McCutchen returning to Pirates on 1-year deal

December 20th, 2023

PITTSBURGH -- 's return to Pittsburgh in 2023 began the way everyone hoped it would. He was playing every day, reaching new milestones and providing one of the most productive at-bats on the team. But the way it ended didn’t sit right with anyone.

So let’s run it back.

McCutchen and the Pirates on Wednesday finalized a one-year deal that, according to a source, is worth $5 million. The club hinted at the news Tuesday in a cryptic post on X -- without any text -- of McCutchen walking down a player tunnel at PNC Park.

The Pirates’ plan to bring back McCutchen was the worst kept secret. GM Ben Cherington had said all along that there was a desire to do so.

“In every discussion with Andrew, it was clear we both shared the same strong desire for him to remain a Pirate,” said Pirates chairman Bob Nutting. “He is a tremendous person, player and teammate. He is an all-time great Pirates player who represents our city with a deep sense of pride. His presence in our lineup and our clubhouse has had a significant impact on our young team. The way he plays the game on the field and carries himself in the community will continue to make all of us in the organization better.”

McCutchen returned to Pittsburgh last season for the first time since his run with the team across 2009-17. During that time, he became the seventh Pirate to win an MVP Award (in ‘13) and was a key part of snapping a 20-year postseason drought, leading the Bucs to three consecutive berths from ‘13-15.

In his five seasons away from Pittsburgh, McCutchen had a 109 OPS+ in 549 games, proving that even if he was not producing at an MVP caliber anymore, he was still a very good player. McCutchen’s comeback season in 2023 with the Pirates began with even better numbers: He had an .808 OPS with 11 doubles and 10 homers in 74 games, commanding a spot at the front half of the lineup also thanks to a 15.5% walk rate.

“There’s more for me to do, and there’s more that I can add to this team,” McCutchen said on Wednesday. “They’re not doing this out of pity or because of who I am. They’re doing it because they know there’s a lot I can still bring to this team.”

Milestones passed by in his rearview: 2,000 hits, 400 doubles, 1,000 walks. One he quickly approached in the first half -- 300 homers -- was up next in the second half.

However, that’s when McCutchen’s hot start and historic quest ran into some injury trouble. He dealt with a bout of right elbow inflammation around the All-Star break. Then, with McCutchen only one homer shy of 300 for his career, his season came to a premature end when he suffered a partial tear of his left Achilles tendon on Sept. 4.

“I had to ask myself those questions of, ‘What’s important? What do I want to do?’” McCutchen said in September. “For me, I’m not going to go out like this. I want to continue to keep playing and push through this, let this heal and be ready to go for 2024.”

McCutchen was primarily a designated hitter in 2023, but Cherington opened the door to the 37-year-old getting some work in the field again.

“Our expectation is we want to give it a shot, and he wants the same thing,” Cherington said at the Winter Meetings. “We’d go into Spring Training with an open mind to doing that and prepare for it. It’s not a prerequisite, I would say, or it’s not like a full-stop criteria or anything like that, but it’s our desire because it would help the team and he would probably prefer that.”

“Our conversation with Andrew has really been that he’s gonna tell us and answer that question for us as we get into Spring Training,” Cherington said. “We don’t want to put any limitations on it right now. If it makes sense for him and the team to play some outfield next year, we certainly want to keep that possibility open. There’s probably some benefit to the team if that can happen.”

McCutchen is the latest in a string of signings and reported deals by the Pirates, including Marco Gonzales, Rowdy Tellez and Martín Pérez, the last of whom the club has not confirmed.