Andrew McCutchen used to be the face of a franchise, an MVP-winning center fielder on a potential Hall-of-Fame trajectory who added value on both sides of the ball as well as on the bases. Now, he's a 32-year-old right fielder in a sport where over-30 players just aren't valued in the same way that they once were. It's not difficult to expect slow winters ahead for, say, Adam Jones or Carlos Gonzalez. You could be tempted to include McCutchen in that group, too.
But McCutchen stands out from the rest of that group, in a way that should benefit him this offseason. If he's not the same all-world superstar he once was, he's still been a solidly above-average player, as well as a surprisingly durable one. McCutchen has eight straight years of 20-plus homers, and he has nine straight years of at least 640 plate appearances; his only disabled list trip came back in 2014, when he fractured a rib after being hit by a pitch.
Last year, McCutchen hit .255/.368/.424, a 120 wRC+ that was about the same as Cody Bellinger or Michael Conforto. The year before, away from the more difficult hitting environment of San Francisco, he hit .279/.363/.486, a similar 123 wRC+ that was the same as Alex Bregman or Matt Carpenter that season. You won't be surprised to know that looking ahead to next season, the Steamer projection system has him down for a .265/.363/.461 (124 wRC+) that would put him at the back end of the top 10 of right fielders in 2019.
Put another way, his 41.8 percent hard-hit rate last year was better than that of sluggers Edwin Encarnacion, Nolan Arenado or Anthony Rizzo. There's still life in this bat, lots of it.
It's true that his defense has been graded anywhere from "average" (+2 Defensive Runs Saved) to "poor" (-11 Outs Above Average), but no one expects him to be a DH any time soon -- in part because when we looked into his Sprint Speed (a Statcast™ metric measuring peak running speed) recently, we found no obvious signs of decline. He's been between the 87th and 95th percentile in each of the four years of tracking.
There's also the fact that the free-agent outfielder market, at least behind obvious top dog Bryce Harper, is somewhat thin. A.J. Pollock will do well because he's the only real center fielder and he's younger, but he's also been less productive and durable than McCutchen has been over the last three years. (Pollock also has a Qualifying Offer attached to him.) Michael Brantley just had a comparable year to McCutchen, but had been injured for much of the previous two seasons; Nick Markakis is older and hasn't been close to as strong of a hitter.
That all being the case, McCutchen should find a comfortable multi-year deal somewhere. So where is that, exactly? Let's assume that some rebuilding clubs may not be interested in this kind of veteran or already have ready-now prospects in the corners, and note that a few clubs like the Red Sox and Brewers probably have their outfield situations well enough spoken for. That still leaves McCutchen with something like half the sport to market himself to.
The decent fits
Cubs, Yankees, Giants, Mets, Nationals, Pirates, Reds, White Sox, Phillies, Mariners, etc.
We're not going to go into each of these teams in-depth -- see below to the big five for that -- but you could at least make an argument for any of these clubs to be interested. We know the Cubs want to add a bat, and they could trade Kyle Schwarber or shift Jason Heyward to center. The Phillies, Reds and White Sox have all been making various noises about being aggressive this offseason, and you could see a return to the Yankees if you assume that Giancarlo Stanton will again play some designated hitter. The Mets or Mariners could each have a spot to fill, depending on if or how their rumored mega-deal goes down.
We'll admit a reunion with Pittsburgh isn't terribly likely, but Gregory Polanco is injured, and it's just fun to think about, isn't it?
The obvious best fits
As we looked into recently, the 90-72 Rays are in a good position to be aggressive this offseason, and the most obvious place to do that is with a bat, preferably a right-handed one. That could mean Nelson Cruz to DH, or it could mean trading for Jose Martinez or Nicholas Castellanos. None of that trio should really ever be used in the field, so McCutchen would offer the most flexibility, as well as create a strong outfield group alongside Tommy Pham and Kevin Kiermaier, with Austin Meadows filling in or in reserve.
Bonus: This would be something of a homecoming, as McCutchen was raised in nearby Fort Meade, Fla., approximately two hours east of Tropicana Field.
If it seems like we say the Rockies need to add a bat every year, we do; but this time, they agree, as general manager Jeff Bridich told MLB.com that "we'll be a little bit more focused on our offense this offseason."
While that should probably mean upgrading on Ian Desmond at first base, the easiest way to do that is in the outfield, because the Rockies' right fielders are currently projected as baseball's 30th-best group headed into 2019. That's not good enough, needless to say. There's a strong argument towards shifting Charlie Blackmon to right and finding an elite defender to cover the massive outfield in Coors, but if that doesn't happen, this is a solid Plan B.
Houston's outfield currently has two starters -- George Springer and Josh Reddick -- and one massive question mark: where Tony Kemp and prospect Kyle Tucker are atop the depth chart in left field. Tucker is a highly regarded prospect who performed better than his uninspiring 2018 look would have you think, but the Astros seem motivated to add a bat.
As we noted above, the list of outfield targets is thin, and Houston is reportedly considering McCutchen along with Pollock and Brantley. They may sign Cruz to DH, or a first baseman to upgrade on Yuli Gurriel. But what they really ought to do is sign McCutchen and move Tucker in a deal for J.T. Realmuto. That's another discussion entirely, of course.
Atlanta has obviously already made some big splashes by signing Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann, but they can't stop there, because they're a contender in the NL East, not necessarily the obvious favorite. In addition to pitching, they've made it clear that they have interest in an outfielder to replace Markakis, because while Ronald Acuna Jr. is a star and Ender Inciarte is an elite defensive center fielder, they can easily upgrade over Adam Duvall.
This is the only right answer, just like it's been for nearly a year now. Cleveland's need in the outfield simply couldn't be more desperate, to the point that they'll likely need to add two bats, not just one. It's possible that one comes back if they ever actually trade a starter like Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer or Carlos Carrasco, but why stop there? With a lefty-heavy group of fourth outfielders, this fit makes just so much sense. Make it happen.