Cutch is Back! Pirates in Agreement on 1 Year Deal

1-13-23 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

The Pirates have agreed to a 1 year deal with former MVP Andrew McCutchen reportedly worth 5 Million dollars according to Alex Stumpf over at DK Pittsburgh Sports, a reunion that certainly smells like a PR move, but makes sense for many other reasons as well.

First of all, the fan in me is struggling to get my fingers to stop trembling as I type. What this move will mean mentally to the fan base will likely far outweigh what it brings tangibly on the field.

This is a player who loved Pittsburgh so much he signed a low ball extension offer that essentially turned him into the journeyman he’s become to finish out his career. He still lives here, he’s still active in the community. His kid’s name is Steel.

I mean he made in his 9 seasons in Pittsburgh a little over 56 million dollars, even though salaries have exploded, he could have easily not signed that extension. He did.

And now Andrew is back, the most likely modern addition to the Pirates Hall of Fame out in the outfield concourse has returned to chase milestones in his beloved black and gold.

Milestones like, these.

He needs 52 hits to reach 2,000.
He’s looking for 13 homeruns to reach 300.
8 Doubles to hit 400.

And make no mistake, it’ll mean something in this uniform if he does hit them.

Stick with me here, I’ll get to the counter points, but I’m sorry, there’s a lot of good to get through first.

Cutch is a guy who can look every single member of this team in the eye and say “We can do this. Here! And I have”. Don’t think that message is lost on youngsters who don’t always see what’s building around them in the moment.

He’s a guy who has proven you can win big baseball awards here in Pittsburgh. He helped show a new generation what playoff baseball felt like. This is a player who has shown you can have an absolute blast playing the game of baseball, and you can still focus and lead even while smiling.

From the pure perspective of a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, well, there isn’t much to dislike here. It’s a fit in just about every way you’d want a free agent signing to fit.

Now, because I am who I am, and I always have to make sure I paint a full picture, we have to talk about the serious, baseball side of this thing. As much as I’ve admitted my enthusiasm for this move, I also have to admit, I know what this is AND isn’t.

Let’s start here, where is he going to play?

Couple options there, he could platoon with Choi at DH, he could play some right field in a platoon with Suwinski or another lefty outfielder. This is a guy who right or wrong took 515 at bats last season with the Brewers, so it’s not like he has entirely become a bit player in this league yet.

Those 515 at bats added up to 1.1 WAR. Most of that WAR came from the bat, because he only had 97 attempts at put outs in the outfield last year, he did that in 50 games and while he made no errors, he’s simply not the fielder you remember who played shallow and ran down balls at the center field wall. Keep in mind, the Brewers weren’t exactly stacked in the outfield and chose to deploy him in this fashion, so keep your head screwed on, he’s likely not going to be a starter in the OF most nights.

As many of you remember, I already didn’t see Connor Joe as a lock to make this roster, Miguel Andujar either, this signing makes that almost a lock. I can’t see both of those players making this team now, even if I think Vilade is the probable corresponding removal from the 40-man.

This also could cost Ji-hwan Bae a shot, and I’m not a fan of that. I’m confident the Pirates want to get Castro 500 at bats this year, and that to me sent Bae to Centerfield. We may have to wait to see that play out now a bit.

The outfield capable players on the 40-man as we sit here are:
Ji-hwan Bae
Jared Triolo
Miguel Andujar
Connor Joe
Tucupita Marcano
Cal Mitchell
Bryan Reynolds (And yes, the Pirates still see extending him as possible, and preferable)
Canaan Smith-Njigba
Jack Suwinski
Travis Swaggerty
Ryan Vilade

And now, Andrew McCutchen.

Out of that list Bae, Triolo and Marcano are all capable of playing infield so they have a roster spot advantage.

You have to assume Jack Suwinski, Bryan Reynolds, Andrew McCutchen are all locks to make the roster on opening day. That leaves 2 spots in my mind believing they’ll bring 5 north.

To me, this smells like a healthy, good old fashioned Spring Training battle.

Again I see Vilade being the easy odd man out here, but if I’m really honest, that’s because he’s the only one I haven’t really seen play baseball.

Conner Joe and Miguel Andujar probably have a bit of an advantage too, for one thing both have already played in the majors and experienced some success, regardless of when it was. Both are right handed, and against a really tough lefty, the team could value being able to toss three right handed sticks out there like Joe, Cutch, Reynolds. Those two are locked in a mini battle inside the overall battle if you ask me. Joe has options, Miguel doesn’t. Miguel has also avoided arbitration and signed a contract with the Pirates, meaning, he makes money already, albeit not much.

After that, take your pick from the other lefty. Bae, Swaggerty, Mitchell, Marcano, Smith-Njigba, that in and of itself is going to be interesting. I have my preference in Bae, but for these types of things, it’s best to just stay open minded. Bae has some things this team lacks. Real leadoff ability, and he’s a shi* stirrer on the base paths, pardon my French. He’s an OBA guy, if not Power, but his speed will buy doubles too and he hits lefties well enough. That’s my leader in the clubhouse, problem is, they aren’t in the clubhouse yet, lol.

So some will probably say Cutch, awesome! But he’s blocking this guy I wanna see too. And they’d be right, this will inevitably cut into some playing time for someone I listed there. Might even wind up holding back someone else we haven’t even thought about yet. Cal Mitchell is simply going to struggle to make this team, and Smith-Njigba, well, he did nothing wrong but get hurt. Swaggerty could largely say the same.

All that being said, if you want your baseball team to put a better product on the field, you’re going to simply have to accept that we’re right on the cusp of the act of pining for prospects changing. I say that even as our most exciting batch in years is right on the doorstep.

Now they all have to beat someone. And they have to beat someone who is likely at least an MLB player.

That seems simplistic but folks that’s not something you could say in 2021. Getting to this point was always the goal, but this team is chalk full of 2023 solutions, not beyond, so while I explained the added difficulty facing the prospects on the doorstep don’t mistake, they really do need to find ways to get their feet wet and gain experience.

This is for another day, but the only position where a prospect could be reasonably expected to start on opening day if they did really well in Spring would be Catcher and Endy Rodruguez, and we all know they’ve already decided that isn’t happening.

It’s a better roster, and adding Andrew McCutchen adds depth, PR benefits, right handed power, a bridge to past success, nostalgia and a bit of swagger.

This isn’t some World Series here we come move, frankly one of those wasn’t out there for this roster, not even Judge, but it does further solidify when this team said they wanted to really improve in 2023, they weren’t kidding. The next step of meshing prospects into this will be interesting. If they do this well, by 2023’s conclusion we’ll be seeing a team grow increasingly younger, and more talented at the same time. Note, that’s more talented, polish doesn’t grow on trees, and the transition can be painful at times. Do this wrong and 2024 will be banking too much on untested kids or a repeat of the types of signings we saw this year to extend the bridge.

At some point, you do need to get eyes on the kids, but for now, it’s hard to argue they’ve made the roster stronger, deeper and more capable of surviving catastrophe like Yoshi or Perez wound up being. In fact, things like that might be how these prospects trickle in.

I said it last year in September, even as the bullpen and rotation fell to injury and the team imploded further. This is the fun part of rebuilds. The choices they make, when they make them, how the pieces fit.

Today the Pirates pushed a button.

Some monkeys like me are gonna eat it up, some are going to be critical of it for many of the reasons I pointed out up there.

Everyone will at least on the inside be smiling when they see him in black and gold, and hear his name blare out on the PA in PNC park and he tips the cap and gives that wink. He’ll be home, and so will some of us who watched him lead the charge to bring this team out of the darkness once. That won’t be his role this time, but it might just still feel like it.

This is good for the Pirates, and the city, that’s really the long and short of it.

Welcome home Andrew, we all never let you forget you were home when you came in for a series, here’s to a lot more this year.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

3 thoughts on “Cutch is Back! Pirates in Agreement on 1 Year Deal

  1. Great article Gary, since this broke, I’ve been saying he will do as much or more good in the locker room and on the bench as on the field. He can be a great mentor to the young Bucs. I remember when AJ was here, when he wasn’t pitching, he was in the dugout surrounded by the other pitchers, and it seemed like they were hanging on his every word, I’m hoping Cutch can have that affect on the position players.
    Plus it’s great to get a guy the Mets we’re planning on signing, I read an article this morning that said they expected to sign him today, then this afternoon the NY Post is talking about losing him to the Pirates. lol

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Given all the terribleness of the Reynolds situation this offseason and the background dread that the team is still a year or two away from truly developing their prospects, this is the best news in a long time by a country mile. Considering how far off the team is from being competitive, I don’t care that he is blocking the youth this year, I only care that he is back for one more season with his energy and skills. Also, I suspect he will DH a fair bit given that he only played outfield in 50 games and DH’d in 82 of them. I assume there will be similar splits here.

    Liked by 1 person

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