Andrew McCutchen is back. A feel good story, obviously, and a welcome ray of sunshine over a gloomy Pittsburgh Pirates franchise. Now moving forward past the press conferences and billboards is... what is the on-field product going to yield with Cutch back in Pittsburgh’s lineup?
McCutchen made his intentions very clear at his re-introductory press conference upon his signing. He is not here for a farewell tour, he is not here for a front office position, he is here to win. That kind of energy is something fans will love to see this season, as it was not too long ago where Cutch was leading the Buccos to the postseason.
Though it is not one’s job in sports to mentor those under you (go ask Brett Favre), McCutchen also made it apparent that being a role model and a leader in the locker room is one of his goals for the 2023 campaign. The Pirates have a young core of players that will benefit greatly from the kind of insight the former MVP can provide. He is the most recent example of what success looks like in a Pirates’ uniform, and that’ll be important for the young guys around him.
Aside from the mentor role that Cutch will fill, he is also likely going to play left field defensively. Last year in Milwaukee saw McCutchen primarily as the DH, compiling 17 home runs and 69 RBIs along with a .237 batting average. Not mind blowing numbers, but for a player who is slightly over the hill, respectable.
Defensively, McCutchen is not young or athletic enough to continue to play centerfield full time, but still skilled enough to not be relegated strictly to DH. While a specific position was not assigned, McCutchen should be versatile enough to split time between the outfield and DH.
In a perfect world, Bryan Reynolds will return to the club and continue his dominant reign in centerfield, but that all is yet to be determined given his $50 million dollar gap with the Pirates’ organization. At the very least, Jack Suwinski should be a certain fixture in the Pirates’ outfield. It is very possible that Suwinski switches to left field, with McCutchen taking over right.
The infield should be pretty set in stone as well. The dynamic tandem of Oneil Cruz and Ke’Bryan Hayes will be back at third base and shortstop respectively, as they look to take the next steps in their young careers. If Cruz and Hayes can both find some much needed consistency at the plate, they should be able to take a lot of pressure off of the Pirates’ pitchers (which are going to struggle again this year) which should lead to more wins.
On the opposite side of the infield, second base is a mixed-bag. Kevin Newman provided little consistency in 2022, and has since departed for Cincinnati. 23-year-old Rodolfo Castro only played in 32 games and will likely be the opening day starter.
First base was another group that lacked consistency, but the acquisitions of Ji-Man Choi and Carlos Santana should help solidify that group. Both players are also likely to see time as the DH.
The catchers in Pittsburgh did not excel in 2022, so hopefully the signing of Austin Hedges pays off in 2023. Don’t rule out a call up for Endy Rodriguez or Henry Davis if the Pirates get desperate for someone to lead behind home plate.
The signing of Andrew McCutchen guarantees a couple of things. For starters, there will DEFINITLEY be more people in the seats at PNC Park, but we already know Cutch has bigger plans than that. Secondly, the young players in the clubhouse are getting a real mentor in the former MVP, which at the very least should lead to some cohesion with the team. Third, and most importantly, McCutchen in this offense is going to produce runs, and runs lead to wins. How many wins? That has yet to be determined, as there is still a long way from opening day. With that being said, the NL central is always a wide open division where anything can happen.
The acquisition of McCutchen alone likely does not lead to a playoff berth, but a lot of people thought he’d never return at all. Time will tell, but this should be one of the more exciting seasons for the Pirates in recent history.