You shouldn’t be missing McCutchen

PITTSBURGH — Oh, the anguish and hand wringing that were going on in January, and not just because the Steelers were knocked out of the playoffs.

The Pirates traded Andrew McCutchen to the San Francisco Giants.

“He was the Face of the Franchise. He was their best player. He was their only star.”

Now we’re near the end of July, which means almost two-thirds of the baseball season is gone, and we know this to be true:

McCutchen wouldn’t start in the current Pirates’ outfield.

Would he play ahead of Corey Dickerson, Starling Marte or Gregory Polanco?

He might not even be a better option than Austin Meadows, who is currently at Class AAA Indianapolis. And McCutchen is being paid $14.75 million this season.

At the start of play on Tuesday, McCutchen was batting .259 for the Giants with 10 home runs and 42 runs batted in. He had nine stolen bases, and his OPS was .766.

Those aren’t terrible numbers by any means, but they’re below average for a corner outfielder. He plays right field exclusively for the Giants because his defensive skills have diminished.

Remember last year when McCutchen got incredibly hot in June, then was almost as good in July? This year he’s batting .241 over the last 30 days.

He’s still a talented player and he’s still capable of catching a spark and doing much better. It just isn’t as likely to happen as it once was.

McCutchen will be 32 when he hits the free agent market after this season. What kind of opportunity might there be for him?

He’s not the player he was in his big seasons with the Pirates. He’s still serviceable, but what price will teams be willing to pay for a player who is clearly in decline?

If he gets offers, will any of them be for more than one year, or at most for one year and a club option for another?

Teams are wary of investing much in players over 30. If you’re going to get average production, it’s probably available at a much lower price.

It’s hard to imagine there won’t be any interest in McCutchen this off-season. It’s even harder to imagine he’ll get anywhere near the money he’s being paid this season.

SUBHEAD: Camp in session

The Steelers officially open camp today, so get ready for some splash entrances by veteran players.

Of course, James Harrison won’t be there to participate in the parade this season, so some of the glitz is gone.

Le’Veon Bell is expected to be missing from Latrobe for the second straight year, skipping camp as part of his contract dispute with the team. He will probably do what he did last year and show up a week before the regular season opener.

Even when he does, there’s a sense of finality about Bell’s relationship with the Steelers. The two sides can’t find any middle ground for a long-term contract, so this second year with the franchise player designation is probably Bell’s final season with the Steelers.

With that in mind, a good portion of this camp should be focused on finding a future plan for the running back position. There’s a theory around the NFL that talent at that position is always abundant, so there’s no need to overpay.

Bell is a special case, though. He not only runs the ball, but he’s also a quality receiver and blocker. Could James Conner replace him? Doubtful, but Conner could be part of a committee that does.

It’s time to start looking for an alternative plan, even though it probably won’t be needed this season.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com

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