Michael Brantley was still on the board last week when the Phillies agreed to a deal with Andrew McCutchen at the winter meetings.
The Phils had interest in Brantley as well, but they valued McCutchen's durability over Brantley's solid left-handed bat.
The Phillies, as you know, signed McCutchen to a three-year, $50 million contract.
Brantley, on Monday, agreed to a two-year, $32 million deal with the Astros.
The first reaction was some surprise that McCutchen's deal not only beat the overall value of Brantley's but that McCutchen also got slightly more per year. These are similar players. McCutchen is seven months older, and Brantley is coming off the better season.
Seeing the deal Brantley received, some will say the Phillies overpaid McCutchen. They may have, but in this case, it's acceptable for a couple of reasons:
1. McCutchen unquestionably improves the Phillies
2. It's a three-year deal that won't prevent the Phils from making any future moves
Don't lose sight of that second point. The Phillies have a ton of money and did not weigh themselves down with this move. They also wouldn't really have weighed themselves down by beating the Nationals' six-year offer for Patrick Corbin, but there is a substantial difference between giving a 29-year-old pitcher with past injuries $150 million and giving a 32-year-old outfielder with no injury history half the years and one-third the price.
Back to McCutchen vs. Brantley.
McCutchen has a few distinct advantages over Brantley. The most obvious one is durability. McCutchen has missed a total of 65 games in the last nine seasons. Brantley has missed 242 the last three years alone.
The defensive metrics peg McCutchen and Brantley as equals when playing the corner outfield. Eye-test, I'm still giving McCutchen the advantage because of his instincts, ability to glide to the ball and his versatility. You must also factor in that the last two places McCutchen played the corner outfield most — AT&T Park and PNC Park — are among the most spacious and challenging outfields in baseball.
Brantley is a solid outfielder, too, but you can't put him in center field in a pinch at this point like you can with McCutchen. Brantley hasn't played center since 2015.
Brantley gets the slight baserunning advantage, and he's obviously the better bet to hit .290 or .300. Yet the last two years, despite the fact that Brantley has out-hit McCutchen .305 to .267, McCutchen has the higher OBP — .366 to Brantley's .362.
Brantley strikes out less. McCutchen has more power. Brantley's left-handed bat may have balanced the Phils' lineup better. But McCutchen hits righties better than Brantley hits lefties.
Add up all these tiny advantages for McCutchen and you get a player the Phillies just felt more comfortable with. Then comes the "adult in the room" aspect of what McCutchen will bring the Phillies. He gives them an experienced voice in the clubhouse and another source of leadership they badly needed. It had gotten to the point the last year and a half where every game, good or bad, Rhys Hoskins was basically left to speak on behalf of his teammates. He won't have to do it alone in 2019.
If the Phillies were in the position of a mid-market team like the Rockies, Pirates, Reds or Royals, giving McCutchen $50 million over three years would have been a bad move because it swallows up so many of your resources. But on this team, in this city, with this future payroll and in an offseason when the Phillies are clearly shifting to win-now mode, paying a slightly higher price to get the guy they wanted made sense.
Boiled down to its simplest form, that $16.7 million per year the next three years won't stop the Phillies from improving elsewhere.
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