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Pirates to sign Andrew McCutchen

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Andrew McCutchen is going back to where it all began. The free-agent outfielder agreed to a one-year deal to return to the Pirates, reports Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Agreement is pending physical examination.

It’s a good story for Bucs fans, who are sure to give the five-time All-Star and 2013 National League MVP a hero’s welcome upon his return to PNC Park. The Pirates selected McCutchen, now 36, with the 11th overall pick in the 2005 draft. He immediately ranked among the sport’s top overall prospects after a strong post-draft showing in the minors in 2005, and in 2009, he reached the majors. and earned fourth place National League Rookie of the Year. , reaching 0.286/0.365/0.471.

This served as a springboard to stardom for McCutchen, who would spend the first nine seasons of his career in black and gold, hitting a combined . 291/. 379/. 487 with 203 home runs, 292 doubles, 44 triples, and 171 stolen bases. A true cornerstone player, McCutchen led the Pirates to their three most recent postseason appearances, in 2013, 2014 and 2015 – each a Wild Card berth. Pittsburgh only advanced in one of those three seasons, besting the Reds in a one-game Wild Card matchup in 2013 before falling to the Cardinals in that year’s NLDS.

McCutchen signed an early extension with Pittsburgh – a six-year, $51.5 million contract with a club option for a seventh season. It gave the Bucs some extra club control and cost certainty over a player who was then the face of the franchise, but as is often the case with the Pirates and other low-payroll clubs, McCutchen loomed as a commercial candidate in the late stages. of that contract. Nearly six years after the extension was signed, McCutchen was traded to the Giants in what was an unpopular move at the time but now looks to be perhaps the best trade in former GM Neal Huntington’s tenure. In order to acquire the final year of McCutchen’s contract, the Giants parted ways with the right-hander. Kyle Crick and the man who eventually replaced McCutchen in the outfield: current center fielder Bryan Reynolds.

Since leaving the Pirates and entering his 30s, McCutchen’s output has begun to wane. He proved quite productive in a 2018 season split between the Giants and Yankees — enough to lock in a three-year, $50 million deal with the Phillies. The first season of that deal saw continued production early on, but McCutchen suffered a torn ACL that June, missed the remainder of the season, and has since settled closer to league average in terms of offensive production. In the last three seasons, he has been a .234/.325/.417 hitter — about three percent better than the league average, according to WRC+.

McCutchen spent the 2022 campaign with Milwaukee and struggled to a career-low hitting lineup of . 237/. 316/. 384 in 580 trips to the plate. Even as McCutchen’s bat began to slow down in his post-Pirates days, he remained a potent threat against left-handed shooting, hitting lefties with a bar of .291/.407/.567 in 2019-21. However, that trend also broke with the Brewers in 2022, as McCutchen put up a lukewarm . 221 / . 303 / . Pirates are hoping this was more of a BABIP-driven anomaly (0.248) than the start of a true decline.

McCutchen served as the Brewers’ top pick designated hitter last season (82 games), but also logged 50 games in the outfield. He hasn’t surpassed 93 innings in center field since 2017, his final year with the Pirates, and at 36, it doesn’t seem likely he’ll log significant time at his former position again. He’ll likely get occasional looks at the designated hitter, albeit with Pittsburgh already acquiring first basemen. Ji-Man Choi and Carlos Santana this offseason, one of these two figures to be the main option in DH. McCutchen gives the Pirates outfield mix a right-handed bat to match left-handed corner options such as Jack Suwinski, Cal Mitchell and Canaan Smith-Njigba.

In addition to the contributions he will make on the field and the mentorship he will provide to several up-and-coming young pirates, McCutchen will give fans much to celebrate in 2023 as he pursues several career milestones. He’s just 52 hits away from hitting 2,000 for his career and just 13 home runs off 300. McCutchen hit 17 home runs last year and hasn’t hit fewer than 13 in an entire season of games in his career to this point, so he is a good bet to reach both round numbers this year.

More to come.

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