-- It's the end of an era in Pittsburgh, and while Pirates fans certainly won't be surprised about the trade that will send franchise icon Andrew McCutchen to the? San Francisco Giants, it's still a bittersweet day, a reminder of where the Pittsburgh Pirates were when McCutchen arrived on the scene in 2009 and the disappointment in the inability to sustain the playoff run of 2013 to 2015, when the Pirates won three straight wild cards.
From the 1993 to 2012 -- the run began with the departure of Barry Bonds to the Giants -- the Pirates had 20 consecutive losing seasons. They lost hard, with 10 seasons of 90-plus losses, including seven in a row from 2005 to 2011. The Pirates turned things around in part by being at the forefront of the modern sabermetrics revolution, but at the heart of everything was their superstar center fielder.
The 11th overall pick in the 2005 draft, McCutchen developed into the 2013 NL MVP and finished in the top five of the voting four consecutive seasons. There was nothing overly flashy about him; he simply did everything well, earning his way into the inner circle of franchise greats alongside the likes of Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell.
Unfortunately, the timing and luck for the best of the McCutchen-led Pirates teams wasn't quite right. They won 94 games in 2013 and beat the Reds in the wild-card game before losing in five games to the Cardinals in the Division Series, including dropping the final two games with just one run in each. In 2014, they ran into Madison Bumgarner and were shut out. In 2015, they won 98 games, more than either the Mets or Dodgers, but were relegated once again to the wild-card game. This time they ran into the red-hot Jake Arrieta and once again were shut out.
Unlike the Royals, who went all-in for 2015 when they acquired Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist, Pirates owner Bob Nutting was never willing to make that extra sacrifice, even though Forbes estimated the team's operating profit in 2016 at $51 million. The Pirates' window didn't necessarily have to close after 2015, even as a small-market franchise, but McCutchen slipped significantly in performance the past two seasons, Gerrit Cole didn't quite develop into an ace and Tyler Glasnow hasn't made the jump from top prospect to major league starter. A lot went wrong in 2017 as Starling Marte was suspended for PEDs, Gregory Polanco had a bad season and Jung Ho Kang never made it out of Korea after a DUI arrest. The Pirates finished 75-87 and, in trading Cole and McCutchen, decided to pull the plug on 2018.
You can debate the value of keeping a franchise icon beyond his prime years. From a strict baseball standpoint, however, it made sense to deal McCutchen. He's a free agent after the season, no longer has the range to play center field and is on the wrong side of a superb career. That probably doesn't make Pirates fans feel any better though. It could be a long time they see another face of the franchise as beloved as he was.
What the Giants get from the deal:? OF Andrew McCutchen.
Note that I listed McCutchen as an outfielder above, not center fielder. After a poor season via the defensive metrics in 2016 at minus-28 defensive runs saved, the Pirates moved McCutchen to right field for 2017, despite his vocal disagreement. He moved back to center after Marte's suspension and was a little better, but it's pretty clear his range and speed have diminished. So it's interesting to see where the Giants will play him. The Giants had the worst outfield in baseball in 2017, both offensively (an MLB-worst .305 wOBA) and defensively (an MLB-worst minus-45 DRS). The front office headed into the offseason with the stated objective of improving the defense, especially in center field. Denard Span was traded to Tampa Bay as part of the Evan Longoria deal, so McCutchen could take over for him. Or maybe he moves over to left field (with Hunter Pence remaining in right).
I guess it's possible McCutchen stays in center. The Giants have a penchant for employing 30-something center fielders -- Andres Torres, Angel Pagan, Span. While Lorenzo Cain feels like the perfect fit, USA Today's Bob Nightengale tweeted that the Giants are out on Cain. Jarrod Dyson certainly fits as a cheaper, defense-first option for center, and prospect Steven Duggar could be ready at midseason.
Frankly, I'm not sure why they wouldn't make a push for Cain. This is an older team: Pence will be 35, Longoria 32, McCutchen, Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford all 31 and Brandon Belt 30. Cueto and Jeff Samardzija are in their 30s. While there are reasons to project better performances for 2018, it's also a team coming off a 98-loss season. The addition of McCutchen looks like it will push the Giants over the luxury-tax threshold for 2018, so that's not a reason to sign Dyson over Cain.
There's also this idea: The 2018 Dodgers might be the worst Dodgers team we see for several seasons, given they are intent on staying under the tax this season -- not to mention their farm system is viewed as one of the best in the game and the Giants' system one of the worst. By dealing for Longoria and McCutchen, the Giants are making an obvious push for 2018. Might as well put all the chips on the table.
Giants grade: C .?I don't like the idea of McCutchen in center, especially in that huge outfield at AT&T Park. I like this trade a lot more if they sign Dyson or trade for Billy Hamilton.
? What the Pirates got from the trade:? RHP? Kyle Crick?and OF Bryan Reynolds.
Crick was the 49th pick in 2011, the same draft the Pirates selected Cole first overall. He reached top-50 prospect status after 2013 but struggled at the upper levels of the minors and was converted to the bullpen in 2017, reaching the majors to post a 3.06 ERA over 32 innings. His fastball averaged 95.5 mph with the Giants, but the control is still the big issue here (17 walks in those 32 innings). At a minimum, he's probably a serviceable bullpen arm, and the Pirates could always give him another chance at starting.
Outfielder Bryan Reynolds is the second player, a second-round pick in 2016 from Vanderbilt. He hit well at Class-A San Jose (.313/.364/.464), but I'm not sure a player from the SEC hitting well in the California is necessarily all that instructive. He's a switch-hitter who played all three outfield positions at San Jose, and scouts project him as being able to stay in center. I kind of like him as a sleeper and guy who could be more than fourth outfielder, especially if the power develops a little more.
If the return seems underwhelming, well, McCutchen's trade value just wasn't that high. Most teams are going to view him only as a corner outfielder, and while the bat rebounded in 2017 (.279/.363/.486), his mediocre 2016 factors into the return.
Pirates grade: B