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Ask Bucs Dugout: Potential Pirates pitching targets, and Andrew McCutchen's declining defense

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Thanks, everyone, for the questions, and feel free to keep them coming.

Bourgmic: Is there any scenario where the Pirates trade prospects or current MLB starting position players in order to acquire pitching going into 2017?

Sure. They're not going to trade Austin Meadows, Gregory Polanco or someone like that. But I could see them trading Andrew McCutchen, and if they do, they could seek a controllable starter in return.

It's also possible they could trade lower-tier prospects for a pitcher, since the free agent market is thin. I was talking to Tim Dierkes about this earlier this week, and he mentioned Tyson Ross, Drew Smyly and a few others as pitchers who could become available at reasonable prospect prices because of their increasing salaries. Ross, of course, spent most of the year on the DL and recently had surgery to relieve thoracic outlet syndrome, so his health is obviously an enormous question mark. He made $9.6 million in 2016 and appears set to make a similar amount in 2017; perhaps that's too much for a team that just dumped Francisco Liriano's contract. I've been pointing to Ross for years, though, as the sort of pitcher the Pirates would probably love to have around. Someone like Smyly, who only made $3.8 million last season, might be a more realistic target.

Speaking of which ...

TheRickSays: Is Shelby Miller worth a slight overpay compared to his current relative value? New Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen should have some familiarity with Pittsburgh’s farm, and I would certainly like for the Pirates to make a move for Miller. Hazen might be more willing to deal Miller than Dave Stewart was simply because it was Stewart’s lopsided overpay that brought Miller to Arizona, and Hazen could be more likely to cut bait.

Since the Diamondbacks kept Miller in the minors for much of the season, he still has three more years of service time before he hits free agency. That might mean the Diamondbacks hold onto him, since they would be selling low and there's still time for him to recoup value. There's a big difference between three years and two, which is the number of years of control the Pirates have over McCutchen.

That said, I think you're right that Hazen is likely to be more open to trading Miller than Stewart was. And as reclamation projects go, Miller would get a big thumbs up from me, as a hard thrower who's still young and has had MLB success. (He also pitched well in the minors this season and looked like a solid percentage of his former self after the Diamondbacks recalled him in late August, throwing in the mid-90s and avoiding walks.) Trading Dansby Swanson, Ender Inciarte and Aaron Blair for Miller was ridiculous, but dealing a couple mid-grade prospects for him would make a lot of sense.

Brian O': To what do you attribute the huge decline in McCutchen's defensive numbers? It is common to hear of infielders "losing a step" or outfielders slowing down as they age but it doesn’t seem like Cutch has lost much, if not any, speed.

For those who haven't wrung their hands about this already, McCutchen's UZR fell from -4.5 in 2015 to -18.5 in 2016, and his Defensive Runs Saved dropped from -8 to -28.

To me, it looks like he's lost speed. Every time he would try to steal second this year, I'd cringe. He only stole six bases this season, and got caught seven times. That's a huge difference from even two years ago, when he attempted a lot more steals and was much more successful -- in 2014, he stole 18 bases and got caught three times. If going from 18-for-21 to 6-for-13 isn't a sign of diminishing speed, I don't know what is.

That doesn't mean he's lost enough to look slow to the naked eye. After all, he's still capable of doing this:

It's just that he's slowed down enough that he's narrowly missing being able to beat the ball to second base. The same is true in the outfield, and that's going to add up over the course of a season. Maybe that's due to lingering knee problems, and he'll be healthier next season.

It's also possible the Pirates' positioning had an effect on McCutchen, as Clint Hurdle has suggested. The Pirates played shallower than usual this year, and going back on balls has never been McCutchen's strength as a fielder.

I also wonder -- and my memory here might be imperfect -- whether he might have carried his struggles at the plate into the field this season, at least to some degree. He only got charged with three errors, but he also made his fair share of avoidable bad plays that didn't turn up directly in the stat sheet.

Vlad: Which current Pirate (or member of the Pirates minor league system) is most likely to be managing a major league team in 20 years, and why?

I haven't met every member of the Pirates' system, but Cole Tucker and Chris Stewart stand out as guys who seem capable of that, if those are the paths they want to pursue. Jameson Taillon, also. Among former Pirates, Russell Martin would be an obvious pick.

Just as an aside, when you get to have extensive conversations with catchers, it's easy to see why so many of them become managers (Brad Ausmus, Mike Matheny, A.J. Hinch, Mike Scioscia, Kevin Cash, and so on -- which is not to say that all those guys are great managers). They have to be thinking about what's going on the entire time they're on the field.

BenjaminPGlaser: How much will the Reds' new TV contract affect the Pirates?

Some, but probably not much. For those who haven't seen, the Reds got a new 15-year deal. The terms are unclear, but the Reds have described it as a relatively small deal. It sounds like they'll get an increase in revenue, but not to a spectacular degree. Whatever the impact of the deal, they figure to be rebuilding for the next season or two anyway, which means they probably won't make much noise until the Pirates' own deal expires in 2019.