If there were any questions as to where Andrew McCutchen would play with his new team in 2018, the Giants decisively answered them in a conference call with reporters today (link via Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle). Manager Bruce Bochy flatly told the media that McCutchen will be his right fielder in 2018, with Hunter Pence shifting across the outfield and playing left field for the first time in his MLB career (excluding a brief appearance there during the 2011 All-Star Game).
That, of course, leaves the Giants with a noted gap in center field, but GM Bobby Evans said today that he’s still exploring both the trade and free-agent market for center fielders. San Francisco will be hard-pressed to sign a notable free agent to play there, though, if the team is to stick to its goal of remaining beneath the luxury tax threshold of $197MM. Per Cot’s Contracts, the Giants are currently $4.8MM shy of that barrier, even when including the cash the team picked up from the Pirates and Rays as part of the McCutchen and Evan Longoria acquisitions.
Notably, Schulman adds that ownership has not mandated that the Giants stay under the luxury threshold, so it remains conceivable that the team could simply change course if it feels that to be the best path back to contention an increasingly competitive NL West division.
Obviously, there’s no real way to fit the free-agent market’s top center fielder, Lorenzo Cain, onto the Giants’ books without further trades to subtract payroll. ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports (via Twitter) that the Giants’ non-Cain wishlist is topped by Jarrod Dyson. He’s followed by Jon Jay and Cameron Maybin, in that order, according to Crasnick. While no deal is close, Crasnick adds that the Giants have reached out to Dyson’s camp to express interest, but the fleet-footed free agent, who is still talking with multiple teams.
Dyson, 33, is one of the game’s fastest players, with an average sprint speed of 28.8 ft/sec, per Statcast. Those wheels have led to consistently excellent defensive marks across all three outfield spots, though the majority of Dyson’s career has been spent in center. At the plate, he’s a career .258/.325/.352 hitter — including a .264/.331/.367 slash across the past two seasons. Dyson has also averaged 31 stolen bases per season since beginning to accumulate regular semi-regular playing time with the Royals back in 2012.
As is the case with almost any player, Dyson brings some noted shortcomings to the table. He’s never hit more than five home runs in a season, and moving to the cavernous AT&T Park at age 33 wouldn’t figure to help him in that regard. He’s also looked more or less inept against left-handed pitching in his career, hitting just .215/.293/.259 against same-handed opponents. Neither the Royals nor the Mariners saw fit to give Dyson much time against lefties, as he’s accumulated just 341 career plate appearances against them.
Jay and Maybin, who’ll turn 33 and 31, respectively, this spring, would bring different skills to San Francisco. Neither can match Dyson’s defensive excellence, but Jay has virtually no platoon split to speak of and has been a consistent source of solid batting averages and OBP marks in his career (.288/.355/.383). Maybin is the youngest of the bunch and also has the most power and best walk rate of the bunch. But, he’s been injury-prone and didn’t enjoy an especially strong 2017 season at the plate (.228/.318/.365). The free-agent market also features cost-effective veterans like Peter Bourjos and old friend Rajai Davis, among other unsigned center field candidates (MLBTR Free Agent Tracker link).
The trade market could present its fair share of options as the Giants seek center fielders. San Francisco has been linked to Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton (another defensive star) on and off throughout the offseason, though Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer reported just today that talks between the two sides are “dormant.” Buchanan adds that one source feels it’s likely that Hamilton will remain with the Reds for the 2018 campaign.
Meanwhile Brewers speedster Keon Broxton has also been linked to San Francisco at times this winter, though there’s been little such talk as of late. Yankees fans will assuredly attempt to conjure up ways in which New York could jettison Jacoby Ellsbury’s contract in a trade with the Giants, though San Francisco’s proximity to the luxury tax and Ellsbury’s decline in recent years make that quite unlikely.
San Francisco also has some internal options, led by prospect Steven Duggar, who impressed the organization with a .262/.365/.445 slash across multiple minor league levels this past season. Duggar, though, has only played 13 games in Double-A, so while Evans said he expects the 24-year-old to be in the mix for the job in Spring Training, it may be asking a lot to expect the 2015 sixth-rounder to reach the Majors early in the season. In that sense, a short-term addition in center field could serve as a stopgap for Duggar, although there’s room for a longer-term adition as well, with both Pence and McCutchen slated to hit free agency next winter.
Looking elsewhere on the roster, the addition of McCutchen and the continued pursuit of a center fielder muddies the long-term picture for outfielders Jarrett Parker, Mac Williamson and Austin Slater, each of whom has seen time on the Giants’ big league roster in recent years. Parker is out of minor league options, so he’ll need to make the 2018 roster out of Spring Training or else be exposed to waivers. Williamson has an option remaining, while Slater has all three option years left after sticking in the Majors following a June promotion.