Tag Archives: Andrew McCutchen

For Philadelphia sports fans, Bryce Harper may be only big free agent drawing card

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Harper may be the one true drawing card for tough Philly sports fans

When the off-season began the Phillies had a clear mandate from the broader Philadelphia sports fan base. Those many fans who lie beyond the hardcore baseball fans who the team can count on every year, win or lose.

The fans who have made Carson Wentz and Zach Ertz their favorite players on the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. The fans who have trusted the process and are fully behind Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons now that the 76ers have become legitimate NBA contenders.
What the Phillies are after is a re-capturing of the fan base who had the club’s full attention for more than a decade, a period that came to a sudden, crashing end approximately six years ago.
Along with that attention, owner John Middleton also hopes to re-capture the dollars spent by those fans. From 2007 through 2013, the last year or two riding a wave of hope established by the success of earlier Phillies teams, those fans flooded into Citizens Bank Park at a pace of well over three million each season.

In recent years, those attendance figures have come crashing down. The turnstiles have spun far less frequently as the product on the field deteriorated. Philly fans have stayed away in droves, with attendance not even reaching the two million mark for three straight seasons from 2015-17.
There was a slight increase this past season to 2.1 million, or approximately 200,000 more total fans than in the previous three years. That is roughly 3,000 more per game. Those fans were lured in by a team that made an unexpected run to the top of the division in mid-summer. But their interest faded over the final month or so as the team faded in the standings.
The per-game attendance of 26,644 ranked just 12th of 15 National League ball clubs. And it pales in comparison to the 44-45,000 per game who packed the beautiful ballpark in South Philly during the relatively recent heydays.
So, what will it take to re-ignite that broader fan base? Those other one million or so paying customers who actually came out to the park, spending their hard-earned money on tickets, parking, concessions, and merchandise?
Neither McCutchen or Machado is likely to excite the broader Philly sports fan base. (Photo: Keith Allison)
It is going to take what they believe to be sustainable winning. And it is going to take relatable star power. Despite the additions of good players in Andrew McCutchen and Jean Segura the Phillies are not there yet.
And here is another prediction that might make the club tremble at the thought of handing him something like $350 million or more of their dollars for the next decade – Manny Machado will not get them there either.
Machado is a fine player. By all statistical measures he is a genuine superstar. He fits a lineup need perfectly. But he comes with baggage of the type that does not usually play well in Philly. You can argue the numbers all you want. And I’ll watch and say I told you so, just as I did with Carlos Santana.
There is only one player available on the free agent market this off-season who will genuinely excite the Philadelphia sports fan base. Only one who will sell big numbers of jerseys and shirseys. Who will light up the phone lines down on Pattison Avenue. Who will increase visits to the website to purchase tickets.
I am not going to say that the Phillies off-season will be a complete failure if they do not sign Bryce Harper. They could very well put together a winning team that might even push for a Wildcard playoff berth. But there is no other player who will put the fannies in the seats the way that he would.
I wrote at the beginning of the Winter Meetings that the Phillies were one of the front-runners for Harper’s services. That remains true today. Don’t expect any significant movement from any team regarding the star outfielder until after Machado signs.

Originally published at Phillies Nation as “Only one Phillies free agent signing would genuinely excite the broader Philly sports fan base

Will the suddenly hot Pittsburgh Pirates be trade deadline buyers or sellers?

Pirates could contend with Cutch, or deal him
On Monday night, the Pittsburgh Pirates rallied from behind for a 4-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
With that win, the Bucs drew to within three games of the .500 mark on the season. 
They also pulled within six games in the NL Central standings of the first place Brew Crew, and within eight of the second NL Wildcard spot.
The Pirates are suddenly hot, winners now in eight of their last 10 games. They are also about to get star left fielder Starling Marte back in the lineup. He has missed the first 80 games of the season due to a PED suspension. As the MLB trade deadline approaches, they appear to be a team on the bubble.
It’s difficult to get a read on exactly where the Pirates are right now, as far as their overall organizational status and ability to contend. Are they buyers or sellers here in July? That is the decision GM Neal Huntingdon and the rest of management will need to make in the coming weeks.
After earning an National League Wildcard playoff spot for three straight years, Pittsburgh regressed last season. The Pirates finished five games below the .500 mark in 2016, and were 8.5 games out of that Wildcard position.

BUCS BIGGEST TRADE CHIP

Playing a large part in that regression was an atypical poor season from star center fielder Andrew McCutchen. For five straight years from 2011-15, ‘Cutch’ had been clutch. An NL All-Star each of those years, he was awarded Silver Sluggers each season from 2012-15. He was also a top five finisher in the NL MVP race each of those last four seasons, capturing the honors in 2013.
Now, McCutchen has returned to that star-level production. In 380 plate appearances the now 30-year old has hit for a .294/.382/.518 slash line. His 57 runs scored and 38 extra-base hits lead the ball club. And with seven stolen bases, McCutchen has already swiped one more bag than he did all of last season.
The Pirates have a $14.75 million team option on his contract for next season, after which he would become an absolute free agent. They could also buy him out for $1 million, but that’s not going to happen now.
Though he is again, he is not yet old. His return to production has to be encouraging for any potential trade partner. So does the fact that you can have him for at least one more season beyond this at a reasonable price.
McCutchen is not the only potential trade chip for Pittsburgh. Third baseman David Freese is now 34-years old. He is signed through next season to an extremely affordable deal. Freese carries a .371 on-base percentage, and has a wealth of postseason experience.

MORE PIECES COULD ALSO BE MOVED

The Pirates also have a pair of experienced, serviceable lefty relievers in Tony Watson and Wade LeBlanc. Southpaws are always in demand at this time of year as team’s with postseason aspirations try to improve their bullpens.
Right-handed starter Ivan Nova is now 30 years old. He is signed for two more seasons at just over $9 million per. With a 9-6 record, 3.21 ERA, 1.094 WHIP he could be an attractive piece for anyone looking to shore up their pitching rotation.
Which way will Huntingdon choose to go? Much may hinge on whether the Pirates can extend their recent winning ways out another week or so. If they begin to cool again, they will have made their general manager’s decision much easier.

For the Pittsburgh Pirates, No News is Bad News

For the Pittsburgh Pirates and their passionate fan base, the 2016 season was one of extreme disappointment. After three consecutive playoff appearances, the beloved Bucs missed the postseason party.
The Pirates struggled to a record of 78-83 last season, good only for third place in the National League Central Division.
In each of the prior three years, Pittsburgh came in second place, with the team repeatedly falling just short of a division crown. The club finished within two games in 2014 and 2015 after falling three games short in 2013.
In 2016, the Bucs fell 7.5 games short of the second-place St. Louis Cardinals. But that was not their biggest concern heading into the offseason. Pittsburgh also finished a distant 25 games behind the eventual World Series champion Chicago Cubs in the division race.

PITTSBURGH ENTERED THE OFFSEASON WITH DECISIONS TO MAKE

At the very least, the Pirates management went into the offseason needing to figure out a way to close the 8.5-game gap between themselves and the two NL Wild Card teams.
Pirates
There was much talk about Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington pursuing pitching. At one point, the Pirates were reportedly hot after Chicago White Sox lefty Jose Quintana.
Talk was also hot at one point in regards to Pittsburgh trying to deal away former NL MVP Andrew McCutchen for prospects. This would possibly signal that the team was looking to contend a couple of years down the line.
Clearly, the Bucs needed to do something. The status quo was not going to work out. Huntington either had to pull off a deal or two aimed at pushing the current team back into Wild Card contention, or he had to start rebuilding.
In the end, the GM accomplished neither. The Pirates were unable to either acquire Quintana or deal away McCutchen.

OFFSEASON ADDITION AND SUBTRACTION DOESN’T ADD UP

The one positive accomplishment of the offseason was the re-signing of their own free agent starting pitcher Ivan Nova.
The losses from last year’s third-place club don’t seem all that big on the surface, but they absolutely took away from the team’s veteran depth. Reliever Neftali Feliz, pitchers Ryan Vogelsong and Jeff Locke, and bench position players Sean Rodriguez and Matt Joyce are all gone.
Coming into the fold is veteran right-handed pitcher Daniel Hudson, who turns 30 years old early in spring training. Hudson worked his way back from missing nearly three full seasons to become a reliable reliever the last two years in Arizona. Over 134 games he allowed 139 hits in 138 innings, with a 129/47 K:BB ratio.
If Hudson stays healthy, he could make up for the loss of Feliz as skipper Clint Hurdle‘s primary setup man.
But these were the only moves of any real significance made by a team that finished with a losing record. Replace the setup man and keep the pitching rotation together. That’s it.

CAN THE PIRATES CONTEND WITHOUT MOVES?

For the Pirates to get back to playoff contention, they are going to need a return to All-Star form from McCutchen.
Pittsburgh is also going to need a leap forward in production from a pair of youngsters in right fielder Gregory Polanco and first baseman Josh Bell.
Pittsburgh is also going to need all three of their potential young stud starting pitchers to stay healthy. Gerrit ColeJameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow making 30+ starts each would go a long way toward a Wild Card berth.
Even with all the right answers from their in-house players, the Bucs are not likely to catch the Cubs this season. They will need all those right answers just to battle for a postseason berth.

THE ‘CUTCH’ QUESTION

What if McCutchen continues to struggle, losing even more trade value? He turned 30 years old in October and is in the final guaranteed season of his contract. There is a reasonable $14.75 team option for 2018. How should the club approach that option if he deteriorates further?
If the Pirates were going to deal McCutchen, the offseason would have seemed the time to do it. A contender could then have watched him acclimate in spring training, and then plugged him into their starting lineup from the beginning.
The failure of management to generate any real news of significance this offseason, one way or the other, could come back to haunt the Pirates. Not just in the 2017 season, but possibly for years to come.

Would Pirates Actually Deal Andrew McCutchen?

It was a rough season for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2016. After three straight playoff seasons, the Bucs fell to 79-83 and third place in the NL Central Division.
A six-game winning streak at the end of April lifted Pittsburgh to 15-9, just three games out of first place. 
They would never be that far over the .500 mark, or that close to the division lead again.
In examining what went wrong this season in the Steel City, you find a number of factors came in to play. The starting pitching rotation suffered through injuries and ineffectiveness. The club got little production out of either the catcher or first base positions.
But another key element in the Pirates’ struggles this past season was a noticeable decline from center fielder Andrew McCutchen.

ONCE-CLUTCH CUTCH SLIPS UP

The 2013 National League Most Valuable Player had finished among the top five in MVP voting in each of the previous four seasons. He was an NL All-Star in the previous five seasons, and had won four consecutive Silver Slugger Awards.
In short, “Cutch” was one of the best players in all of baseball. This season, however, he never approached those levels. McCutchen hit for an entirely mediocre .256/.336/.430 slash line. He produced 24 homers and 26 doubles, driving in 79 runs and scoring 81 times.
His stolen base total slipped to just a half-dozen, the first time in his career that he didn’t reach double-digits in steals.
His defensive game was also down this past season. The former Gold Glove Award winner saw both his DRS and UZR ratings slip noticeably. Should he stay, there has been talk in Pittsburgh of moving McCutchen to a corner outfield spot in 2017.

A BOUNCE-BACK CANDIDATE

McCutchen could be a major bounce-back candidate next season. He just turned 30 years old in October, and has just one more guaranteed season on his contract at $14 million. There is a $14.75 million team option for 2018 with a relatively inconsequential buyout.
The Pirates could take him into the 2017 season, in which case he would become a major trade deadline piece. Then should the club fail to contend, but he produce that bounce-back season, they could look to deal him in July.
However, he might prove more valuable right now. This would allow an acquiring team to plan its lineup with his presence in mind. They would also have McCutchen for all of Spring Training and the entire season.

POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS

A number of clubs have been linked to possible McCutchen talks with the Pirates. Going back to last season, the Washington Nationals were reportedly discussing such a deal.
A rumored lead piece coming back to Pittsburgh in those talks was outfielder Victor Robles. However, Robles was sensational last season, and is now considered a top ten prospect in all of baseball. It is doubtful the Nats would surrender him for one season of McCutchen.
The New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, Seattle Mariners, and Los Angeles Dodgers have all been linked to McCutchen through various rumors.
Bucs manager Clint Hurdle was quoted by Rob Biertempfel of triblive.com during the World Series: “Andrew has been very black and white in the conversations I’ve had with him. He’s told me, ‘I’m under contract here, so I plan on playing here. However, I don’t call all the shots, either.’”
Hurdle further went on to discuss the reality facing the Pirates in a small market with players in McCutchen’s contract situation:
“I think any general manager that’s in a market similar to the one we’re in has to explore the possibility of (trading) players who have one or two years left on their contracts. You have to see what value is there to keep or to move. That’s the way we’re going to need to continue to operate. It’s the hard part of what we get to do.”
How they choose to handle the McCutchen situation makes the Pirates one of the more interesting teams as baseball’s Winter Meetings open next weekend. But even if nothing is done in National Harbor, they still have all winter, and even into next season, to consider such a move.

2014 Best of MLB Awards

Trout, Kershaw are AL and NL POY respectively

It’s that time of year again, awards season in Major League Baseball. And this site will be no exception.

This year for the first time, with the renewed emphasis on baseball, I am announcing the first-ever “Best of MLB” awards honorees.

In all, honorees are being named for both the National League and the American League in each of 9 categories, one for each inning in a ballgame: Player of the Year, Starting Pitcher, Relief Pitcher, Offensive Player, Defensive Player, Rookie, Comeback Player, Breakout Player, and Manager.

For the most part, these awards were not subjective. I went to FanGraphs, looked up overall regular season WAR values, and gave the awards to the highest players in their categories. In 2-3 other categories, I weighted those numbers heavily in deciding the honorees. Remember, the honors are based on the regular season.

If you follow baseball, you already know these players and are well aware of the excellence of each of their 2014 season performances. So not much extra commentary is needed. But I did want to make just a few comments on some of the honors.

First, my selection of Cincinnati Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton as the top National League Rookie over New York Mets pitcher Jake deGrom. These were clearly the two most impactful rookies in the league this season. I chose Hamilton, who had a higher WAR value, feeling that his everyday impact as a centerfielder was greater than deGrom’s weekly impact as a starting pitcher.

For the American League Starting Pitcher honors, Cleveland’s Corey Kluber beat out a strong field that included ‘King’ Felix Hernandez, David Price, Phil Hughes, and Jon Lester. Kluber was the #2 player in all of baseball in individual WAR, while the others rated 11-14 respectively. All tremendous, but one clearly above the rest.

Corey Kluber, AL’s top starting pitcher

At the A.L. Reliever spot, what a horse race. The honor went to Yankees RP Dellin Betances in a very close race with the Royals excellent setup man Wade Davis. While Davis rightfully received a lot of publicity due to KC’s postseason run, Betances was every bit as dominant in the regular season, and simply finished with a higher WAR value.

Also, I wanted to single out the Breakout Player winners. What a season for both Michael Brantley and Anthony Rendon, 5th and 6th in all of baseball in overall WAR numbers. The 27-year old Brantley has been one of those “good not great” contributing types, and elevated his game. The 24-year old Rendon stayed healthy in his first true full season and served notice that he should be one of the game’s best into the future.

On defense, Boston’s Jackie Bradley Jr was the best defensive outfielder in the game this season, and that includes Lorenzo Cain. Only two facts: his poor offense, and that his poor offense kept him from playing every day, all year long with the Red Sox, kept him from what should have been an easy Gold Glove win. If you don’t know, watch him closely. He’s the kind of player who, with the right offense around him, impacts a game enough defensively to overcome the offensive shortcomings. He should be starting somewhere every day.

Finally, the NL Manager of the Year. Keep in mind, this was a regular season honor, so Bruce Bochy’s great postseason run to a 3rd World Series did not factor. But the job that ‘Donny Baseball’ did in winning the NL West in LA with a frequently dysfunctional core under tremendous pressure to win got him the nod.

Don Mattingly skippered Dodgers to NL West crown

Without further ado, here are the 2014 ‘Best of MLB’ awards honorees:

PLAYER OF THE YEAR
NL – Clayton Kershaw, SP, LA Dodgers
AL – Mike Trout, OF, LA Angels

OFFENSIVE PLAYER
NL – Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh
AL – Mike Trout, Los Angeles

STARTING PITCHER
NL – Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles
AL – Corey Kluber, Cleveland

RELIEF PITCHER
NL – Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati
AL – Dellin Betances, New York

DEFENSIVE PLAYER
NL – Andrelton Simmons, SS, Atlanta
AL – Jackie Bradley Jr, CF, Boston

COMEBACK PLAYER
NL – Johnny Cueto, SP, Cincinnati
AL – Chris Young, SP, Seattle

BREAKOUT PLAYER
NL – Anthony Rendon, 2B/3B, Washington
AL – Michael Brantley, OF, Cleveland

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
NL – Billy Hamilton, CF, Cincinnati
AL – Jose Abreu, 1B, Chicago

MANAGER
NL – Don Mattingly, Los Angeles
AL – Buck Showalter, Baltimore