Analyzing a potential Pittsburgh Pirates- SF Giants deal for McCutchen

Andrew McCutchen’s name was brought up for the first time this offseason Wednesday when Jon Morosi tweeted that the Giants have been in contact with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

If San Francisco fails to land Giancarlo Stanton, Pittsburgh Pirates OF Andrew McCutchen will be near the top of their wish list.

The Giants assembled one of the worst outfields in recent memory in 2017, combining for 0.8 fWAR. McCutchen’s 3.7 wins was 462.5% more than the entire team combined. According to Morosi, the Giants have inquired already on Billy Hamilton and Jackie Bradley, Jr. With McCutchen in his walk year, doing some due diligence is fair.

A few hours after Morosi’s tweet, Cutch and his wife Maria welcomed their first child: a boy named Steel McCutchen. He named the kid Steel. I think he likes Pittsburgh, folks. If there is any justice in the world, Steel’s daddy will continue to play in the Steel City.

But baseball is, unfortunately, a business. While it looks like the Pirates will once again be listening to offers on the face of their franchise this winter, that doesn’t mean they are going to just give him away. They need to be blown away by a deal.

So do the Giants have the resources to pry Cutch away?

Spoiler alert: they don’t.

The Farm System

San Francisco’s farm system is a disaster. Christian Arroyo is the only player ranked in MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects list (currently No. 56. He was not on Baseball America’s midseason top 100). If San Francisco is trying to retool and make a run in 2018, the shortstop/third baseman will be traded to someone this offseason.

Arroyo had a terrible first year in the majors, batting .192 and recording -0.5 fWAR. That obviously does not mean he’s a bust, bad it’s a bad sign when he loses his job to Pablo Sandoval. He also has been bit with the injury bug lately, breaking his hand in July and then getting surgery on it in November.

The Giants’ farm system is barren besides Arroyo. Right-hander Tyler Beede has good stuff, but he has posted clunkers in two of his last three seasons. OF/1B Chris Shaw’s raw power is intriguing, but other four tools range from average to bad. Outfielder Austin Slater has done a good job at the dish at every stop in his professional career, but most scouts view him as a slightly above average player at best.

A straight-up trade of McCutchen for Arroyo might make sense from a talent standpoint, but Arroyo is worth far more to the Giants than one year of McCutchen. Arroyo is San Francisco’s golden goose. They need to be careful who they trade him too. Unless they empty out the rest of the farm system (which would probably be an even worse idea), they don’t have enough to pry Cutch away.

Major League Talent

If the Pirates consider trading McCutchen, they could also want cost-effective players with multiple years of team control remaining. Almost every Giant that has a guaranteed contract is due to make at least $9 million next year, so the pickings are slim.

The only legitimate starter San Francisco can offer that falls in the Pirates’ budget is second baseman Joe Panik. Panik is entering the first of his three arbitration eligible seasons and the Pirates could use an everyday replacement for David Freese (Josh Harrison would slide over to third), but the Giants are already strapped for infielders. The Bucs would probably have to offer more.

Panik would not be a great fit for the Pittsburgh Pirates anyway. The infield’s greatest strength last year was their defense, finishing 7th in defensive runs saved (DRS) with 23. Panik was worth -11 DRS last season. His 2016 and 2017 offensive campaigns have averaged out to be a sub-par bat as well, so he might be just a lateral move for Freese, but with a little more team control.

Besides Panik, the Giants could offer relievers Hunter Strickland or Will Smith. They come with multiple years of control and could be packaged in a deal with some minor leaguers, but a bullpen arm for an All-Star caliber outfielder is not a fair deal.

Final Verdict

The San Francisco Giants want an All-Star caliber outfielder. And people in Hell want ice water.

There are two ways the Giants can get Cutch to the Bay. One is they find a third team to give the Pittsburgh Pirates the young talent they need while they flip a veteran or two to the middle man. The other is they eat a lot of salary of a veteran and throw in a B-list prospect or two.

For that second scenario, I think sending Mark Melancon back to the Pittsburgh Pirates would be intriguing. He’s owed $53 million over the next three seasons. There have been rumors already that the Giants are already looking to unload him. If they were willing to eat $30 million or so of that total and throw in someone like Slater, it could be mutually beneficial. The odds of that offer happening though are A. completely hypothetical, and B. very, very unlikely.

The Giants’ only real resource at the moment is their checkbook. They’re only in the Stanton race because they can offer to take on all of his salary. The Pirates don’t need to unload McCutchen’s contract and want to compete in 2018. For those reasons, don’t expect to see Cutch go the Bay this offseason.

Alex Stumpf

Alex is a credentialed Pirates beat reporter with The Pittsburgh Sports Report. If you want to keep up to date on the team or have a story idea, you can follow or reach him @AlexJStumpf.