Dunlap: Something Interesting Playing Out With McCutchen

PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — Something really curious is afoot with Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen — he’s killing it again. Crushing it. Mashing everything pitchers throw in the strike zone and returning to all-star form.

He hit two home runs on Tuesday night in a win against the Colorado Rockies and has shined since manager Clint Hurdle dropped him down in the order to the No. 6 spot.

In the 17 games since McCutchen has taken over the No. 6 spot, he’s hit .397 with four doubles, a triple, five home runs and has driven in 15 runs. Flat out, he’s producing — and as he goes, this team seems to go as they have won four straight.

That’s the first part in this curious equation — a red-hot McCutchen who has looked to have bounced back from a terrible 2016 and equally bad start to this season.

The second part of all this? That would be what to do with him at the trade deadline if this keeps up. Or, numbers even remotely like this keep up.

It sure is a curious case.

The club holds a club option for the 2018 season for McCutchen at $14.5M with a $1M buyout. It has long been assumed McCutchen could be a target to be traded at the end of next month at the deadline. If not, he’s a guy who would almost-certainly not be back for the long run, as he’s now 30, had that down season last year and the organization seems to be more committed to Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco and Austin Meadows in the years to come.

And, after all, there’s only so much room in the outfield inn.

But here’s the curiosity — what if McCutchen is turning back into, undeniably, one of your three best outfielders? That’s the question I have.

What if this current jolt he’s realized by batting sixth isn’t something that is a short-term fix, but something that’s rejuvenated his career and forced him out of that prolonged funk he was in and back into the Andrew McCutchen we were accustomed to?

It’s a fair question to ask, especially all the things considered with the other three guys.

I mean, there is that PED suspension Marte is currently serving, the one he won’t return from until July 18. But one of the deepest questions about Marte is what kind of player he will be post-suspension. And that has to be something that worries the Pirates.

Was Marte a bona fide star or was his success decently-chemically enhanced?

For that reason, it might make sense to revisit McCutchen as a long-term solution here in Pittsburgh.

Same thing with Gregory Polanco not hitting the stride the organization thought he would by this point. Polanco’s defense is iffy at best and with just three home runs as he approaches 200 plate appearances this season, he hasn’t given them the power one thought he would.

Both Marte and Polanco are inked to long-term deals, but that doesn’t mean one couldn’t (or at least shouldn’t) get done with McCutchen, too, if the Pirates view him as one of their best three outfield options.

On top of that, is Meadows any slam dunk to come in and be great? I don’t know, but with the recent uptick in McCutchen’s game it seems more of a situation on betting on the known than on hoping on the unknown.

In short, this recent surge in MCutchen’s game — since he’s dropped to the sixth spot — isn’t just helping this current band of Pirates win some games, it’s also doing something else: it is making the long-term future of McCutchen here in Pittsburgh an even more curious situation than it already was.

Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weekdays from 5:40 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at colin.dunlap@cbsradio.com. Check out his bio here.

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