The Pittsburgh Pirates appear ready to move on from five-time all-star outfielder Andrew McCutchen.

McCutchen is due $14 million in 2017 and has a $14.5 million club option for 2018, which gives Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington two options: trade him this offseason or let him walk in 2017.

The reality is we’ve let a lot of really good players walk out the door to free agency. A lot of clubs do and have,” Huntington told MLB.com at the General Managers Meetings. “The challenge is, how do we replenish that core? How do we replenish that group of young players? How do we replenish the group of 25 players in Pittsburgh to be a championship-caliber team?

“The reality of expiring contracts, whether it’s one year out or two years out, we have to be cognizant of that.”

The 30-year-old center fielder was the 2013 National League Most Valuable Player and had finished among the top five in MVP voting in each of the previous four seasons. But McCutchen had the worst season of his career in 2016, batting .256 with 24 home runs, 79 RBI and a .766 OPS. And there are some red flags that the trend could continue, starting with his overall exit velocity.

In 2015, McCutchen’s average exit velocity was 91.3 miles per hour, which dropped to 90.3 mph in 2016. That may not sound like a lot but when coupled with his average launch angle, which increased from 13.4 to 15.6 percent, it is a big concern. His infield fly ball rate also spiked from 5.9 to a career-high 12.6 percent in one season while his rate of hard-hit balls declined for the second straight year.

Also concerning is his career-high 10.7 percent swinging-strike rate from 2016, a big factor in him falling behind in the count and in him seeing fewer 3-0 counts than ever before (48 3-0 counts in 2015 vs. 33 in 2016). You’d expect any batter to be less effective when behind in the count, but McCutchen’s OPS was cut in half last season from when he was ahead in the count to when he wasn’t.
Despite the decline and even at age 30, it’s not impossible for McCutchen to rebound next year. FanGraph’s player projection system, Steamer, projects him to bat .283 with 22 home runs, 82 RBI and 3.4 wins above replacement in 2017 — not exactly MVP-caliber performance but light years ahead of where he was in 2016 (0.7 fWAR). But there was also a noticeable decline in his defensive ability.

If McCutchen stays in Pittsburgh, there were talks of him moving to a corner outfield spot in 2017. And that’s smart because according to defensive runs saved, McCutchen was the worst center fielder in baseball last season, costing the Pirates 28 runs due to his inability to play the position effectively. The Miami Marlins’ Marcell Ozuna was second worst with a DRS of minus-12.

Fox’s Ken Rosenthal reported in late November that the Pirates believe they hurt McCutchen by positioning him too shallow in 2016, and that may well be the case, but McCutchen’s decline in the field — much like his production at the plate — has been on the decline for a few years now.

Once a Gold Glove outfielder (2012), McCutchen has cost his team at least eight runs in the field since 2014 and even fans have now determined his play in the outfield is below average, at best.

McCutchen remains one of baseball’s bigger names and there’s no reason to count him out entering his age 30 season. But teams seeking to acquire him should not overlook several flapping red flags.