Nats' pursuit of McCutchen intensifies

Pirates outfielder would fill need for right-handed power hitter

Nats' pursuit of McCutchen intensifies

WASHINGTON -- Hours after Major League Baseball and the Players Association agreed on new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Nationals began ramping up their aggressiveness.

Talks between the Nationals and the Pirates for a trade that would bring outfielder Andrew McCutchen to Washington intensified Thursday, according to MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi, with Washington wanting to complete a deal ahead of Friday's 8 p.m. ET non-tender deadline.

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If the Nationals acquire McCutchen, it would almost certainly result in Trea Turner moving back to his natural position at shortstop. That would leave Danny Espinosa without a clear place on the team, and he could be non-tendered by Friday's deadline and become a free agent. It could also give Washington clarity on whether to non-tender outfielder Ben Revere. Still, a source told MLB.com's Adam Berry on Thursday afternoon that, while the Pirates remain willing to engage in offers for McCutchen, they will only move him for the right offer.

The Nationals and Pirates began discussing a potential trade for McCutchen in July, when they worked out the trade that brought Mark Melancon to Washington for left-handers Felipe Rivero and Taylor Hearn, but were unable to strike an additional deal. A trade for McCutchen would likely require the Nationals to part with 19-year-old outfielder Victor Robles -- their No. 2 prospect as rated by MLBPipeline.com -- and another young starting pitcher with a few years of control left on his contract, such as right-handers Joe Ross or Reynaldo Lopez.

The Nationals were reluctant to trade such players before last season's non-waiver Trade Deadline, but after another season ended prematurely, perhaps they have changed their tune. They have emerged as the aggressors, but the Dodgers and Rangers -- both teams rich with prospects -- have also been rumored to be looking for an outfielder.

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McCutchen, a five-time All-Star and the 2013 National League Most Valuable Player, is coming off a down year in 2016 in which he hit 24 home runs with a .766 OPS. He is owed $14 million in 2017 and has a team option for 2018 for $14.75 million, an affordable contract for a player three seasons removed from the winning the MVP who will still only be 30 years old next season.

The Nationals' interest in McCutchen likely indicates that they believe he can play center field, even though the Pirates were trying to move him to a corner outfield spot. His -28 defensive runs saved in 2016 was the worst among center fielders, although Pittsburgh has admitted it positioned McCutchen too shallow in center field this season, which resulted in some of his defensive issues. If the Nationals do not believe he can play center, they could move Bryce Harper to center field and play McCutchen in one of the corner outfield spots.

But if the Nationals believe McCutchen can bounce back to his All-Star form, he could be a nice fit for a team in need of a right-handed power hitter in the middle of their order between Harper and Daniel Murphy. It would also signal that they are ready to win now, an aggressive move after a National League East championship last season ended in heartbreak yet again with a loss in the NL Division Series.

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.