ESPN's Keith Law recently suggested that Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen was not untouchable—and could possibly be had with the right offer. The news sent rumors flying. The 25-year-old became a National League All-Star in just his third major league season in 2011 and would be attractive to just about any big league club.
McCutchen has four years remaining of team control before he hits free agency, and he narrowly missed qualifying for Super Two arbitration after the most recent season ended.
He's coming off a 20-20 season and had the fifth-highest WAR (wins above replacement) among big league center fielders behind the likes of the Red Sox's AL MVP candidate Jacoby Ellsbury, the Dodgers' NL MVP candidate Matt Kemp, the Yankees' Curtis Granderson and the Phillies' Shane Victorino. He also posted the sixth-highest OPS behind the same five players (and Josh Hamilton of Texas).
So what would it take for the Arizona Diamondbacks organization to acquire the young superstar in the making? It would definitely cost a lot of talent. The club would field a true dream outfield with Chris Young, a plus fielder with 30-30 potential, Justin Upton, another 30-30 candidate who could also hit .300, and McCutchen.
As Law stated, the Pirates organization would have to be bowled over to move its best player. Arizona's top pitching prospects Trevor Bauer and Archie Bradley are off limits because of the provision preventing teams from trading players with less than a full year of pro experience. Arizona could, instead, tempt Pittsburgh with a package including big league outfielder Gerardo Parra and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, as well as minor leaguers Jarrod Parker and Patrick Corbin.
The offer would fill a number of needs for Pittsburgh, if all goes as hoped, including a No. 2 or 3 starter (Parker), starting first baseman and huge power source (Goldschmidt), starting left fielder (Parra) and a future No. 3 or 4 starter (Corbin). Arizona is clearly set up to "win now," while the Pirates organization is a ways away from fielding a consistent winner.
Parra is by no means a close comparison to McCutchen in terms of talent, but he's still relatively young and is a very good fielder. He's a huge upgrade over Alex Presley or Garrett Jones (more on him in a minute). Parra, 24, doesn't have the power that teams typically look for in a corner outfielder, but he hits left-handed, has some speed and flirts with hitting .300.
Pittsburgh currently has Jones penciled in at first base. The 30-year-old player is a late bloomer who banged out just 16 home runs with a .243 batting average in 2011. Even if Goldschmidt doesn't hit for average, he should represent a big improvement in the power department, and Jones recently earned Super Two arbitration status, meaning he's in for a big raise for 2012.
The addition of the sophomore would allow the Pirates to non-tender Jones and reallocate his salary elsewhere. The loss of Goldschmidt would leave a big gap at first base for Arizona, but they could likely fill the hole with a one-year free-agent rental or through a subsequent deal.
Parker would be a nice addition in Pittsburgh as a young arm with a considerable ceiling. The former first-round draft pick hasn't bounced back fully from Tommy John surgery, but he still has the potential to develop into a No. 2 or 3 starter.
On talent alone, Parker could be the best Pirates starter in 2012. He would eventually look quite good in the starting rotation with the Pirates' own top pitching prospects (still in the low minors): Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon and Luis Heredia. It's likely Pittsburgh would prefer former Angels prospect Tyler Skaggs in the deal, but the Diamondbacks organization should try to hold on to him.
The fourth player offered to Pittsburgh would be left-hander Patrick Corbin. He spent all of 2011 in Double-A and needs about three more months of minor league seasoning before reaching The Show. Like Parker, he represents a pretty healthy upgrade over the pitchers currently fighting for spots in the Pirates' starting rotation. He doesn't have the highest ceiling, but he has a solid repertoire and is durable, and everyone needs a quality southpaw.
This deal would definitely hurt a bit from Arizona's perspective, but Pittsburgh likely wouldn't even consider a deal if it didn't sting the trading partner and its fans. The deal makes sense from both sides and would make the Diamondbacks a force to be reckoned with in the National League.