Pros and cons: Should Giants seriously pursue Andrew McCutchen?

Pros and cons: Should Giants seriously pursue Andrew McCutchen?

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants and Pirates nearly pulled off a trade in July when Bobby Evans sought a closer and zeroed in on Mark Melancon. Ultimately, Pirates GM Neil Huntington shipped Melancon to Washington D.C., but the two teams could be connected again as the winter meetings approach. 

Pittsburgh’s star outfielder, Andrew McCutchen, is reportedly available — very available. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Huntington and the Pirates are calling potential suitors, with the Nationals, Rangers and Mariners listed as teams that have discussed a McCutchen deal. 

At first glance, it’s remarkable that this point has even been reached. This is nearly the equivalent of the Giants putting Buster Posey on the market. McCutchen, drafted 11th overall in 2005, has spent the better part of a decade as the face of a franchise that has gone from the cellar to perennial contention. He’s a a five-time All-Star and won the National League’s MVP award in 2014.  

McCutchen has helped revitalize the Pirates, but they’re still the Pirates, and they’re still constrained by a strict budget. Pittsburgh has two outfield building blocks in Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, with prospect Austin Meadows on the way. They reportedly are set on moving McCutchen.

It’s not a question of if Evans will end up on the other end of one of those phone calls. The Giants always do their due diligence, and they could use help in the outfield. The question is should the Giants seriously pursue McCutchen, and if they do, can they actually get him? Here are the pros and cons … 

Pro: I mean, he’s Andrew McCutchen. Even with a “down year” in 2016, he leads all NL players in WAR (28.6 per FanGraphs) over the past five seasons. He’s a .292 career hitter with a .381 on-base percentage and six consecutive 20-homer seasons. McCutchen’s OPS dropped more than 100 points last season, but he still hit 24 homers, seven more than any Giant. In theory, McCutchen would add a very dangerous right-handed bat to a team that’s ready to win now. 

Con: Is he still THAT version of Andrew McCutchen? The drop off in 2016 was steep in certain respects. McCutchen’s .336 OBP was a career-low by nearly 30 points. His slugging percentage has dipped more than 100 points over the past two seasons. He stole just six bases in 13 attempts. Most concerning: McCutchen’s fielding metrics fell off a cliff. The former Gold Glove winner was worth negative 28 defensive runs saved per FanGraphs. By comparison, Angel Pagan posted a negative 20 in 2015 and got moved to left. The Giants could acquire McCutchen to play left, but it’s unclear how he would react to switching positions given that every defensive inning of his career has been spent in center. Was 2016 a fluke or the beginning of a slide? 

Pro: Let’s say he is amendable to moving … McCutchen would balance a lineup that leans to the left, and there’s no reason to think he wouldn’t be an above average defender in left field. He has one guaranteed year left on his deal at a very affordable $14 million, with a $14.5 million club option for 2018. The front office could basically sit back for two years, as every starting position player but Eduardo Nunez would be under team control through the 2018 season. 

Con: The fit is an imperfect one in a number of ways. Let’s start with what it would take to actually get McCutchen. The Giants didn't offer enough to get Melancon, and a McCutchen deal would surely center around top prospects Christian Arroyo or Tyler Beede, plus other players. Joe Panik’s name might come up, too. The Pirates are reportedly asking the Nationals for minor league outfielder Victor Robles, who is a better prospect than any player the Giants have. So any potential deal would clean out a system that’s thin after trades for Nunez, Will Smith and Matt Moore. 

The financial cost is not insignificant. The Giants don’t have that much wiggle room in their budget, and a new closer will be expensive. Add a $14 million hitter and you’re looking at about $45 million for an outfield made up of three players on the wrong side of 30. For months, the Giants have signaled that they’re more comfortable giving the open playing time to young players like Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker, who would be hopelessly blocked by a trade for McCutchen. 

Conclusion: If a trade does happen, it will be a crushing blow to Pirates fans. To save some face, the organization will need to get an elite player or two in return, and as always in these situations, other teams have much more to offer than the Giants. Robles, for instance, was the No. 33 prospect in the minors last season, per Baseball America. 

Even if the Giants are interested, they won’t win a bidding war. But they don’t have to. The focus has been on fixing the ninth inning, not left field, and the guess here is that it remains that way. 

Giants' outfield picture becoming clearer after latest round of roster cuts

Giants' outfield picture becoming clearer after latest round of roster cuts

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants moved closer to setting their opening day roster on Monday when they made a significant round of cuts to their spring training roster. 

A total of 15 players were reassigned or optioned, bringing the total to 31 players remaining in camp. Many of the players cut Monday entered the spring competing for jobs. 

In the outfield, Mac Williamson and Austin Slater were optioned to Triple-A and Chris Shaw was reassigned to minor league camp. Williamson had a huge spring and was the likeliest of the trio to push for an opening day spot, but he'll start his year in the minors. Steven Duggar was not among the cuts, and he remains an option to make the team, with the Giants also looking at Gregor Blanco, Gorkys Hernandez and Jarrett Parker for backup spots. Hernandez and Parker are out of minor league options. 

Tyler Beede was optioned and Andrew Suarez was reassigned to minor league camp, leaving three players vying for the final two rotation spots. Ty Blach and Chris Stratton have been the favorites all along, although both struggled the last time out and Derek Holland has had a strong spring. 

Both backup catchers -- Trevor Brown and Hector Sanchez -- were reassigned, along with Orlando Calixte, who saw time in the big leagues last year. Joan Gregorio, Jose Valdez, Justin O'Conner and Kyle Jensen were also reassigned. Chase d'Arnaud, who appeared to be making a strong push, was on the list, too, leaving Josh Rutledge as the only competition for Kelby Tomlinson for the final infield spot. 

Finally, Derek Law and Roberto Gomez were optioned to Triple-A. Josh Osich remains and appears the frontrunner for a bullpen job. Julian Fernandez, the Rule 5 pick, also remains in camp. 

The Giants break camp on Friday.

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

PEORIA — Jeff Samardzija spent a couple minutes after Thursday’s start talking to reporters about how deep he thinks the Giants lineup can be. It’ll be a hell of a lot deeper if Hunter Pence keeps hitting like this. 

After a slow start to the spring, Pence is charging. He had three hits against the Padres: a triple that bounced off the top of the wall in right-center, a hard single up the middle, and a double to center. The more encouraging plays for the Giants happened in left field. Pence chased down a drive to the line in the third inning, leaving the bases loaded. He opened the fourth by going the other direction and gloving a fly ball to left-center. 

"A good game for Hunter, both ways," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's getting more comfortable out there. You can see it with the jumps he's getting right now. It takes a little while when you change positions, but I think he's going to be fine out there."

The Giants appear set to have Austin Jackson and Pence atop the lineup against left-handed starters, and that duo could see plenty of time early. Seven of the first nine games are against the Dodgers, who have four lefty starters. 

--- Evan Longoria had a double off the right-center wall on Wednesday after missing a week with a sore ankle. He had a single the same way in his second at-bat Thursday. More than the at-bats, Longoria has impressed with his soft hands and steady arm at third. The ankle looks fine, too. 

“My ankle feels pretty good,” Longoria said. “I don’t think it’s going to be an issue going forward.”

--- It’s been a quiet spring for Andrew McCutchen, but we saw the wheels tonight. McCutchen easily stole second after a two-run single in the fifth. When Evan Longoria bounced one to the left side, shortstop Freddy Galvis tried to go to third for the lead out, but McCutchen beat that throw, too. He got up and put his hands on his hips, as if to say, "Why'd you even try that?"

--- Samardzija allowed three homers in a six-batter span in the third. He allowed three homers in an inning in his previous start, too, but he said he’s not concerned. Samardzija deemed it a sequencing issue. He’s working in a new changeup and threw it in situations he normally wouldn’t; Eric Hosmer took advantage of a floating one, crushing it to deep, deep right for the third homer. 

--- With a runner on, Brandon Belt put down a perfect bunt to foil the shift. Belt does that every spring, particularly against NL West teams, but rarely during the regular season. Maybe this will be the year?

Belt later crushed a homer to deep right. That had to feel good for a number of reasons. Belt is fighting a cold and he learned earlier in the day that his college coach, Augie Garrido, had passed away.