Many San Francisco Giants fans might have the same reaction to Monday’s news that they’ve traded for former NL MVP Andrew McCutchen — they’ll remember when the Giants added another great Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder, who became the face of their franchise and defined the Giants’ home stadium by launching homer after homer into McCovey Cove.
Let’s stop right there because this isn’t Barry Bonds coming to the Bay Area all over again. Not even close.
McCutchen, 31, is a good player, one who fills an obvious need for the Giants (their outfield has been messy ever since Bonds left if we’re being honest) and one who will make them a better team in 2018. He’s a five-time All-Star and a career .291 hitter. He plays great outfield defense and does it with a smile on his face. He’s the type of player fans love.
Combined with Evan Longoria, another veteran for whom the Giants have traded for this winter, the Giants have done well to fill their needs with big names their fanbase will recognize and get excited about.
Those aren’t bad moves. But whether these are good moves isn’t really the right question. Because for the Giants, there’s really only one question: Can they beat the division-rival Los Angeles Dodgers? And since McCutchen will be a free agent after 2018, the question is even more urgent: Can they beat the Dodgers next season?
In 2017, we learned a couple of things about the Giants and the Dodgers: The Dodgers were really really good — one win away from winning the World Series good. And the Giants were really really fragile — one big injury turned them from World Series contenders to last-place finishers.
After they lost Madison Bumgarner for most of the season, the Giants just couldn’t hang. Not just with the Dodgers, but also not with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies, both of whom earned wild-card berths.
The Giants came into the 2018 offseason with a clear to-do list. They still have big payroll commitments looming, so there was little doubt about what they had to do: Act like 2017’s trip into the dumpster was an anomaly and approach the offseason like a contender trying to get over the hump.
By and large, that’s what they’ve done. Getting McCutchen is very much a win-now move, unless they plan on signing the free-agent-to-be to an extension. Plus, both he and Longoria are entering the downslope of their careers. Not that they won’t be good in 2018, but they won’t be good for years and years to come. (Longoria is a free agent in 2023.)
So again the question is: Can they beat the Dodgers in 2018? And if not, can they at least beat the Rockies and D-backs and hope for a wild-card spot?
The Dodgers question is the easiest to answer: No, not as things currently stand. As for the other two, it might depend on whether the D-backs re-sign J.D. Martinez and what else the Rockies do this offseason, but they’ve already built a solid back end of their bullpen, a sign that they think can they hang with L.A. too.
If they can’t beat the Dodgers, the Giants are doing what exactly? Building a team that they’re hoping can earn a wild-card spot and go on another October run? That doesn’t exactly seem like a sound strategy.
Even if the Giants pitching were to correct itself (it went from a 3.65 ERA in 2016 to 4.50 in 2017) and Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Mark Melancon return to their best selves, there’s a lot of offense that needs to be made up. And that’s a huge if on pitching. Remember the Dodgers had the second-best ERA in baseball at 3.38.
Last season, the Giants hit an MLB-low 128 homers. The Dodgers hit 221. The Giants scored 639 runs, ranking 29th out of 30 teams. The Dodgers scored 770. The Giants’ on-base percentage was .309, again ranking 29th. The Dodgers’ ranked sixth with .334. The Giants were last in OPS while the Dodgers were eighth.
McCutchen and Longoria will help, but not enough. Sure, McCutchen’s a former MVP, but he hasn’t gotten an MVP vote since 2015. Sure, Longoria is a former All-Star, but he hasn’t been on an All-Star team since 2010.
What the Giants have really been lacking since Bonds left is a sure-thing power bat, a guy who you can count on for 35 homers or more per season. It’s why getting Giancarlo Stanton would have been their best-case scenario. No fault of the Giants, but Stanton didn’t want to play there. Instead, they will have Longoria and McCutchen, who hit 48 homers combined last season.
Now consider that some of the Dodgers’ top stars — like Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger — are still getting better. That means just one thing: The Giants need to do more. This is, you remember, a win-now team. There are no Seagers and Bellingers waiting in the farm system to help immediately. If the Giants are going to trade for one year of McCutchen, then they need to be prepared to keep making moves — their desire to stay under the luxury-tax threshold be damned.
If not, it’s pretty clear: The Giants aren’t touching the Dodgers. And if you’re not trying to beat the Dodgers, then what are you playing for?
More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports:
– – – – – –