Give new San Francisco Giants outfielder Andrew McCutchen some credit. After all, a year ago at this time, most fantasy managers viewed the longtime statistical great as having lost much of his relevance, as his production cratered both at the plate and in the field, and the Pittsburgh Pirates sure looked like they wanted to move on. McCutchen bounced back in 2017 in quite a few areas, homering 28 times, rejuvenating his contact rate, striking out less and even returning to double-digit stolen bases. He's not a top-10 fantasy outfielder, but he's still pretty good.
The Pirates traded right-hander Gerrit Cole to the Houston Astros over the weekend and doubled down on the apparent rebuild Monday afternoon by sending the organizational icon out West, and it makes perfect sense -- even with the return lacking in, shall we say, either top prospects or sure things. Still, the Pirates aren't hurting for outfielders and they weren't playoff-bound. Let's also dispense with the theme of loyalty: McCutchen should have been dealt a while ago, when he had more value. It's rare a player can stick with one franchise his entire career, and the Pirates couldn't afford this.
Moving from Pittsburgh's pitcher-friendly PNC Park to similarly lovely AT&T Park by the bay certainly isn't going to help McCutchen's production, but we also shouldn't expect a major drop-off. McCutchen can be a top-20 outfielder. He finished the 2017 season as the No. 22 option, returning to five-category relevance, but the only category he was above-average in was runs scored. Let's assume the Giants hit him near the top of the lineup, if not the very top, and with Evan Longoria also arriving this offseason to aid Buster Posey, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford, it's not a bad lineup.
My colleague Tristan H. Cockcroft deftly ranked McCutchen 23rd among outfielders and 76th overall prior to this trade, each a perfectly reasonable assessment. I'm a bit concerned about McCutchen because his OPS dropped more than 100 points in the second half last season, his .769 OPS against right-handed pitching is hardly impressive and there's nothing in his line drive, ground ball or fly ball rates that are trending positively. However, his walk rate remained strong, and he is durable. He's not going to steal many bases, but I could see a .270 batting average with 22 home runs, 10 steals and more than 90 runs. That's a steady third outfielder in a standard mixed league. Just don't draft McCutchen in a defensive runs saved league.
Meanwhile, the Pirates open up an outfield spot for longtime prospect Austin Meadows, who has struggled in consecutive seasons at Triple-A Indianapolis to hit for average and power -- not a good combination -- and hasn't exactly stayed healthy, either. Meadows, 22, might not make his big league debut in April. The Pirates can move Starling Marte to center field, a clear defensive upgrade there, and still have Gregory Polanco in a corner. Each should bounce back offensively to some degree. Projecting Meadows for more than 400 big league at-bats seems generous at this stage. It could be scrappy Adam Frazier, who can run, getting the starts, plus Jordan Luplow and Sean Rodriguez.
Longtime Giants prospect Kyle Crick, a right-hander who throws hard but often struggles to throw strikes, pitched 30 times in relief for the big league club last season to a deceiving 3.06 ERA. He'll head to Pittsburgh in this deal. Crick was a bit fortunate on batted balls, but he does possess upside. As of now, we don't know if the Pirates will choose to return him to starting duties or not. Crick could be a key bullpen piece, much like weekend acquisition Michael Feliz from Houston, another strikeout guy that needs work on his control. Fantasy managers in NL-only formats can take a chance on Crick (and Feliz), but there are no guarantees of anything here.