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Is Andrew McCutchen the Right Win-Now Splash for Mets' World Series Chase?

Starting in center field for the New York Mets...Andrew McCutchen.

Your reaction to that sentence—assuming you're a Mets fanlikely depends on your feelings about risk versus reward. Because, boy, does McCutchen offer plenty of both.

McCutchen is a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates as of this writing. His name has churned through the rumor mill this offseason, however, with the Washington Nationals and Toronto Blue Jays among his reported suitors. 

After the winter meetings, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington expressed a desire to keep McCutchen in black and yellow.

"Our intent coming in here was to have Andrew McCutchen in our lineup going forward. No one changed that," Huntington said, per MLB.com's Adam Berry. "It's unlikely that someone changes that going forward. We're not going to close the door, but we're not going to be making calls."

There's wiggle room in that statement. McCutchen may not be on the clearance shelf, but he's available for the right price.

The Mets have spoken with Pittsburgh about McCutchen at a "preliminary level," as Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal reported. 

There's no indication those talks have advanced past the tire-kicking stage, but it's worth exploring whether it would be a prudent move for New York.

On the reward side, McCutchen is a 30-year-old former National League MVP and five-time All-Star who accumulated 27.9 WAR between 2012 and 2015, second only to Mike Trout by FanGraphs' measure

He's also not a budget-buster, as he's due $14 million next season with a $14.5 million team option and $1 million buyout for 2018. 

If he approximates his peak production, that would be a bargain. The key word being "if."

McCutchen is coming off a disappointing season that saw him post career lows in batting average (.256), on-base percentage (.336) and slugging percentage (.430). 

Even more damningly, his defensive numbers plummeted. He posted minus-28 defensive runs saved and a minus-18.7 UZR, both career worsts.

It's not an anomalous blip, either. McCutchen's defense has been trending downward since 2013 according to the metrics. It's reasonable to ask if he's even a center fielder anymore, forget about a good one.

That's a big deal for the Amazin's, because they need a center fielder, as Rosenthal outlined:

The Mets' biggest position need is obvious.

They've got Yoenis Cespedes in left field. They've got Curtis Granderson, Jay Bruce and Michael Conforto as options in right. But their only true center fielder is Juan Lagares, whose career OPS against right-handed pitching—even after showing some improvement last season—is only .633.

To clear room for McCutchen in the outfield and on the payroll, the Mets could trade Granderson and/or Bruce, who are owed $15 million and $13 million next season, respectively. 

That leaves the question of whether McCutchen can capably patrol center, or at least rake enough to make up for his inconsistent glove work. 

Again, he's only 30. If he hits like he did as recently as 2015, he'd provide ample value for a Mets team that scored the fifth-fewest runs in baseball last season.

"I can't wait to get my feet back there on the field, get ready and show that I'm not washed up, I guess," McCutchen said, per Berry. "I'm only 30. It's not like I'm 40. And even that is possible, toosee what Papi [David Ortiz] did. Anything is possible in this game."

Norse god/staff ace Noah Syndergaard is coming off a superlative season. If at least three of Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler return healthy and productive, the Mets' starting pitching will be elite.

Add a top-tier bat, and suddenly another NL pennant seems attainable.

Let's set aside the defensive concerns. Let's assume McCutchen will bounce back with the lumber, at least to the tune of the .283/.378/.470 slash line Steamer projects

What would it take for New York to get him?

A "possible deal" between Washington and Pittsburgh for McCutchen involved Lucas Giolito, the top pitching prospect in baseball according to MLB.com, as well as 2016 first-round pick Dane Dunning and a third player, per FanRag Sports' Jon Heyman

That means New York may need to dangle shortstop Amed Rosario, MLB.com's No. 11 overall prospect, plus a couple of high-upside ancillary pieces, assuming the Pirates' asking price hasn't budged.

That type of gut-the-farm machination makes sense if you're in full-blown win-now mode. 

The Mets aren't necessarily in that mode, though. Matt Harvey is the first of their core starting pitchers set to hit the market, and that won't happen until after the 2018 season. The same goes for closer Jeurys Familia. 

They re-upped Cespedes through 2020. There are nice young pieces on the roster, including the 23-year-old Conforto and 27-year-old catcher Travis d'Arnaud.

Mortgaging the future for the hope that McCutchen can play a passable center field, rediscover his MVP stroke and get New York over the championship finish line seems like an overreach born of desperation. 

NJ.com's Joe Giglio made the case for the Mets going all-in on McCutchen over other theoretically available outfielders such as the Kansas City Royals' Lorenzo Cain and the Colorado Rockies' Charlie Blackmon

New York, Giglio argued, "should take a risk and move the moon and stars [relatively speaking] for McCutchen."

It's intriguing. It has a certain ring. If you think the Mets' window is about to slam shut, it may even seem necessary.

But, boy, does it also sound like a big-time risk in the making.

           

All statistics and contract information courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, FanGraphs and MLB.com.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

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