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The Giants are reportedly interested in Andrew McCutchen, and they should be

As long as they aren’t planning to play him in center field, that is.

Pittsburgh Pirates v San Francisco Giants Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Giants are looking to upgrade their defense in center field. The Giants are reportedly interested in Andrew McCutchen. I promise you, both things can be true. Hear me out.

This report comes from Jon Morosi, who suggests that the Giants’ interest in McCutchen is something of a backup plan for Giancarlo Stanton, and that makes sense. If the Giants get Stanton, they would play Hunter Pence (and probably Denard Span) in left field, and McCutchen wouldn’t have anywhere to play.

Also, we’re talking about this because there is absolutely no way that McCutchen can possibly be a consideration for the Giants in center field, right? Right. So let’s move on and approach this as if he’s an option for them in left field, where he would be an excellent fit.

McCutchen hit 28 home runs last year with a .363 on-base percentage. I would like the Giants’ left fielder in 2018 to be capable of hitting 28 home runs with a .363 on-base percentage. The Marcel projections on Baseball-Reference have him hitting .268/.357/.463 next year. I would like the Giants to get that kind of production from their left fielder, even if some of it would be muted by AT&T Park.

Considering where the Giants are in the success cycle — holding on for dear life, trying to see if they can use a capful of kerosene to get the car to a gas station for one ... more ... fill-up — it’s probably a healthy thing for them to explore everyone and anyone on a short-term deal. The Giants couldn’t sign someone on the open market who can hit like McCutchen for anything less than a three- or four-year deal. Here, the Giants can attempt to be better next year without hurting their chances in 2020, depending on the prospects they would have to deal.

I like the production. I like the short-term commitment. I’m reasonably certain that McCutchen would be at least average in left, if not above-average. If the Pirates’ asking price isn’t too high, I’m interested.

As a left fielder.

As a center fielder, good gravy, no. No, no, no, no. I remember watching a game against the Pirates this year in which Mike Krukow was talking about McCutchen’s defense positively in the first part of the game, and after a pair of unfortunate plays/routes, he got real quiet and said something like, “Yeah, I don’t know what’s going on out there.” He saw McCutchen age in front of his eyes, wrong-Grail-style, and it made him uncomfortable. It made all of us uncomfortable at some point. Dude used to glide out there, and he was one of my all-time favorite players to watch. He’s not that player anymore.

His best defensive comp now is Denard Span, and while that’s a little too unforgiving —Span cost the Giants nearly twice as many runs as McCutchen cost the Pirates, according to DRS — he was the 29th-best starting centerfielder in baseball by most defensive metrics. Which is a fancier way of saying “second-worst.”

If the Giants can’t get Stanton, though, and they trade for McCutchen to play left, while also acquiring a plus-plus defensive center fielder, I’m in. Get someone who can hit a little bit at third base, hope for better things from the other expected starters, and hope for the best. No, McCutchen probably won’t be an MVP again. No, it’s not exactly optimal to shift from Giancarlo freaking Stanton to a 31-year-old on the decline. No, Brandon Crawford doesn’t have to hit bounce back just because we’re rooting for him, just like Brandon Belt doesn’t have to stay healthy just because he’s had a career’s worth of freak injuries.

But the Giants would be a better team, and they would have more power, so I’m open-minded.

That’s as long as they’re considering McCutchen and an upgrade to their center field defense. It’s not an either/or situation. It’s like having a Q tile without a U tile in Scrabble. Both of them need to be there for the Q to be worth a damned thing. But don’t get too down on the idea of McCutchen as a consolation prize. All things being equal, he would help the Giants score more runs, and his defense in left might actually help them prevent more runs than last year.

I wouldn’t think the Pirates could ask that much for an older veteran with a year left, considering his salary and good-not-great production. The Giants would have to figure out how much of his contract they’d take on, which would affect the prospects going back. I’m not in favor of them taking on so much of the contract that they’re done with the offseason, but I’m also not in favor of them thinning out an already thin system, so there might not be a happy medium here.

But if the price is right, I could totally get behind Andrew McCutchen on the Giants.

In left field.

Just so we’re clear on that.