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Why the Giants probably won’t trade for Andrew McCutchen

The former MVP makes a lot of sense in some ways, but he doesn’t make sense in many more.

Pittsburgh Pirates v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

I was gone for a week, and the Giants signed Hector Sanchez. That is so like them, making news while I’m away. I have serious and important thoughts thoughts about this move, such as, “Really? Pushing yourself closer to the luxury tax threshold for Nick Hundley when the famous Hec-San was available the whole time?” But these thoughts will have to be relegated to the opening paragraph of an Andrew McCutchen rumor post.

Apparently there was an Andrew McCutchen rumor. Another one. This one is different from the first one, though pretty much the same, and it goes like this:

The Giants and Pirates have had recent contact regarding a trade that would send Andrew McCutchen to San Francisco, a source told, although a deal is not imminent and multiple barriers remain.

The first point to acknowledge is that McCutchen is a great idea for the Giants in a lot of ways. They acquired Evan Longoria because he allowed them to open up an Andrew McCutchen-sized hole in the payroll. Trade for him, put Duggar and a minor-league free agent in center to catch baseballs, and the offseason is mostly done. The one-year deal allows the team a little more flexibility than a lot of the other options, and he would still be expected to produce in 2018, which is the last year the Giants will ever, ever contend.

Plus, he’s an absolute delight, just the best. Buy me a drink, get out your phone, and ask me about Andrew McCutchen. You will have content.

Here’s why it won’t happen, though.

The first reason is there are still options for left or right field. If the Giants want to trade all of their prospects, they can go with Domingo Santana. If they want to spend money, there’s Jay Bruce. If they want to go big, they can sign J.D. Martinez with the Giancarlo Stanton money they found in a coat pocket. If they want to go small, they can sign Jayson Werth, who is absolutely giving me those Michael Morse vibes from before 2014, when I was absolutely sure the Giants were going to sign him.

The second reason is that the Giants are probably still viewing McCutchen as a center field option, not a left field option, which hurts his value. As a center fielder, he’s less than desirable. He’s a better hitter and fielder than Denard Span, so he would be an upgrade, surely, but he’s not so great of a hitter these days that his defensive foibles can be overlooked completely. If the Giants want a center fielder who makes them allow fewer runs than the other team, this isn’t the transaction they should pursue.

The third reason is the most important reason. It’s that the Pirates view McCutchen as something more than a 2.5-WAR player making $14.5 million in the last year of his contract. That is, he’s something more to them and their fans than a simple cost-benefit analysis, and they’ll want some prospects back. Imagine the Giants trading Buster Posey for three prospects who don’t rank in the Blue Jays’ top 10, and them coming back to explain, “See, here’s what Posey was owed, and here’s the WAR-based analysis of what he was expected to produce. We’d rather save the money.” You’d be furious.

If you think that’s an inappropriate comparison because Posey helped the Giants win three World Series, you’re mistaken. McCutchen helped the Pirates become relevant after two decades of being a punchline, and that counts for a helluva lot. There are logical reasons for the Pirates to trade him, but the emotional reasons for keeping him are much stronger. There would have to be something for the Pirates to bring back to their fans. This is why we had no choice, they would say. The chance to strengthen the future was just too great.

The Giants have no interest in strengthening someone else’s future, though, and that’s the biggest problem. They’ve already traded Christian Arroyo away, and they don’t have a lot of interest in trading Tyler Beede and/or Chris Shaw for a one-year rental. There is no emotional attachment to McCutchen, no franchise-building nostalgia. There is only an idea that the Pirates would prefer not to pay $14.5 million for a player while they slog through a purgatory season, only to lose him for a compensation pick, at best, so why wouldn’t they give him away for a couple of lesser prospects and save the money?

The two teams are looking for two different things, in other words. And unless the Pirates are looking only to save that money — possible! — it’s unlikely a trade will make sense. The Giants would probably rather spend the extra $25 million on Jay Bruce and keep the prospects, hoping that Bruce provided at least a little value in the years that followed. And the Pirates would probably rather keep McCutchen for a final victory lap, reminding their fans that they didn’t just ditch the expensive fan favorite for prospect flops this time, no sir.

Without the context, a trade makes sense. The Giants can spend over $10 million for a new corner outfielder. The Pirates don’t want to pay over $10 million for a corner outfielder if they’re half-in/half-out next season. Here’s a way for everyone to be happy.

Then comes the context. Do the Giants really view McCutchen as a corner outfielder? Would he even be okay with a transition? Why would the Pirates be that desperate for some of the lesser prospects in a lesser farm system? Why would the Giants trade some of their better prospects for a one-year rental, even if they’re committed for 2018?

None of it makes sense unless the Pirates are absolutely desperate to ditch the financial obligations. They could figure that $14.5 million and two lesser prospects in the hand are worth more than -$14.5 million and a compensatory pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, and that would make some measure of sense. That would ignore all of the emotional ties, though, which are legitimate and important. They want a haul. They probably won’t get a haul. Andrew McCutchen is staying put because of this, most likely.

You can’t blame the Giants for being interested, though. LET ME DO THAT FAKE LINEUP THING AGAIN:

McCutchen - CF
Panik - 2B
Posey - C
Belt - 1B
Longoria - 3B
Crawford - SS
Pence - RF
Werth - LF

Also, I included Werth because that’s totally happening. Sorry, but I had an epiphany.

This lineup has lefty-righty balance. It has experience and more power than before. It has, uh, problematic outfield defense that would murder us all. But it’s a solid lineup.

It’s also unlikely to happen. It would make sense on a lot of levels. It wouldn’t make sense on many more. It’s a fine rumor, but it’s not going to happen.

Nothing is going to happen. This offseason is never going to end, and the only move from here until the end of time will be Travis Denker signing a minor-league deal. I can’t wait to write it. But even if it makes sense, there’s still little chance that Andrew McCutchen will be on the Giants, even if he’s an incredibly fun baseball player to watch.