It hardly came as a surprise to Pittsburgh Pirates fans this week that their hometown hero, right fielder Andrew McCutchen, was off to greener pastures. After all, “Cutch” is a slugger, a great fielder, he’s fast, energetic and an excellent clubhouse man. He deserves better.
As for the Pirates, where to begin? Should we talk about their low payroll or their affinity for trading valuable players? Perhaps we can simply say this: that the Pirates have finished with a losing record in 6 of the 9 seasons McCutchen played with the club, while McCutchen has stayed strong, turning in a solid batting average and strong on-base percentage season after season, and with few errors to his name. It seems he is ready for a bigger challenge.
That is not to say that the San Francisco Giants, McCutchen’s new team, are exactly in their prime. The 2017 season left them at the bottom of their division, far from glory. However, in recent years, they are anything but a losing franchise. 2010, 2012 and 2014 saw them World Series Champions. While they have been looking rough in the years since there is plenty of potential on which to build.
McCutchen is the second all-star acquired by the Giants this offseason. In December, they filled their recently weak position at third base with the signing of Tampa Bay Rays slugger Evan Longoria. As a position long held by powerhouse Pablo Sandoval, the Giants have struggled with third basemen since Sandoval’s exit after the 2014 season and although he has since returned, his interim stint with the Boston Red Sox was plagued with injuries, making his continued health a cause for concern. The projected lineup of Giants third basemen for the 2018 season includes last year’s rookie Ryder Jones and the somewhat unpredictable Kelby Tomlinson. Clearly, the Giants could not afford to lose the opportunity to snag Longoria.
Despite the obvious on-field considerations, there are also a couple of clubhouse items worthy of note. First, McCutchen and Longoria have each played for the same respective team since their rookie season. What’s more interesting is that those teams are notoriously low paying, though each has produced a superstar. Last season, 22 of 30 teams in the MLB posted higher salaries than the Pirates. And of all 30 teams, only the Brewers spent less on their players than the Rays. The Giants were the 7th highest paying team last year. While it’s important to remember that baseball is about more than money, talent still comes at a price.
Finally, McCutchen and Longoria are both team anchors. Their teams were built around their talent. They were both involved in their community and in many ways, were the face of their respective teams. How will this translate in San Francisco? The Giants already have stars of their own in Hunter Pence, Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey. How will the team dynamic shift with two more stars in the clubhouse, and how will McCutchen and Longoria adjust to no longer being the center of their franchise’s universe? One thing is certain: it looks like the Giants are on their way back to the top.