McCutchen still a Pirate as Meetings loom

McCutchen still a Pirate as Meetings loom

PITTSBURGH -- Two days of nonstop speculation have come and gone. Two days remain until the official start of the Winter Meetings. For now, Andrew McCutchen is still a Pirate.

Beginning Monday, MLB.com and MLB Network will have wall-to-wall coverage of the 2016 Winter Meetings from the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center outside Washington, D.C. Fans can watch live streaming of all news conferences and manager availability on MLB.com, including the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday at 9 a.m. ET.

The rumors continued to swirl Friday as the Pirates went about their offseason business, talking trades on several fronts and considering their free-agent options. The Nationals remained in the "lead" for McCutchen, MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi reported early Friday, and the Rangers were among the other clubs in contact with the Bucs regarding the five-time All-Star and 2013 National League MVP.

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But Friday's 8 p.m. ET non-tender deadline passed without a trade, a reminder of two truths amid the relentless rumblings: The Pirates don't have to trade McCutchen, the face of the franchise, and they certainly don't have to do so on anyone else's timetable.

Byrnes looks at Cutch's season

In need of a center fielder, the Nationals hoped to land McCutchen by Friday's deadline, according to an ESPN report, so they could move Trea Turner back to shortstop and subsequently non-tender Danny Espinosa, who would no longer have a starting role in Washington. But the Nats tendered Espinosa a 2017 contract, and the Bucs entered Saturday with McCutchen still on their roster.

That doesn't mean McCutchen won't be traded. The Pirates will continue to discuss a number of players in trade talks, specifically those who are nearing the end of their contracts -- something they view to be necessary as a small-market club with a limited payroll. That includes McCutchen, who is under contract for $14 million in 2017 with a $14.75 million club option for '18.

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Speaking generally Friday night about the club's offseason plans, general manager Neal Huntington said the Pirates will "continue to do everything in our power to put a winning team on the field" next season and in future years.

"If that means we make decisions that are unpopular, it means we make decisions that are unpopular," Huntington said. "At the same time, it is no coincidence that we were good when Andrew McCutchen was good.

"If teams think we're giving any of our players away, we're looking to do the right things for this organization and make the right moves for this organization."

McCutchen's two-homer game

So the Pirates will continue to consider their offers. They are seeking contractually controllable pitching to bolster a rotation that struggled throughout this past season. Nationals right-handers Joe Ross and Reynaldo Lopez would fit that description. They are also interested in 19-year-old outfield prospect Victor Robles, according to multiple reports, and MLB Network's Jon Heyman reported Friday the Bucs want Robles and a top young starter in exchange for McCutchen.

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If the Pirates don't get the deal they're looking for, they can hold on to McCutchen, believing he will bounce back after the worst season of his career. However, they would risk him struggling in 2017 and losing whatever trade value he still possesses as he nears free agency.

They are prepared to handle his departure, able to slide Starling Marte into center field and wait for McCutchen's long-term successor in top prospect Austin Meadows. So the Pirates still seem likely to move him, and it could very well happen soon. But they don't have to settle.

"We'll see how the Winter Meetings play out. There's a lot more noise out there right now than signal," Huntington said. "We're looking forward to seeing what our best club for 2017 and beyond is going to be."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.