Bucs 'mates foresee big year for McCutchen

Players happy franchise star is remaining with Pittsburgh

December 12th, 2016

PITTSBURGH -- 's teammates were pleased to see him at PirateFest over the weekend. Most were relieved McCutchen was still on board, not traded elsewhere, because of what he means to Pirates fans and as the face of the franchise.

They also believe McCutchen is going to help them win next year.

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"I think he's going to have a hell of a year," shortstop said. "That's who Andrew is. When he gets a chip on his shoulder and his back's against the wall -- man, that's when he plays the best."

The concern, of course, is how McCutchen played this past season. After five straight All-Star seasons and four consecutive top five National League MVP Award finishes, he batted .256/.336/.430 and recorded minus-0.7 Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement.

That performance, along with the recent trade talk, led a reporter to ask McCutchen at PirateFest if he's feeling motivated to put together a strong season in 2017.

"Motivated? I don't know that's quite the word for it. Something a lot higher than motivated. I'm hungry," McCutchen said. "I'm only 30. If you look at people who had great careers, guys who are in the Hall of Fame, not everyone always hits through 30, especially in this day and age.

"I can't wait to get my feet back there on the field, get ready and show that I'm not washed up, I guess. I'm only 30. It's not like I'm 40. And even that is possible, too -- see what Papi [David Ortiz] did. Anything is possible in this game."

Cutch happy to still be wearing black and gold

Since the season ended, the Pirates have pointed to McCutchen's last two months as reason to believe he'll bounce back at the plate. He hit .284 with an .852 OPS and nearly as many walks (34) as strikeouts (36) in his last 56 games. Even Nationals manager Dusty Baker -- whose club negotiated to acquire McCutchen before striking a deal for -- opined that McCutchen just had a "down year," nothing more.

Pittsburgh believes that was the case, too. And the Bucs think McCutchen will trend up again offensively next year. Another encouraging sign, even when he never felt like himself: His exit velocity remained around league average or better throughout August and September, according to Statcast™, after occasionally dipping below that point from April to July.

And even in a "down year," McCutchen's adjusted OPS was three percent better than league average. He led the team in homers (24) and finished second in RBIs (79) while staying healthy enough to play a team-high 153 games.

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"I'm glad he's on our team. I would not like to be looking on deck to see who the next hitter is and see him lurking over there late in the game," closer said. "That wouldn't be a pretty sight. I'm glad that he'll be behind me and playing defense behind me."

It is unlikely McCutchen will get traded this offseason, but he still could be dealt within the next year or play out his contract. So the Pirates want to make the most of his remaining time in Pittsburgh, however long it may be.

"I hope he's here when the season starts and through the rest of the season," catcher said. "Hopefully, he's putting on a championship ring with the rest of us next year."