Andrew McCutchen hit another home run Monday night and that had to make Bob Nutting, Frank Coonelly and Neal Huntington happy.
Not because McCutchen’s home run helped the Pirates roll to an 8-1 road victory over Milwaukee and enable them to gain a game in the National League Central standings on the first-place Brewers.
The smiles on their face came more from the 30-year-old center fielder again increasing his trade value as he continues his climb from the abyss.
Just a month ago, everyone was asking if McCutchen was washed up.
His batting average is now up to .260 through 69 games to go with 13 home runs following a 23-game tear in which he has gone 32-for-84 (.381) with seven home runs. Before that stretch, his average stood at .200 on May 23.
McCutchen is hopeful his resurgence will force the Pirates pick up the $14.75-million club option in his contract for 2018 rather than pay a $1-million buyout at the end of the season that would allow him to become a free agent.
The more optimistic Pirates’ fans are hoping along with McCutchen.
However, history dictates that there is little chance the Pirates will pay McCutchen that much money next season. Remember back to last Aug. 1 when the Pirates gave left-hander Francisco Liriano away to the Toronto Blue Jays and even included two prospects in the trade to rid themselves of the $18 million left on his contract.
Amazingly, the Pirates are just five games behind the Brewers despite being six games under .500 with a 32-38 record.
Yet if the Pirates improbably stay in contention by the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline, don’t think that means they will automatically keep McCutchen. The Pirates traded closer Mark Melancon last July 30 to the Washington Nationals despite being just 3 ½ games out in the wild-card race.
However, one factor that could keep McCutchen with the Pirates beyond July 31 is that few contenders need a center fielder.
The Nationals and Cleveland Indians would both like to upgrade at the position but have more pressing needs. The Nationals lack a lockdown closer and the Indians’ starting rotation is suffering from the hangover effect from pitching into November last year while losing to the Chicago Cubs in seven games in the World Series.
The Pirates’ most obvious trade partner is the St. Louis Cardinals, who desperately need a middle-of-the-order bat as they are 23rd among the 30 major league teams in runs scored.
McCutchen would be a good fit in left field where Tommy Pham is now playing after Randal Grichuk was demoted all the way to Class A to regain his hitting stroke. McCutchen would combine with center fielder Dexter Fowler and right fielder Stephen Piscotty to give the Cardinals a solid trio.
The big question, of course, is whether Huntington would be willing to trade with a division rival in the middle of a pennant race.
However, the general manager may have no choice if the Pirates want to get something more for McCutchen than the compensatory amateur draft pick they would receive if he leaves via free agency.