dozier and Logan Forsythe, for the vacancy at second base, the club could also use an upgrade in one of the corner outfield positions.
This past August, the Dodgers nearly acquired Ryan Braun from the Milwaukee Brewers but ultimately couldn’t finalize the deal prior to non-waiver trade deadline.
While talks have been quiet on that front, Los Angeles appears to be casting a wider net for a right-handed power bat.
McCutchen, 30, entered the league in 2009 and immediately made an impact.
In 108 games, he batted .286/.365/.471 with 26 doubles, nine triples and 12 home runs to go along with 22 stolen bases. He finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting and went on to post a nearly identical batting line in 2010.
From 2011-15, McCutchen was selected to the National League All-Star Game each year and totaled 34.0 fWAR (third-highest among qualifiers). During that stretch he took home four Silver Slugger Awards, a Gold Glove and finished in the top-five for NL MVP voting four times — an honor he won in 2013.
Over his career against southpaws, McCutchen owns a .317/.405/.547 batting line in 1,102 plate appearances (472 games). However, he took a huge step back in 2016, both offensively and defensively.
The four-time All-Star posted career lows in many categories, including bWAR (-0.7), though McCutchen still managed to hit 24 homers and finished the year with an above-league-average OPS+ (103).
Despite the overall struggles, he somewhat salvaged the season behind a solid second half, posting a .793 on-base plus slugging with 22 extra-base hits in 69 games.
McCutchen also struck out considerably less while refining his walk rate (92 strikeouts and 33 walks in the first half compared to 51 strikeouts and 36 walks in the second).
His month of September in particular mirrored his previous MVP-type production as shown by a .287/.373/.513 batting line in 134 plate appearances with six doubles and six round-trippers.
With the emergence of top prospects Josh Bell and Austin Meadows, McCutchen becomes expendable for the Pirates despite his historic tenure with the team. He has one more year remaining on his contract and a club option for 2018 — amounting to $28.75 million combined.
With the Dodgers looking to shed salary this offseason, acquiring an MVP-caliber player on a team-friendly deal is a dream scenario, so it’s no surprise they’re pursuing him.
The Washington Nationals and Texas Rangers are among other teams with interest in McCutchen, so the Pirates can wait for the best offer before dealing him.
Pittsburgh is reportedly seeking Washington’s top positional prospect Victor Robles as the centerpiece of a deal. The 19-year-old is MLB Pipeline’s 10th-ranked prospect in the Majors.
With McCutchen’s down season and just two years left of team control, along with a flush market of sluggers in free agency, the Pirates might have to settle for less than their current asking price.
For the Dodgers’ sake, the Pirates would certainly demand Jose De Leon or Cody Bellinger as a headliner for McCutchen, and it remains to be seen if Los Angeles is willing to commit to such a cost for any player(s).
A natural center fielder, McCutchen would have to shift to a corner spot should the Dodgers acquire him, given the presence of Joc Pederson up the middle.
The Dodgers would be banking on McCutchen bouncing back offensively next season, resembling the player he was in the latter months of 2016.
Early Steamer projections peg McCutchen with a 129 wRC+ and 3.5 fWAR next season. While those aren’t MVP numbers, it would be a substantial upgrade for the Dodgers considering the production they received from their corner outfielders this season.
No matter where McCutchen winds up in the next few days, the Dodgers are sure to be active on many fronts during the Winter Meetings and will undoubtedly make a splash.