The San Francisco Giants have had a noisy winter. A couple of months ago there was talk that they could land reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton, but he vetoed that deal with his no-trade clause. There was hope that the biggest free agent on the market, Shohei Ohtani, would pick orange and black from a pared down list. He chose to play with the best player in baseball instead.
So the Giants have turned hard into their closing window. They’ll have gobs of money on the books for seasons to come, eaten up by their aging core of Buster Posey, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Evan Longoria and potentially Mark Melancon, who has a player option come 2020. One name that isn’t on that list that will get paid (somewhere) is ace Madison Bumgarner, who will be a free agent after the 2019 season.
Last month the Giants traded for 32-year-old Evan Longoria, who represents a huge upgrade at the hot corner. Today the club acquired Andrew McCutchen from the Pittsburgh Pirates for Kyle Crick, who made his MLB debut in 2017, and 2016 second rounder, switch-hitting outfielder Bryan Reynolds. For a player of McCutchen’s talent level, the asking price wasn’t terribly steep. Crick has struggled with command in his seven minor league seasons, with his lowest walks-per-nine rate being four in 29 1/3 innings with Sacramento last year. His average rate over those seven years is six walks per nine innings. Working with “the pitcher whisperer” Ray Searage in Pittsburgh could turn his career (he’s still just 25) around.
According to MLB Pipeline, Reynolds has the speed to stay in center, but would perform better on one of the corners due to his below-average arm. He spent all of 2017 in Hi-A San Jose and hit .312 with a .364 on-base percentage, ten homers and 63 RBI. FanGraphs pegged him at 22 percent above league average (wRC+) with the bat.
With the Longo and Cutch added to the Giants roster, where does that leave the team heading towards opening day? According to the 2018 standings projections, FanGraphs has the Giants at 85-77, one heck of a turnaround from last season, but still nine games back of the Los Angeles Dodgers, seven games worse than the Chicago Cubs, six games worse than the Washington Nationals and three worse than the St. Louis Cardinals. If the projected standings were to hold, the Cardinals and Giants would be the two NL wild card teams, which is really what San Francisco is making these moves to become anyway. Arizona is looming two games back according to these projections, with Colorado five back.
So let’s talk McCutchen. Baseball fans from all over are familiar with the former NL MVP, and while he has fallen off his peak a decent amount, last year he was still 22 percent above league average at the plate, good for an fWAR of 3.7, two and a half more than last year’s centerfielder, Denard Span, who was included in the Longoria deal. Cutch should be able to break the 20 home run barrier that has been eluding S.F. hitters of late, mashing 28 last season and 24 the year before.
The talking point that you’ll undoubtedly hear is whether or not Andrew McCutchen can handle center anymore. The advanced metrics don’t like him – he held a DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) of -16 last year and -28 the year before – and while some will argue that either those metrics aren’t necessarily representative (good point, they are flawed) of a player’s defensive abilities, or that where the Pirates were playing him was having an adverse effect on the numbers, keep in mind that Denard Span was playing with the same metrics tracking his every move and was playing for the team that will now be in charge of McCutchen’s positioning. Span tallied a -27 DRS a year ago and was one of the worst defensive outfielders in the big leagues.
Is McCutchen more athletic than Span? Sure! Enough to bring those negatives to roughly average, even when coupled with the Giants plans for positioning? Well…
The San Francisco front office has said that they hope to add two outfielders this winter, and, well, McCutchen is just one guy. If they’re truly going all in on age while their window is open and they’re already pressed against the luxury tax, why not add another center fielder from the market, draft picks be damned! Lorenzo Cain is someone that would add value to the team both offensively (115 wRC+) and defensively (DRS of 5) and would allow the club to swing McCutchen over to left field where his defensive metrics would likely look a bit better.
The Giants could also go with an internal outfield option, Steven Duggar, who appears to be their fallback plan if another outfielder doesn’t head to the bay. Duggar missed eleven weeks last season due to elbow and hamstring injuries, and ultimately played in all of 13 games at Triple-A, batting .261 with a .370 OBP. The club’s number six prospect is a quality defender in the outfield, and if they don’t make another move for an outfielder, Duggar could get a crash course in Sacramento before heading to The Show.
Then again, maybe the plan is to roll with Andrew McCutchen in center and go with last season’s approach of platooning Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker in left with Hunter Pence stationed in right. It’s doubtful that that will be what the front office settles on with all signs pointing towards contention, but at this point it’s still an option.
We already figured the Giants weren’t the 98 win team from last season, so that bought them a handful of wins in this season’s projections. Adding Longoria and McCutchen has made them better. Trading away Denard Span has too. How these moves play out over the course of the actual season remains to be seen, but at the very least the Giants have gotten a whole lot more interesting.
Featured Image: 2017 Topps Now #600, Andrew McCutchen