Earlier in the offseason, the Giants came ever so close to trading for Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton has been one of the most important players in the Marlins’ admittedly limited history, but all that got in the way was a well-earned no-trade clause. Which is what ultimately took Stanton to the Yankees, instead of the Giants or the Cardinals.
Shortly after that all went down, the Giants traded for Evan Longoria. Longoria has been the most important player in the Rays’ admittedly limited history, but, well, the Rays are the Rays, and Longoria is both increasingly old and increasingly expensive. The commitment meant that Longoria had to go, and the Giants were there to welcome him with open arms.
And now the Giants have traded for Andrew McCutchen. McCutchen has been one of the most important players in the Pirates’ far less limited history, one of the keys to the franchise’s recent return to relevance, but where Longoria’s deal was too big for a smaller-market operation, McCutchen’s was too small. With just one year left, McCutchen all but forced the Pirates’ hand, and the Giants, again, were there. The agreement, as it is:
- Andrew McCutchen
- $2.5 million
For the third time, the Giants targeted the face of another ballclub. For the third time, they reached an agreement. For the second time, a move has been actually made. Because of who McCutchen is and has been, this is an impact transaction, one that’s sure to have widespread consequences. The reality of trading or trading for McCutchen is complex. It’s also quite simple. The Pirates aren’t good enough to keep a 31-year-old staring ahead to free agency. And the Giants are trying to return to the playoffs before the inevitable reckoning. McCutchen gives them something they just didn’t have.
The impact on the Pirates and the fans here is immediate. McCutchen trade rumors floated for more than a year, and you could see a trade coming, especially after Gerrit Cole went away. It should surprise no one that the Pirates didn’t just allow McCutchen to play out his terms in his familiar uniform. Yet that hardly serves to mitigate the emotional blow. McCutchen was drafted by the Pirates in 2005 and developed into one of the better everyday players in the world. McCutchen represented what the Pirates became, as they surged into the playoff picture and shed their old skin. In large part thanks to McCutchen, the Pirates adopted a new identity. They didn’t suck. The Pirates didn’t suck! McCutchen was right there in the middle of it, the superstar with otherworldly talent, and personal character to match.
You never want for that relationship to end. McCutchen has been a link to the good times, even as times have gotten worse. Trades like this force a team to be cold. The Pirates are neither very good nor very bad. They don’t have the resources to improve in the short-term. It makes perfect rational sense to deal McCutchen away. But you always want for sports to not make you have to think about things rationally. The Pirates would’ve liked to keep McCutchen forever. It wasn’t going to be the sensible thing to do. It’s too bad it wouldn’t be the sensible thing to do.
Enter the Giants. The Giants, of course, were completely terrible last season, but even if they kept virtually the same roster, they looked poised to bounce back. When they picked up Longoria, they did so because their situation at third base was garbage. Longoria’s a major improvement. This isn’t too different, this maneuver. The Giants are picking up McCutchen because this was most recently their situation in the outfield:
- LF: really
- CF: hot
- RF: garbage
Last season, the Giants’ collective outfield was one of the worst I’ve ever seen, and it wasn’t going to get much better on its own. The Giants needed at least one outfielder, and probably two. Here’s one of them. No, McCutchen is no longer the player he was when he was one of the best players. He’s older, and that’s what age does to us. He’s good, however, still good, and he’s effectively replacing a zero. Whether McCutchen plays in center or in a corner, he’s still an above-average regular. And as much as the Giants remain positioned to go all Tigers or Phillies some time down the line, let me show you some updated NL standings projections!
Long way to go. As you might’ve noticed, there are still a lot of good players available on the market. This is also based on just one projection system, and projection systems get things wrong. But just look at the top of this. There’s nothing controversial about accepting that the Dodgers, Cubs, and Nationals are good. They’re the easy three division favorites. As for the wild card? At least as Steamer sees it, now the Giants slot in as one of the two. Sure, one could’ve made the same observation a year ago. And the Giants wound up horrible. But that doesn’t mean you should just throw everything out. Where the Giants are now, they’re in the hunt again, having plugged two significant leaks. And adding McCutchen still leaves the Giants with room to, say, pick up Jarrod Dyson to finish things off, if they don’t go all the way for Lorenzo Cain. The Giants could have another run in them before they have to face the consequences of what they’ve assembled.
You know what I’m referring to; there’s a lot of big money on the books, with an underwhelming farm. The situation remains what it has been. But the Giants might be thinking one of two things. One: maybe a playoff run will somehow ward that future off. Two: maybe it won’t, but why not try, anyway, just to try to cleanse the palate of 2017? Winning is better than not winning. The Giants are now built to win.
Ideally, McCutchen would be best deployed in an outfield corner. I assume the Giants are aware of that. If he ends up playing in the middle, it wouldn’t be a catastrophe. He was, at least, better in 2017 than he was in 2016. But some of the quickness just isn’t there anymore. McCutchen isn’t a defensive asset, nor is he any longer much of an asset on the bases. What McCutchen is is a quality bat. The Giants will get a year of a quality bat, to be presumably followed by a qualifying offer. And to whatever extent it matters, both McCutchen and Longoria have been renowned for their character and leadership. At times in these circles those have been close to dirty words, but I doubt it’s a total coincidence. The Giants are trying to fortify more than just their on-field skillset.
The nature of McCutchen’s contract meant he wasn’t going to bring back a blockbuster haul. Teams just won’t pay that kind of offseason price for a diminished player in his contract year. All the Giants are losing from the big-league group is a reliever. The Pirates get a reliever and an outfield prospect. The Cole return might’ve felt underwhelming, and that’s because Cole’s a few years removed from pitching like an actual ace. And the McCutchen return might feel underwhelming, because he’s just not under contract very long.
Crick has, on multiple occasions, been listed as a top-100 prospect. He’s a 25-year-old righty who just made a move to the bullpen, and last season he threw his first 32.1 major-league innings. The knock on Crick has been that he’s never thrown enough strikes. A pitching prospect doesn’t end up in the bullpen by accident. But Crick can also get his fastball into the upper-90s, and where a lot of regular fastballs have regular tail, Crick’s has almost cutting action, making it useful against both righties and lefties. Crick is a secondary pitch away from being effective. He was far better in Triple-A last year than he was in the majors. This feels like a classic Ray Searage project, and one should note that, last year, the Pirates were first among teams in fastball rate, and second in average fastball velocity. Crick has a fastball to build off, and that’s a great place to start.
As for Reynolds, he’s lesser-known, but he’s thought of as a high-floor switch-hitting outfielder who’s probably going to end up in a corner. The Giants took him in the second round a few years ago and he’s only hit since. He’s almost 23 and he has yet to play a game in Double-A, so, you know, it’s time to get moving, but Reynolds looks like a useful second piece. He could be a big-leaguer by the end of 2019.
This has to be a strange time for the Pirates. They traded Gerrit Cole, and they didn’t get back a classic headliner. And now they’ve traded Andrew McCutchen, and they got a high-A outfielder and a big-league reliever. Given what Cole and McCutchen have each meant to the franchise, you can understand why some fans are left feeling rather empty. But these are just the circumstances. Neither Cole nor McCutchen have been at the peak of their value. That’s part of why the Pirates wound up in this spot in the first place. There is, at least, high-level new talent. Many of the players who’ve arrived will have major-league roles.
And for the Giants’ side, a move like this is probably easy. Not to oversimplify things, but when you know the future is already going to be dark, you might as well take a short-term shot on a player who fills a massive void. I don’t know if the Giants’ 2018 can do anything to save their 2019, or their 2020, or their 2021. But one baseball season is a long time. A competitive baseball season is more fun than the alternative’s ever been. Andrew McCutchen is going to play for the Giants. And the Giants look like they could play in the playoffs.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.