The Giants took the first step in fixing the MLB’s worst outfield on Monday by acquiring former NL MVP and 5-time All-Star Andrew McCutchen. Similar to the trade that brought in Evan Longoria earlier this offseason, McCutchen’s name value probably outweighs his future production. With that said, however, the Giants prospects for the 2018 season are undoubtedly buoyed by this addition.
As I discussed earlier in the Winter, the Giants had the worst outfield in the MLB last season, as the unit put together an abysmal 0.8 WAR last season. They were heavily burdened by the sub-replacement level production they received from their left fielders, as Bruce Bochy trotted out eight different players to man left field throughout the course of the season, all of which combined for negative 1.5 wins above (below) replacement. Meanwhile, McCutchen, who was coming off a career-worst 2016 campaign, corrected course in 2017 by hitting .279/.363/.486 en route to a 3.7 WAR, which ranked in the top 10 amongst NL outfielders.
Giants Financial Flexibility for Further Moves:
It is worth noting that “Cutch” is only a one-year rental and will cost the team 14.5 million against the luxury tax, which puts their 2018 expenditures at roughly 180 million, somewhat handicapping the team’s ability to spend the rest of the offseason. However, if McCutchen can avoid a dropoff in 2018, the roughly 5 win improvement that the Giants stand to gain just by making him their everyday left-fielder is certainly worth the cost.
With about 16 million left to spend while still remaining under the cap, the Giants can now look to adding a centerfielder and a back-of-the-rotation starting pitcher to round out their roster. As I opined earlier in the Winter, the Giants should look towards a defense-first option in centerfield, such as Jarrod Dyson, Peter Bourjos, or perhaps swinging a trade for Juan Lagares.
With the Dyson likely costing roughly 8 million a year and Bourjos being more of a fourth outfielder type, I think trying to trade for Lagares is the most logical option for the Giants at this point. With the Mets recently signing Jay Bruce, New York now has a logjam of outfielders with Yoenis Cespedes, Michael Conforto, Jay Bruce, Brandon Nimmo, and Juan Lagares all currently rostered. The Mets have opted for offense-first outfields in the past so I would not be the least bit surprised to see Lagares be the odd-man out in New York.
Lagares is a former gold glove winning centerfielder and would only cost the Giants 4.5 million plus a low-level prospect, so I think this trade would work out nicely for both sides.
McCutchen’s Declining Defense:
The main cause for concern if you are a Giants fan is the declining defensive ability of McCutchen. Over the course of the two seasons, he has been far and away the worst defensive outfielder in baseball, with -42 defensive runs saved. This is in large part the result of him unwisely having to man centerfield in 2016, where he was worth -28 DRS. His poor performance forced the Pirates to move him to right field in 2017, but he was ultimately asked to play a large number of innings in center as a result of Starling Marte’s 80-game PED suspension.
When Cutch did play a corner outfield position last season, he fared much better, with 2 DRS during his time in RF. Unfortunately, only 115.1 out of his 1303 defensive innings were spent at a corner outfield spot, so he was not put in a position to succeed defensively for the majority of the year. The positive slant on that last fact is that Cutch was able to post a 3.7 WAR despite his defensive statistics, which only suffered so much because he was playing out of position pretty much all season.
Potential 2018 Lineup:
The Giants still have work to do if they are going to contend in 2018, but for now, their projected lineup looks far more daunting than it did a year ago, at least on paper.
- Andrew McCutchen (R)
- Joe Panik (L)
- Buster Posey (R)
- Brandon Belt (L)
- Evan Longoria (R)
- Hunter Pence (R)
- Brandon Crawford (L)
- Whoever they get to play CF
- Pitcher’s spot
This could change depending on what they do to address the huge hole they have in centerfield, especially if they opt to sign a speedy leadoff type hitter. For now, Cutch slots nicely in the leadoff spot as his .363 OBP last year was nearly 40 points higher than the .325 mark that Giants leadoff hitters posted last season.
If the Giants decided to sign Jarrod Dyson they could conceivably put him in the leadoff spot and move McCutchen down to the 2-hole, with Panik hitting in front of the pitcher, but the above lineup is more likely given the Giants current roster construction.
Evaluating the Pirates Return:
While the particulars of the trade are yet to be reported, the Giants reportedly did not have to give up any of their top three prospects to acquire McCutchen. That does not mean that McCutchen came free. Bryan Reynolds, the Giants number five prospect according to Baseball America, is reportedly a part of the Pirates return along with Kyle Crick, who emerged as a late-inning option for the Giants last season.
Reynolds, who the Giants selected with a 2nd round pick in 2016 out of Vanderbilt University, has hit wherever he has gone in the minors. The 22-year-old has a .312/.363/.469 slash line across three levels since being drafted and ended last season with High-A San Jose. Reynolds would not be an option for the Giants outfield this season but could have helped an aging outfield come 2019. With McCutchen set to hit free agency after this season, Hunter Pence getting older by the minute, and no long-term option in centerfield, losing Reynolds could prove costly.
The other player in the deal is Kyle Crick. Although the hard-throwing right-hander has struggled with control throughout his minor league career, he seemed to have found a home in the bullpen last season. Despite walking 4.73 batters per nine innings, Crick was able to wiggle his way out of trouble en route to a 3.06 ERA as a reliever. Perhaps the Giants were troubled by Crick’s control issues, but his ceiling was undeniably higher than many of the immediate relief options at manager Bruce Bochy’s disposal.
All in all, the Giants outfield is vastly improved with the addition of McCutchen, but the 14.5 million dollar price tag coupled with trading away Bryan Reynolds means the Giants are fully all-in on the 2018 season, perhaps at expense of their future.
According to FanGraphs, the Giants are still roughly a .500 team even after the addition of Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen. The Dodgers, meanwhile, are still likely the best team in the National League, with nearly a 100 win projection for the upcoming season. It would take a near miracle for the Giants to usurp the Dodgers as the NL West Champions, meaning that the Giants are mortgaging their future for a chance at another one-game playoff.
As any Giants fan would be quick to remind you, the Giants have used Wild Card berths to secure two of their three World Series titles, but nonetheless, the Giants prospects for competing beyond 2018 look increasingly grim.