The San Francisco Giants traded two players to the Pirates for Andrew McCutchen yesterday. Given the status conferred to McCutchen by his former MVP award and being the “face of the Pirates franchise,” the return for Pittsburgh seemed underwhelming. Bryan Reynolds is a switch-hitting outfielder who has solid but not elite potential as a prospect. Kyle Crick, a RHP, is the toss-in guy who might benefit from a change in pitching coach.
The question from the perspective of a Reds fan is what does the McCutchen trade indicate about the possibility of a trade with the Giants for Billy Hamilton? The Giants have long been rumored to be in talks with the Reds about their centerfielder.
Could the Giants use McCutchen in CF?
If the Giants decide to use McCutchen in centerfield, they no longer would need Billy Hamilton. But there’s serious question about Andrew McCutchen’s ability to play a positive defensive role in CF.
The Pirates had announced at the start of last year they were moving McCutchen to left field and Starling Marte to center. The move was overdue, as the Pirates felt that McCutchen’s defensive skills, which may have never been all that great anyhow, were in decline. Marte was a strong defensive outfielder. But then Starling Marte was suspended for 80 games due to a positive test result for PEDs. The Pirates had to change their plans and McCutchen ended up playing 139 games in CF.
San Francisco’s centerfield is large. Much bigger than Pittsburgh’s. The Giants finished next-to-last in outfield defense last year, so they really could benefit from an upgrade. It’s doubtful McCutchen, who had a negative defensive rating again last year, in CF offers that.
The Giants are also looking for a corner outfielder, so they could bump McCutchen to right field and acquire a defensive-oriented centerfielder. That could be Billy Hamilton.
Would the Reds receive a worse return for Hamilton than the Pirates got for McCutchen?
Not necessarily. McCutchen is 31. Hamilton is 27. McCutchen becomes a free agent at the end of 2018. The Giants would have two years of control over Billy Hamilton. Most important, McCutchen’s salary is $14 million (the Pirates paid $2 million of it). While Billy Hamilton, who is still in his arbitration years, will earn only $4.6 million.
Over the past two seasons, Andrew McCutchen produced a total of 1.8 WAR (Baseball-Reference) or 4.3 WAR (FanGraphs), depending on the source. Billy Hamilton had total WAR of 3.8 (B-R) or 4.3 (FG) over that same time.
To summarize: McCutchen is older, can’t really play CF, is much more expensive, has one less year of team control and has produced less value than Billy Hamilton the past two years.
So the Reds could expect a better return for Hamilton than the Pirates got for Andrew McCutchen.
Couldn’t the Giants just sign a free agent CF?
Yes, but their payroll is right up against MLB’s soft salary cap. It has been reported that the Giants want to stay under that threshold this year. Hamilton would be substantially cheaper than Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson and John Jay, the three most prominent free agent CF.
Doesn’t the Giants farm system stink?
Yes. Yes, it does. The Giants have one of the worst group of prospects in MLB. They’ve weakened it twice recently with trades for McCutchen and Evan Longoria. But there are still a couple players that would be of interest to the Reds. And the Reds can always trade Hamilton to a different team.
What’s the bottom line, will the Reds and Giants make a trade?
Zach Buchanan of the Enquirer says the prospect of a Hamilton trade with the Giants was already doubtful. Recently, Reds owner Bob Castellini said he hoped Hamilton will be with the Reds forever. The market for Billy Hamilton, the softest hitter in the major leagues, was always pretty dicey.
Unlike left field (Adam Duvall-Jesse Winker) and second base (Scooter Gennett-Dilson Herrera/Nick Senzel), the Reds don’t have a player in the organization ready to take Billy Hamilton’s place in CF. Hamilton isn’t blocking anyone’s development.
On the other hand, unless the Reds plan to offer Billy Hamilton an extension, 2019 will be his last year with the Reds. This might be the best time to trade him, with two full years of control left. If the Reds can get something of value for him, they should do it.