Huntington enters Meetings with eyes on Cutch

Huntington enters Meetings with eyes on Cutch

The offseason began in earnest Monday in Orlando, site of baseball's annual General Managers Meetings. The Pirates are unlikely to make any moves this early, so Neal Huntington will spend the week in Florida gathering information, talking to other clubs and setting a course for the Bucs' offseason.

One name bound to be at the center of it all? Andrew McCutchen.

That was the case last winter, too. Huntington answered questions about McCutchen's uncertain future from the first day of the GM Meetings last November until the final hours of the Winter Meetings in December. McCutchen returned and bounced back at the plate and in center field, and the Pirates exercised their franchise player's $14.5 million option for next season.

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Where do they go from here?

"We won't talk about any specific player or any specific rumor other than to say that as we look toward our 2018 club, I think it's an easy answer that our best club has Andrew McCutchen in the lineup, and we feel that our best club has Andrew McCutchen in center field," Huntington said. "That's the Andrew McCutchen answer."

But the Pirates face a larger question, Huntington acknowledged. Pittsburgh is coming off consecutive losing seasons after reaching the postseason three straight years. With a small-market budget, how can they reverse that trend and work their way back into the playoff picture? Is it time to reload or rebuild?

Significant injuries and unforeseen obstacles -- such as Starling Marte's suspension and Jung Ho Kang's DUI arrest -- have played a part, but the Bucs still have struggled to keep up with the Cubs in the National League Central. Are they better off building around McCutchen for one more run, or should they deal him now to free up payroll and maximize the potential return?

"We have that decision to make on a handful of guys with one year of potential contribution, two years of potential contribution, maybe even three years of potential contribution," Huntington said. "We've got a good, young core. We've got a core of veterans. We had a lot of things not go our way the last two years. How do we push those things to go our way again, and how do we get back to the postseason and work to get further into the postseason than we've been in the past?"

International splash?
Aside from Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton, no player will generate more offseason intrigue than two-way Japanese star Shohei Ohtani. The 23-year-old pitcher/outfielder has posted a .859 OPS at the plate and a 2.52 ERA on the mound the past five years for the Pacific League's Nippon Ham Fighters, who announced last week they will make their star available this winter through the posting system.

The Pirates are one of six teams that could offer Ohtani a seven-figure signing bonus, according to an Associated Press report, and the Bucs reportedly scouted him. According to the AP, the Pirates have the fourth-highest international bonus pool available, with their $2.27 million ranking behind only the Rangers ($3.54 million), Yankees ($3.25 million) and Twins ($3.25 million).

"We generally prefer the larger quantity vs. the large bet in a young international player," Huntington said without specifically mentioning Ohtani. "But we've made the bigger splash before, and there are some situations out there where we held the money for various reasons. One of them could be to add depth and talent to our system this offseason."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined as a reporter in 2001..

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.