In light of recent injuries, should the Astros pursue Andrew McCutchen for the outfield?

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SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 10: Andrew McCutchen #22 of the San Francisco Giants bats against the Chicago Cubs in the first inning at AT&T Park on July 10, 2018 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 10: Andrew McCutchen #22 of the San Francisco Giants bats against the Chicago Cubs in the first inning at AT&T Park on July 10, 2018 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /
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Thanks to a recent rash of injuries, the Astros’ depth will be tested in the coming weeks.

Depending on the medical results of George Springer‘s injured left thumb, the Astros may have to rely on a makeshift outfield for a while. If the results on his left thumb doesn’t come back favorably, the question will then be raised if the front office should push to acquire outside help. Well, there is one name that is sure to catch everyone’s attention: Andrew McCutchen of the Giants.

To be frank, McCutchen isn’t the same player that he was back in his heyday with the Pirates. During his three-season peak by slugging percentage and OPS+ (2012-14), McCutchen averaged a .534 slugging percentage along with a 162 OPS+. Counting this year, McCutchen has seen his average slugging percentage drop to .449 and a 113 OPS+ since the start of the 2016 season. Unlike the acquisition last August for Justin Verlander, I’d doubt that McCutchen would bring the same kind of high-level impact. This is assuming that the Giants do make the former NL MVP available.

That said, the Astros should explore the possibility as McCutchen is still a productive player. In his first season in the Bay Area, the age-31 outfielder has slashed .265/.358/.424 with 12 home runs. While the power numbers have experienced a noticeable drop, McCutchen gets on-base at an above-average rate. To his defense, power numbers in San Francisco for right-handed hitters are usually suppressed in AT&T Park.

McCutchen home/road splits in 2018

Home: .262/.371/.401, 3 HR, 13 2B, 2 3B

Road: .267/.348/.443, 9 HR, 12 2B

While McCutchen does get on-base at a higher rate in AT&T Park, he does experience a home run drop off. You can’t help but wonder if his two triples would’ve been home runs in other ballparks. To no surprise, his home runs numbers spike on the road. Thank you, park factors!

Incidentally, McCutchen has never hit for much power in Minute Maid Park. Through 154 plate appearances the former Pirate has only hit two home runs with six doubles and two triples. Both home runs came in the same series back in late August 2011, but McCutchen has a measly .333 career slugging percentage at Minute Maid Park. Throughout his career when he plays in Houston’s ballpark, McCutchen has tended to hit to most of his fly balls towards right-center to right field. I’d wonder if this information would give the Astros reason to pause about his ability to produce offensively in Houston. At this point though, the Astros’ need could be quite apparent and McCutchen does have a history of producing throughout his career.

In terms of defense, McCutchen, in theory, can be used in all three spots in the outfield. But should he be used in all three outfield positions? Probably not. By DRS and UZR, McCutchen hasn’t been a produced a positive results in center field since 2013. He did accumulate 115 1/3 innings in right field for the Pirates last season, but he only managed a +2 DRS and +0.1 UZR. Exclusively as a right fielder for the Giants in 2018, the veteran outfielder has a +1 DRS and a -2.4 UZR. All of that said, defensive metrics are generally unreliable, yet the Astros are probably better off with Jake Marisnick in center field and Josh Reddick in right field. As such, this hypothetical scenario to Houston likely only leaves left field available for McCutchen.

I’ve been operating under the assumption that the Giants will make McCutchen available, which they have yet to done so. Entering Monday, San Francisco is only five games back of the Dodgers and Diamondbacks for the NL West lead. They make take the next week or two to determine if they should start selling in August. But what happens if the Giants do make him available in the coming days?

Since the non-waiver trade deadline has ended, any player on the 40-man roster would need to first clear waivers to be traded to another team. Here is the official rule per MLB.com:

"Following the passing of the deadline, players on the 40-man roster must first clear revocable trade waivers in order to be traded to another organization, thereby greatly reducing the ability for clubs to gauge the asking price of movable assets and, subsequently, reducing the number of trades."

Also, here is a good primer by Mark Simon of MLB.com, which is full of information about the waiver trades in August.

Basically, a player has to be placed on waivers and other teams then submit a claim for said player. If multiple teams submit a claim, then the teams in the same league would receive the first chance to acquire the player starting with the worst record based on the day of the claim. Teams in the remaining league, starting again with the worst record, would be next in line. If a player isn’t claimed in two days, then he can be traded to any other franchise. Keep in mind that no-trade clauses and 10/5 rules still apply in these situations.

There are a few options for an organization if another team claims a player. For example, a trade can be arranged between the two clubs. Another is to simply let the player go and the receiving team assumes the remainder of the player’s salary. Lastly, the team that placed the player on waivers can always pull the player back once claimed. Verlander’s experience is actually a wonderful example of the waiver trade deadline and its process.

In this particular example, the contract length wouldn’t necessarily be an issue as McCutchen is currently in the last season of his deal. The Astros though in this hypothetical would have to assume the remainder of his $12,250,000 adjusted salary. In terms of the luxury tax, there shouldn’t be much of a concern for Houston as the team’s payroll on Opening Day of $184,309,929 was below the $197 million luxury tax threshold. Even once you’d account for the adjusted salaries of Martin Maldonado ($1.3M), Ryan Pressly ($559K), and Roberto Osuna ($1.76M), there should still be enough room to stay under the luxury tax if they add McCutchen. Remember that the Blue Jays did take on Ken Giles‘ adjusted salary of $1.53 million, so that helps offset the addition of Osuna’s 2018 salary.

I can’t help but also wonder if the package to acquire McCutchen may consist of nothing more than a lottery ticker or two. Any return package would probably carry less in terms of prospect pedigree than the Verlander trade one year ago.

Astros rumors: Derek Fisher is set to join the team in San Francisco. dark. Next

Overall, it would be advantageous for the Astros to explore a trade for McCutchen when you consider the uncertainty of Springer’s status. While Houston could roll with Derek Fisher and Kyle Tucker, the front office may prefer to acquire a proven bat to finish out the season. The Giants could be motivated to move McCutchen as the team entered the season over the luxury tax threshold by roughly $1.8 million. Any relief, especially if their postseason hopes suffer in the coming days, could help San Francisco. But any trade would need to happen by August 31st if Houston wants their acquisition to be postseason-eligible.

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