Andrew McCutchen had his worst Major League season in 2016, by Wins Above Replacement, OPS, strikeouts and stolen bases, among other measures. But looking deeply into the numbers, he posted an .852 OPS from the start of August onward, beginning after a three-game benching by Pirates manager Clint Hurdle.
As long as rival general managers believe McCutchen's late-season production is sustainable for the near-to-medium term, the 2013 National League Most Valuable Player Award winner will have plenty of trade value as the Winter Meetings draw near. McCutchen turned 30 on Oct. 10, and he has two years left on his contract, putting him within an age range that appeals to teams.
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The Pirates are willing to trade McCutchen this offseason, for a number of reasons: They have an in-house replacement to play center field, Starling Marte, whose metrics say would be a defensive upgrade. The Bucs' payroll -- MLB's sixth lowest in 2016 -- makes McCutchen's salary unwieldy as he enters his 30s. And it would be harder to extract good talent from other teams in a trade next offseason, when there is only one year remaining on McCutchen's contract.
The Mariners spoke with the Pirates about McCutchen earlier this offseason, sources said over the weekend. Those talks did not advance, the sources indicated, but a trade fit still exists: Seattle wants right-handed power and could play McCutchen in left field, where a combination of two unproven players (Shawn O'Malley and Guillermo Heredia) is the current setup.
McCutchen's contract lacks no-trade protection, so he's unable to directly influence his destination. The Dodgers, Giants, Rangers, Indians and Mets are among the possible suitors for him, because of their needs for right-handed outfield bats.
Geography of Braun trade market
Ryan Braun, like McCutchen, is a former NL MVP Award winner who soon could be dealt away from the small-to-medium-sized NL Central market, where he's spent his entire Major League career.
One major difference: Braun has a no-trade clause.
Braun can block deals to all but six teams: the Dodgers, Giants, Angels, Padres, Diamondbacks and Marlins, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. That reveals a clear preference to play on the West Coast (where Braun was born, raised and resides) or South Florida, where he attended college.
The Dodgers nearly acquired Braun at this year's Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline, and it was widely assumed those talks would reignite during the offseason. At this point, however, there's no apparent momentum toward a deal.
If Braun is steadfast in going only to one of the six clubs listed above, the Giants are the most plausible non-Dodgers destination. They, too, want a power-hitting left fielder.
In fact, the rival Dodgers and Giants are competing on a number of players this offseason, including free agents Justin Turner and Kenley Jansen.
Around the Majors
• The Dodgers have openings at both second base and third base, so it's logical that they're pursuing an infielder capable of playing both: Tampa Bay's Logan Forsythe. Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman traded for Forsythe once before, from San Diego to Tampa Bay prior to the 2014 season. Forsythe is an underrated performer, with a .791 OPS for the Rays over the past two seasons.
• In a familiar rite of recent Trade Deadlines and Winter Meetings, Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich is receiving inquiries on Carlos González and Charlie Blackmon. Yet the chances of a deal appear low.
Colorado, emboldened by the team's best record since 2010, believes it can win next year. An outfield of David Dahl, Blackmon and Gonzalez would be among the Majors' best, and third baseman Nolan Arenado is among the top five all-around players in MLB.
Bridich believes he has four pitchers solidified in the rotation: Jon Gray, Chad Bettis, Tyler Chatwood and Tyler Anderson. During the current decade, the Rockies rarely have been able to make that statement.
• With the Blue Jays' signing of Kendrys Morales now official, the team is intensifying its search for a lefty-swinging outfielder capable of hitting leadoff. Two names high on their list: Dexter Fowler (free agent) and Adam Eaton (White Sox trade candidate).