Washington Nationals: The Nats-Pirates Trade That Almost Happened

Did you know that the Mark Melancon trade wasn’t the only deal that the Washington Nationals and Pittsburgh Pirates were working on at the deadline this summer?

We all know about the trade between the Washington Nationals and Pittsburgh Pirates that brought closer Mark Melancon and his lights-out cutter to the Nation’s Capital in exchange for left-handers Felipe Rivero and Taylor Hearn. That swap paid huge dividends for the Washington Nationals down the stretch chalking up 17 saves in 18 chances (47 of 51 for the entire season).

We now know that the teams were in discussions about other key players as well.

According to a story from Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, Washington and Pittsburgh were in talks about sending Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen to the Nationals before the trade deadline. In the end. the deal fell apart as an agreement over other players in a package couldn’t be reached. One of the prospects the Pirates reportedly asked for was outfielder Victor Robles.

While the thought of adding McCutchen looks appealing at first glance, would that have been the right move for the Nats at the trade deadline? In a “what if” scenario, acquiring McCutchen brings a historically impactful player with 24 homeruns in 2016, who is under team control at a seemingly reasonable $14 million (2017) and $14.5 million (2018).

However, in reality McCutchen was in the middle of a career-low season at the plate with a .256/.336/.430 slash line and a drop off from 96 RBI’s in 2015 to 79 this season. He also struggled defensively in the field throughout the year as well.

And what would this move potential have done to the rest of the team? Adding McCutchen means the Washington Nationals add his sub par 2016 performance and in turn miss out on playing Trea Turner at center field after the All-Star break.

If they don’t give Turner the every-day opportunities in the outfield, does he get anywhere near the playing time behind Danny Espinosa at shortstop? Likely not – so in a sense, the McCutchen move would have limited the much-needed playing time (and eye-popping impact) of a rising star in Washington.

As Rosenthal further points out, between the two ballplayers right now, Turner gives the Nationals the most value – and options on the field. He can continue to play impressively in center field, or he can be brought in to play shortstop while the Nats add a big outfield bat in free agency.

Maybe this season was an abnormality in an otherwise strong career for McCutchen – or maybe this is the beginning of a big performance slide. Regardless, it did give enough reason for the Washington Nationals to hit pause on the idea of moving even more players and prospects to the Pirates.

That being said, what is clear is that the Pirates do seem open to shopping McCutchen this offseason to the right bidder.

In the end, Mike Rizzo was right to go all in on Melancon and pass on McCutchen. The Nats got the rental closer they desperately needed for the push to the playoffs, and at the same time, they had opportunity to put their X-factor (Turner) on the field for much needed playing time.

McCutchen may very well return to form in 2017, but he’s likely best suited for somewhere other than Washington D.C.

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