Just a day after covering the Gerrit Cole trade, we're back to talk about Pittsburgh again. While it's certainly not surprising that the Cole trade signaled the start of the Pirates' emptying the pantry, it all seems to be happening rather quickly. On Monday, Pittsburgh traded the face of their franchise for the last nigh to a decade, Andrew McCutchen, to San Francisco in exchange for RHP Kyle Crick, outfield prospect Bryan Reynolds and some cash considerations ($2.5 million of McCutchen's $14.75 million remaining contract will be covered by the Pirates, with the Giants sending $500k of international bonus pool money the other way).
As if you didn't already know, the 31-year-old McCutchen was the lifeblood of the Pirates' move from an MLB joke to a contender earlier this decade. A former MVP and five-time All Star, he hit .302/.396/.509(152 OPS+) from 2011 to 2015 and averaged 6.4 bWAR per season. His 2016 (.256/.336/.430, 104 OPS+) was seriously worrying, but he bounced back in 2017 (.279/.363/.486, 122 OPS+) and showed that he is still an offensive threat, even if his contributions on the bases and in the field have slipped a bit.
Even a less-than-his-former-self McCutchen should help the Giants' outfield next year, as their outfielders combined to hit .253/.311/.374 and were the worst in all of MLB. In McCutchen's disastrous 2016, he still hit better than the Giants' outfielders last season, so, yeah, the Giants' outfield was really, really bad last year and McCutchen should certainly be an instant upgrade.
The Giants still have some work to do. McCutchen has certainly lost a step in center field and he would be better served playing in a corner. There are still options that could work with their stated commitment to get under the luxury tax (e.g., Jarrod Dyson) and they have an in-house option very close to the majors if they want to stand pat (Steven Duggar). 34-year-old Hunter Pence looks like he might not have much left in the tank, but Austin Slater showed promise in his debut last year before he suffered a hip injury that hopefully won't prevent him from seeing action next season.
The Evan Longoria trade filled one of San Francisco's biggest holes at third and this move fills another. The Giants' outfield was one of its biggest problem last year (along with third base, which Longoria addressed) and this move certainly creates a lineup that looks much more formidable with a little bit of positive regression and a little bit of luck in terms of baseballs hitting Brandon Belt.
In terms of the return for Pittsburgh, it might initially look light for a player of McCutchen's caliber, but the combination of his age, salary hit and the fact that he only has one year of control left all contribute to making him a less desirable trade chip.
Crick was previously a top-100 prospect and, although he was originally projected to have starter-caliber stuff, he debuted last season as a reliever. He notched a 3.06 ERA, 3.90 FIP, 7.8 K/9, 4.7 BB/9 over 32.1 innings. If Crick develops a solid secondary pitch, he could end up in the rotation, and it might be that a sprinkle of Ray Searage magic is all he needs.
Even if he's no more than a useful reliever, he's under control through the 2023 season, so there's plenty of time for the Pirates to wring some value out of him, one way or another.
Reynolds is a switch-hitting, 2016 second-round pick who hit .312/.364/.462 in A-ball last year and was ranked highly (4th by MLB.com and 5th by Baseball America) in the Giants' system. He's not just a throw-in prospect, as he's been successful at the plate so far and could be ready to take over a corner-outfield spot as soon as the 2019 season.
Grade for San Francisco: B
It's not clear to yours truly how to best judge the all-in strategy that the Giants are employing during this offseason. They've now given up significant chunks of their (already hurting) farm system to procure a couple of players. But both Longoria and McCutchen do indeed make the team far better this year. While it probably won't be enough to catch the Dodgers in 2018, the McCutchen move makes San Francisco a serious contender for a Wild Card spot and allows them a much greater chance at making another run at the postseason with their current core. There are likely some dark years ahead, but they're kicking the bucket and worrying about that later.
Grade for Pittsburgh: B
It's certainly painful for the fans when they lose a player like McCutchen, who had been the most important player in his franchise's turnaround and trips to the postseason in 2013 to 2015. It was always going to be tough to see him go, but there were too many factors standing in the way of him playing out the rest of his career in Pittsburgh. The return that GM Neal Huntington got seems reasonable enough, in light of all the considerations.
We'll have to wait a year or two to see what becomes of all of the MLB-ready and almost-there talent they've accrued from their moves, whether they're traded away for more prospects or if some of them give Pittsburgh enough to make an unexpected push at the postseason. The difficulty of their division will likely result in the former rather than the latter, but the moves Huntington has made seem smart enough, given the situation that Pittsburgh faces.