With the Giants slipping to a distant fourth place in the NL West, the team’s decision to place veteran outfielder Andrew McCutchen on waivers yesterday may be the starting point of at least a light, late-August sell-off. Though the San Francisco organization obviously could still pull McCutchen back — particularly in the seemingly unlikely event that the team is still considering making him a qualifying offer — there’s good reason to think that it may decide instead to let him join another club with brighter hopes the rest of the season.
McCutchen is still owed in the neighborhood of $3MM for the remainder of the season — hardly an insignificant amount of money. It’s enough, certainly, to force any team considering a move to think hard about whether the veteran is really a worthwhile upgrade and compelling fit.
Teams weighing whether to make a claim, or to pursue a swap if McCutchen clears waivers, will surely be assessing just what version of the former superstar they’d likely receive. He’s showing less power than ever before but has been a quality on-base threat and above-average overall hitter. Given his diminished all-around capabilities, that’s not a particularly compelling package, though teams will surely also value McCutchen’s leadership attributes.
Notably, though, measures of his batted-ball quality suggest that Cutch is stinging the ball — perhaps making him a candidate to experience some positive regression down the stretch. Some clubs may also believe the power downturn could be righted in part by moving McCutchen to a more hitter-friendly home park.
In any event, the bottom line is that McCutchen is no longer a premium performer who’s good enough to force a fit on any roster. He’s playing at about a 2 WAR annual pace this season (per both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference), so even a Statcast-believing optimist would closely consider fit and value.
Here are a few organizations that make some amount of sense at a glance. (Links to Roster Resource depth charts; teams presented in alphabetical order.)
- Astros: Suddenly engaged in a divisional dogfight, the defending World Series champs are no doubt looking for ways to get better in the final days of August. Whether McCutchen is the optimal target is certainly debatable, but the corner outfield mix is heavy on left-handed hitters (Josh Reddick, Tony Kemp, Kyle Tucker, Derek Fisher) and a switch-hitter (Marwin Gonzalez) who is better against right-handed pitching.
- Athletics: Having surged into a first-place tie with the aforementioned Houston club, the A’s are surely perusing the wire for possibilities. Though the focus is on pitching, McCutchen would be a fairly clean fit on this roster. While youth has carried the club to this point, there are some questions surrounding some of the right-handed-hitting elements of the current outfield mix. In particular, Mark Canha has had a tough three-week stretch while Ramon Laureno was scuffling before a two-dinger outing last night. While the A’s would perhaps prefer to add a true center fielder, it’s hardly clear that there’s one to be found on this market.
- Braves: McCutchen would be an improved version of the recently-acquired Adam Duvall, who has struggled badly since arriving in Atlanta but could still be optioned. It’s not exactly a pressing need, but might be an interesting way to provide a boost for a club that still has work to do to secure a surprising division title.
- Cubs: With the offense sagging a bit of late, the Cubbies are no doubt at least considering a lineup infusion. Adding McCutchen would create some additional matchup possibilities in the outfield while perhaps freeing the club to reduce the role of struggling shortstop Addison Russell. Of course, the Cubs may also feel it’d unnecessarily clog their roster to add another righty corner bat with Kris Bryant hopefully nearing a return and the surprising David Bote still available.
- Indians: As recently-acquired outfielder Leonys Martin battles a serious health issue, the Indians have had to go back to the drawing board to boost their outfield mix and improve their overall offensive profile in advance of the playoffs. The club is said to have pursued Adam Jones, another former up-the-middle superstar who’s still respected but is now best suited to playing the corner outfield and is no longer quite as compelling a presence at the plate. McCutchen is arguably a better target, and unlike Jones does not have no-trade protection.
- Mariners: The Seattle org already picked up a right-handed outfield bat in Cameron Maybin, but he’s struggling. McCutchen wouldn’t likely represent an option in center, but perhaps the club could utilize him as part of the corner mix while bumping Dee Gordon back into the outfield and deploying Robinson Cano more regularly at second base. While the M’s continue to outperform expectations, they are looking at a tough path to the postseason and need to squeeze out every bit of value they can down the stretch if they hope to qualify.
- Phillies: The Phils reportedly also chased Jones. As explained above, then, Cutch also seems a reasonable target. He’d likely take the lion’s share of time in right field in Philadelphia while adding another sturdy clubhouse asset to a mostly youthful team.
- Rockies: The Colorado organization is right in the thick of things. But its outfield mix hasn’t been a strength. More importantly, it is overloaded with left-handed hitters. Adding a veteran righty bat would make lots of sense. And bringing in such a high-profile player would surely generate loads of interest in Colorado.
- Yankees: The Yanks are showing patience as Aaron Judge heals up, as they seem destined for a Wild Card game barring a near-unfathomable swing in either direction. Still, the club has to be considering some lineup boosts. Adding McCutchen could be viewed as part of a plan to shift some players around and reduce the role of first baseman Greg Bird, though perhaps there are better ways to accomplish that.
So, which do you think is likeliest to land McCutchen? (Link for app users.)