Gorman: Moving Cutch to right best for Bucs

Sign up for one of our email newsletters.Updated 20 minutes ago The Pirates finally got it right with Andrew McCutchen, even if it means forcing the face of the franchise to switch to a position he's never played. Moving McCutchen to right field, Starling...

Gorman: Moving Cutch to right best for Bucs

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Updated 20 minutes ago

The Pirates finally got it right with Andrew McCutchen, even if it means forcing the face of the franchise to switch to a position he's never played.

Moving McCutchen to right field, Starling Marte to center and Gregory Polanco to left — as manager Clint Hurdle announced Sunday would be the Pirates' new outfield alignment — was a necessary measure.

It sure beats the idea of trading McCutchen, which the Pirates flirted with to no avail this offseason. And it's better than maintaining the status quo, given McCutchen's defensive deficiencies.

Marte is a two-time Gold Glove winner who led the National League in outfield assists with 17 and the majors with a plus-50 defensive runs scored rating last year.

McCutchen, a Gold Glove winner in 2012, has declined the past three seasons. His DRS was minus-47 over that span, including a MLB-worst minus-28 last season.

Those metrics were affected by the club's decision to have McCutchen play shallower in center last season. Hurdle admitted as much after the season to MLB.com, saying it “didn't match up to the same analytics off the mound that we were looking to work with the defense.”

Truth is, McCutchen's play in center has been slipping. Where his early career was marked by spectacular sliding and diving catches, it masked McCutchen getting bad jumps or reads on fly balls and sometimes missing the cutoff man on throws.

I'll defend McCutchen to some point, that last season was a slump at the plate instead of a drastic decline, that the Pirates shouldn't trade the five-time All-Star and former NL MVP.

But Marte is clearly the better outfielder, by glove and arm, and deserves to man the middle.

“We believe that this alignment will maximize our outfield production,” Hurdle said in a statement.

That's the hope, anyway. All three can play center, but McCutchen (24 home runs, 79 RBIs) and Polanco (22 homers, 86 RBIs) put up power numbers more befitting corner outfielders than Marte (9 homers, 46 RBIs).

Problem is, the Pirates now have three outfielders playing new positions. Marte played nine games in center and Polanco 21 in left last season, but McCutchen never has played in right.

At PirateFest in December, after being the subject of trade talks, McCutchen claimed to be “happy that I'm still here,” no matter where the Pirates put him.

He better be.

Moving to right beats the alternative for McCutchen: moving to another team in another city.

Where the switch makes sense in so many ways, it doesn't solve all of the Pirates' problems.

McCutchen has less ground to cover, as the right-field dimensions play to 375 in the power alley and 320 down the line, but he must learn to play the caroms off the 21-foot Clemente Wall and work the corner for the first time in his career. Right field could be an adventure at times for Polanco, who now has to cover more ground and navigate the North Side Notch in left-center. The communication in center falls on Marte, who played 15 games fewer than Polanco and 24 fewer than McCutchen last season because of injuries.

That could be a problem, especially if the trio has an extended absence from spring training. They could miss all but the first and final weeks together while Marte and Polanco play for the Dominican Republic and McCutchen for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.

But the best move for the Bucs is keeping the Dream Outfield intact.

In this game of musical chairs, that's music to my ears.

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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