Huntington views McCutchen as center fielder

GM says early '18 planning has included 'Cutch', who has team option

Huntington views McCutchen as center fielder

WASHINGTON -- If Andrew McCutchen is back with the Pirates next season, he will return to center field.

General manager Neal Huntington declined to announce whether the Pirates will pick up McCutchen's $14.5 million option next month, but he revealed that the club has at least considered McCutchen to be part of its plans as it begins planning for 2018. Huntington said he and manager Clint Hurdle recently discussed the topic with McCutchen.

"We believe our best club in 2018 has Andrew in center field," Huntington said Sunday before the Pirates' season finale. "He's worked hard to be the best defensive center fielder he can be."

Before Spring Training, the Pirates decided to move McCutchen to right field. When Starling Marte received an 80-game suspension in April, McCutchen moved back to center. He remained there the rest of the season, even after Marte returned.

Cutch puts on a show in center

"I proved to myself I could still go out there and play good defense," McCutchen said. "It's crazy how things work. You have an opportunity, then you don't have that opportunity, then somehow you get that opportunity again, and you show that you're able to do it.

"I can't say that I opened a lot of eyes, but I think I proved to people that I wasn't just blowing smoke when I was talking. I meant it, and yeah, I played some exceptional defense out there this year."

McCutchen has improved after a career-worst season in 2016, according to advanced metrics, though he still does not rank among the game's elite defensive outfielders. Huntington and Hurdle have admitted some of his struggles were caused by the Pirates positioning him shallower than ever before.

The question, of course, remains whether McCutchen will be back at all next year. He was the subject of intense trade speculation as the Pirates listened to offers for their franchise player last winter. They are expected to do the same this offseason, but they have given no indication they are actively looking to deal McCutchen.

Meanwhile, McCutchen is taking the talk in stride. The rumors took him by surprise last offseason, but he expects it will be easier to handle this time around.

"Everything's out of my control. There's nothing I can really do to go somewhere," McCutchen said. "I don't have a no-trade clause. It's not in my contract. It's all with the guys up top. That's their decision, not mine. I just take what comes at me and go from there."

McCutchen won't have much time to stress about it, either. He and his wife, Maria, are expecting their first child in early December -- right around the time of baseball's Winter Meetings, as McCutchen noted.

"So I'm probably not going to be paying attention to that, honestly," he said, laughing. "I'm just going to be waiting for this baby. That's about it. That's my highest anticipation right now. I've got to get the crib and stuff together. I'm not a big Mr. Fixer-Upper, but I'll learn."

Around the horn

• Although the club has not made any official announcement, Huntington said he expects the Pirates' coaching staff to return intact next season.

• Huntington declined to reveal whether the club will pick up its options for catcher Chris Stewart or left-hander Wade LeBlanc.

• Marc DelPiano and Jim Benedict, former Pirates special assistants, were reportedly let go by the Marlins' new ownership group. Huntington said the club will "evaluate if there's a potential fit for them in a different role" in Pittsburgh.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.