Pirates decide to hold on to McCutchen

Photo by AP. Pirates' outfielder Andrew McCutchen was the subject of trade rumors during the winter meetings.

OXON HILL, Md. (TNS) – At the end of baseball’s winter meetings, the conclusion general manager Neal Huntington reached regarding the face of the franchise was this: Andrew McCutchen remains on the Pirates roster, and he’s expected to be there on opening day April 3.

“Our intent coming in here was to have Andrew McCutchen in our lineup going forward. No one changed that,” Huntington told reporters Thursday morning. “It’s unlikely someone changes that going forward. We’re certainly not going to close the door, but we’re not going to be making calls.”

When all corners of the baseball world coalesced at Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center on Sunday, speculation and scuttlebutt suggested McCutchen was on the move. It seemed a near certainty at first, despite Huntington’s insistence the Pirates were only doing due diligence by gauging the market for their players with one or two years left under contract.

Slowly, potential suitors settled on other center fielders. The Colorado Rockies signed Ian Desmond. The Texas Rangers re-signed Carlos Gomez. The Washington Nationals, considered the most likely team to vie for McCutchen’s services, traded pitching prospects Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for Adam Eaton.

By the time Huntington readied to return to Pittsburgh, he spoke with certainty. He offered clarity. “It’s safe to anticipate that if something were to happen” with McCutchen or other top Pirates nearing free agency, Huntington said, “it probably would have happened earlier in the offseason.” He didn’t offer details of any discussed deals, but he said “the ask was significant.”

“We took calls. We listened. We engaged,” Huntington said. “And not just on Andrew but on other players who are on one- or two-year contracts. As we will always do, if we find the right move and we believe the right move is to move the player, we’ll move the player. If we believe the right move is to hold the player, then we’ll hold the player.

“In this instance, obviously, we felt the right move was to hold the player and have him continue to help us win a lot of games at the major league level. We expected Andrew to be a Pirate. We feel great about Andrew being a Pirate. He’s done remarkable things for this organization. We look forward to him being in our lineup next year and continuing on as a Pirate.”

On Wednesday night, McCutchen posted a cryptic message on Twitter – an emoji with its mouth zippered shut and the words “keep working.” He posted a similar message Thursday afternoon.

He is scheduled to appear Saturday at PirateFest in Pittsburgh. Huntington said he plans to meet with McCutchen beforehand. Staying in constant communication with McCutchen throughout this week might have been fruitless.

“It’s hard to tell him that every rumor you hear isn’t true, or don’t believe what you hear,” Huntington said. “Because we’d be making a lot of phone calls, especially early in the winter meetings we would have had to be on the phone with him every three or four minutes.”