The departure of Andrew McCutchen opens up a spot in the Pittsburgh Pirates outfield. Does the organization already have replacements for the position, or should they seek another option?
Life on the field without Andrew McCutchen is quickly approaching for the Pirates organization and Pittsburgh baseball fans. The beloved center fielder known to most as “Cutch” is now calling the Bay Area home, and his departure creates an unusual situation for the team that drafted him in 2005.
Since 2009, McCutchen has been a mainstay in the outfield for the Buccos, changing the way people looked at Pirates baseball and helping the team and the city practically fall in love with the game again. Now, the trade of McCutchen allows Starling Marte to shift over to center field without any issues and keeps Gregory Polanco in right field.
However, the question remains regarding what the team will do to fill the former National League MVP’s spot in the outfield and whether or not the organization already has what it needs on its 40-man roster.
Can Frazier and company hold down the fort?
According to the projected depth chart compiled by MLB.com, Adam Frazier is, as of now, expected to be the starter in left field. Following him on the chart are the likes of Jordan Luplow, Sean Rodriguez and Chris Bostick in that order.
While those top three players are strong candidates to make the team out of spring training – especially Frazier and Rodriguez – the question that lingers involves whether this is enough to replace a player of McCutchen’s caliber.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there is any way the Pittsburgh Pirates replace McCutchen. Despite his struggles the past few years, he is still an above average player who has what it takes to be the face of any franchise. His durability is also hard to match as he played in more than 140 games in eight of his nine seasons in Pittsburgh and played in more than 153 games in seven seasons.
But, with the team beginning the so called “life after Cutch,” it’s hard to believe they can realistically rely on Frazier followed by a few backups to fill McCutchen’s spot.
Reliability of Frazier
Throughout the last two years, Frazier has become a super utility man for the Pirates and has thrived in the role, serving as a reliable option all over the field. While also playing around the diamond in the Pirates infield, Frazier has played in 72 major league games in left field while making 54 starts there, more than any other position.
So, maybe Frazier isn’t a terrible option to have as a third outfielder. He has been solid defensively, committing just two errors in over 500 innings played in left field, and his offensive numbers aren’t bad either. After hitting .301 in 66 games in 2016, Frazier had a very nice 2017, hitting .276 with six home runs and 53 RBIs in 121 games.
Despite the positives that come with Frazier, there are some concerns that surround the 26-year old. The first involves his ability to stay healthy. Last season, Frazier was placed on the disabled list in April and August with strains in both of his hamstrings. If he is to be entrusted with a starting role in left field, the Pirates need to know that he can be a reliable asset for a large part of a 162 game season.
The second concern regards the need for Frazier at other positions. Like I said before, Frazier, along with Rodriguez, can do it all and play multiple positions, something that you don’t find in just any player. Frazier may be needed at other spots, including second base. While Josh Harrison, who is a quality utility man in his own right, may have the starting second base spot locked up, what happens if he gets the day off, gets injured or even eventually gets traded. Harrison’s name has been on a lot of team’s radars and while I don’t think a trade is imminent, he still could be an option for a trade deadline deal in 2018.
If something were to happen to Harrison, it is likely that Frazier would slide into the open second base position, thus creating somewhat of an issue for the Pirates in left field, an issue that I don’t think anyone else currently on the roster could fully solve.
The role for Rodriguez, Luplow and others
If the Pirates can see the Sean Rodriguez that emerged as a major presence on their bench in 2016, he could be an important part of the team in 2018.
Rodriguez will likely fill in around the outfield and be the main backup for Frazier in left field. I like Luplow and think he will also serve a utility role for the Pirates this season, but the veteran experience of Rodriguez along with his defensive and offensive abilities puts him ahead of Luplow.
Jose Osuna may also be an option to play a little bit of outfield this season, but he isn’t the best outfielder. So the odds of him getting a ton of playing time out there is slim. He may be more suitable to play occasional late innings in the outfield and maybe earn a few starts over at third base in relief of guys like Colin Moran and David Freese.
Is it enough?
The Pirates can certainly survive with Frazier and a list of backups in left field while waiting for top outfield prospect Austin Meadows to make his highly anticipated MLB debut. But, I think it would be in the team’s best interest to look into signing an available free agent. And we all know that there is still a long list of available options.
Guys like Carlos Gonzalez and Jarrod Dyson, who our own Alex Stumpf has highlighted, could serve as quality outfielders for the Bucs to consider and may come at a price the team can afford. Not to mention a veteran like Melky Cabrera, who the Pirates have had reported interest in, could come at an even more affordable cost and serve as a veteran leader in the Pirates clubhouse.
Those three seem like the top options for the Pirates to consider. The Bucs have reportedly signed Daniel Nava to a minor league contract, according to Ken Rosenthal, but I’m not sure the former Red Sox outfielder is the answer to their issues.
There is no replacing Andrew McCutchen. I can’t reiterate that enough, it just can’t be done. But the Pirates have to do what it takes to move on, whether it is entrusting Frazier with the task of being the Pirates third outfielder and relying on bench options to shine when needed, or signing a solid free agent that can bring experience to the position. I, along with many others, would prefer to see the latter, but odds are that is something that won’t happen heading into 2018.