Trade shakes up market for Cain, outfielders
Gerrit Cole is an Astro. Andrew McCutchen is a Giant. Perhaps now a team other than the Pirates will stoke baseball's Hot Stove.
A few points on the ramifications of McCutchen's move to the Bay Area:
• Broadly speaking, this was not a great start to the week for Lorenzo Cain's marketplace. Unless his representatives are finalizing a deal that remains undetected by the hardball punditry, Cain lost one suitor -- and possibly two -- in Monday's moves.
The Giants no longer have room under the luxury-tax threshold to sign Cain at his projected salary. While San Francisco still wants to add a center fielder, it is seeking a defense-first player at the position who will be less expensive than Cain.
The Giants and Reds have discussed Billy Hamilton in trade talks throughout the offseason. According to Chris Haft of MLB.com, San Francisco is considering free agents Jarrod Dyson, Cameron Maybin and Jonathan Jay. Carlos Gomez is another free-agent option, coming off a season with the Rangers in which he was better than league average as a hitter and adequate defensively.
With McCutchen, 31, and Hunter Pence, 34, possibly starting in the corner-outfield spots, the Giants are prioritizing a center fielder with the ability to canvass the expansive outfield at AT&T Park. And Hamilton has been the best defensive center fielder in the Majors since 2014, according to Wins Above Replacement rankings at FanGraphs.com.
• The Blue Jays reduced their need for Cain by agreeing with Curtis Granderson on a one-year, $5 million contract, as first reported by MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal. While Granderson likely projects as a platoon player in his age-37 season, his presence could give Toronto enough assurances about the outfield to shift focus toward adding a starting pitcher.
One American League executive suggested Monday night that the White Sox are overlooked as a possible landing spot for Cain. Chicago has hinted at the possibility of major acquisitions in the coming year, and its long-term outfield depth chart is largely unclear -- with the notable exception of top prospect Eloy Jimenez.
• The market for free-agent outfielder Carlos Gonzalez has been quiet, at least publicly, for much of the offseason. But with options now falling off the board -- including Jay Bruce going the Mets last week -- Gonzalez is inching upward on the list of top available players.
Gonzalez is the classic case for a one-year contract, and he's fortunate that teams in hitter-friendly ballparks -- such as the Rangers and Brewers -- are interested in outfielders for 2018. Although Gonzalez is coming off his worst full season in the Majors, he's young enough (32) to be an intriguing buy-low candidate. He posted a 25-homer, 100-RBI season as recently as 2016.
• While the Pirates' return for McCutchen -- right-hander Kyle Crick and outfielder Bryan Reynolds -- was criticized by some observers, other executives pointed out the difficulty in extracting significant value for one year of control, as McCutchen is eligible for free agency after the upcoming season.
One executive referenced the Tigers' side of the J.D. Martinez trade with the Diamondbacks in July: Dawel Lugo, Sergio Alcantara and Jose King, none of whom projects as a future All-Star. And by some measures, Martinez has been the best-hitting outfielder in the Majors -- not named Michael Trout or Giancarlo Stanton -- since 2014.
• Speaking of Martinez, the McCutchen trade definitively eliminated the Giants as a possible destination for the top power-hitting outfielder on the free-agent market. The Red Sox -- apparently holding the line at a five-year offer -- and the D-backs remain the favorites for Martinez.
Arizona may need to move most of the money on Zack Greinke's contract in order to afford Martinez under the team's projected budget. But even with Greinke coming off a season in which he finished fourth in the National League Cy Young Award balloting, he wouldn't be easy to trade. Greinke's average annual value of more than $34.4 million is the richest in Major League history, and he's signed through 2021.
At a time in the game's economic history when teams are increasingly cognizant of the luxury-tax threshold, very few clubs would be eager to inherit a contract of that magnitude.