The biggest question for the Pirates this offseason is whether the Pittsburgh Pirates should trade Andrew McCutchen, or keep him in hopes he rebounds from a dreadful 2016 season.
Nomar Garciaparra is fourteenth in Boston Red Sox history in bWAR, baseball reference’s version of WAR, and is fifteenth in fWAR, fangraphs version of WAR. Among players with 1000 plate appearances, Nomar is thirteenth in wRC+ in Red Sox history. Garciaparra is eighth, among hitters, in Red Sox history in win probability added. From 1997, Nomar’s rookie of the year season, through 2003, he ranked second among shortstops in fWAR and wRC+. The only player better in that span was Alex Rodriguez.
Picture being a young general manager in charge of breaking a World Series drought of 86 years. Then imagine trading a player of that stature for two players, Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz. At the time of the trade, Cabrera had a career 82 wRC+, and Mientkiewicz was at a career 104 wRC+. The young general manager by the name of Theo Epstein traded a player, who at the time of the deal had a career 134 wRC+, for a player, who would become the starting shortstop, that was 18 percent worse than average with his bat and a player four percent better than league average offensively.
Johnny Damon, the Sox center fielder at the time said this, via the Boston Globe, about the trade, “We just traded away Mr. Boston, a guy that meant so much to the city, and just like that, he’s gone.”
Pedro Martinez, the team ace, added this via the Globe:
"For some reason, I just feel like Nomar’s part of the tradition in Boston. I’m so used to seeing `Nomah!’ and hearing the people go, `Nomah!’ and No. 5 all over everybody’s back. For some reason, I just framed him as a Bostonian, as part of the team. I think a lot of people are going to be sad in Boston."
All of this relates to the news that came out the other day via Ken Rosenthal, who reported the Pirates were in discussions with the Washington Nationals at the trade deadline in regards to trading Andrew McCutchen.
McCutchen is Pittsburgh’s version of Nomar. The beloved player of the city in which plays. When at PNC, all the shirts and jersey’s with the number 22 on the back. The first Pirates player to win the MVP since Barry Bonds. Cutch was the best player on the team that brought winning back to the franchise that was starved for so long. The connection to Garciaparra doesn’t start and end at the connection of how the city and fans appreciate the player, the numbers behind the players also create a connection.
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Garciaparra was in his age 30 season when the Red Sox traded him to the Chicago Cubs. He had a career .391 wOBA and a 134 wRC+ in 4635 plate appearances. Andrew McCutchen is entering his age 30 season, and he has a career .375 wOBA and a 139 wRC+ in 5179 plate appearances. For 2017, McCutchen is projected to have a .362 wOBA and a 129 wRC+, which would be a very solid season.
But what if his knee injury from 2015 and thumb injury in 2016 keep adding up and he performs worse than projections in 2017? What if he performs to the .329 wOBA and 106 wRC+ that he did in 2016? What if Andrew McCutchen is Nomar Garciaparra?
There is one year left on McCutchen’s deal, and he is owed $14 million. He also has a team option for 2018, an almost guarantee that it will be picked up, and that is worth $14.75 million, with a $1 million buyout. He will be a free agent before his age 32 season, the downside of his career. Would the Pirates even entertain an extension, and if so would they give the demands of a player? In all likelihood, the Pirates would only offer a four-year deal, covering his age 32-35 seasons, but the cost will be the question, especially if he performs well.
Garciaparra posted a .337 wOBA and a 102 wRC+, in today’s game a .337 wOBA would be more so than two percent better, but it certainly would not be elite. The options the Pirates have are very basic. Let Cutch play out his contract and hope that he performs to his projections, and then either sign him or let him walk in free agency. Or the Pirates could gamble, trade McCutchen this offseason and acquire some value with only one down year, and two years left on his deal.
McCutchen is the face of the franchise. The player that Pittsburgh loves. However, Andrew McCutchen very well could be Nomar Garciaparra.
*Numbers from fangraphs