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Pirates' Neal Huntington hints Andrew McCutchen could be with team next year

Rob Biertempfel
| Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017, 3:24 p.m.
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen reacts as he watches his first career grand slam during the second inning against the Orioles Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen reacts as he watches his first career grand slam during the second inning against the Orioles Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, at PNC Park.
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen catches a fly ball hit by the Nationals' Anthony Rendon during the fourth inning Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017, in Washington.
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen catches a fly ball hit by the Nationals' Anthony Rendon during the fourth inning Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017, in Washington.
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen signs his jersey for Jackie Rodu of Sewickley on fan appreciation day after a game against the Cardinals Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen signs his jersey for Jackie Rodu of Sewickley on fan appreciation day after a game against the Cardinals Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017, at PNC Park.

WASHINGTON — Pirates general manager Neal Huntington might have tipped his hand Sunday about whether the team will pick up outfielder Andrew McCutchen's contract option for 2018.

Huntington was noncommittal when asked if the club will trigger the options for McCutchen ($14.75 million), catcher Chris Stewart ($1.5 million) and reliever Wade LeBlanc ($1.25 million).

“We'll make that announcement the day that we have to,” Huntington said before the Pirates wrapped their season with an 11-8 win against the Washington Nationals. “There are variables that are still to be determined. There are some that are fairly obvious.”

However, Huntington might have dropped a clue when he was asked if McCutchen will continue to play center field if he returns.

“(Manager) Clint (Hurdle) and I have talked about it, and we we've talked with Andrew,” Huntington said. “We believe our best club in 2018 has Andrew in center field. He's worked hard to be the best defensive center fielder he can be.”

McCutchen ended his ninth season in the majors with a .279 batting average, 28 home runs, 88 RBIs, and an .849 OPS.

On Sunday, he went 1 for 3 and was replaced by pinch-runner Sean Rodriguez after roping a double in the fifth inning. There was a smattering of applause around Nationals Park as McCutchen jogged to the dugout.

McCutchen said management has not told him if his option will be triggered. There are bigger things on his mind. McCutchen and his wife, Maria, are expecting their first child in early December.

“I'm just going to be waiting for the baby,” McCutchen said with a grin. “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, for sure.”

If the Pirates decline the option, McCutchen will get a $1 million buyout. If the option is activated, McCutchen still could be traded this winter.

“I'm probably not going to be paying attention to that, honestly,” McCutchen said with a laugh. “I'll have a little too much on my plate with a baby. It'll be a fun and interesting offseason, for sure.”

As he neared the end of his six-year, $51.5 million contract, McCutchen insisted he would prefer to remain in Pittsburgh. Yet, the Pirates never have broached the idea of another extension.

“It's out of my control. That's honestly how I'll take it,” McCutchen said. “There's nothing I can really do to go somewhere. I don't have a no-trade clause 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.”

Last winter, Huntington mulled trade offers for McCutchen during the winter meetings. The Nationals were among the clubs interested.

At the start of spring training, Hurdle and Huntington decided to put Starling Marte in center field and move McCutchen to right.

In early April, Marte was suspended 80 games for using steroids. McCutchen went back to center field and has not budged since.

“I proved to myself I could still go out there and play good defense,” McCutchen said. “That's what I wanted. I was able show (management) I'm still capable out there.

“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 was stung by the trade rumors last winter. This year will be different.

“I guess I just didn't really expect it last offseason,” McCutchen said. “This offseason, it's pretty expected. Going into an option year, this is something that happens. I'll be prepared a little more for that than last year.”

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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