The SF Giants have been in the market for a right-handed-hitting outfielder this offseason and they have reportedly been interested in star Japanese outfielder Seiya Suzuki as well as longtime slugger Nick Castellanos. There are still plenty of premium names on the market, but one familiar free agent could be available as a more cost-effective option in a role that they can leverage.
Could this former SF Giants outfielder and current free agent be a fit for the 2022 roster?
That outfielder is Andrew McCutchen. I know what you are thinking. There is no way that the Giants would be interested in a reunion with the longtime Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder. He was a popular player during his short stint in San Francisco in 2018, but he does not better position the roster in 2022.
That last nugget might not be actually true. There could certainly be a role next season for the 35-year-old outfielder. The Giants are looking for a right-handed bat that they can leverage against left-handed pitching, which is a quality that manager Gabe Kapler aggressively uses.
In 2021, McCutchen slashed .222/.334/.444 with 27 home runs, 80 RBI, and 78 runs scored in 574 plate appearances. This includes a 14.1 percent walk rate against a 23 percent strikeout rate, so he brings a selective approach to the plate with a strikeout rate that is tolerable.
However, his 109 OPS+ from 2021 is the third-lowest mark of his career and a trend that continues to head in the wrong direction as his career progresses. He still provides plenty of value with the bat, but it is fair to ask what type of role best plays to his strengths at this stage in his career.
McCutchen posted a .650 OPS against right-handed pitching, but a stout 1.027 OPS against against southpaws in 2021. He is not unplayable against righties, but teams can get better results by playing the matchups.
This is not a trend that is new to the 13-year veteran. Over the last five seasons, McCutchen has shown platoon splits that could appeal to the Giants front office:
2017: .769 OPS against RHP, 1.131 against LHP
2018: .777 OPS against RHP, .819 against LHP
2019: .832 OPS against RHP, .840 against LHP
2020: .683 OPS against RHP, .944 against LHP
2021: .650 OPS against RHP, 1.027 against LHP
As a team, the Giants registered a .752 OPS against lefties, which is not a bad mark but there is room for improvement. Bringing back McCutchen would give them a third outfielder from the right side that they can pair with Darin Ruf and Austin Slater.
The veteran outfielder is not as strong with the glove as he was earlier in his career, so he is a bit of a flawed addition. That said, the Giants have taken this approach in recent years to fill a similar role.
When looking for a righty bat that they can use against lefties in 2020, the Giants scoured the market for any and all options. They landed on Hunter Pence, who was coming off of an All-Star season with the Texas Rangers in the prior year.
He hammered lefties to the tune of a 1.015 OPS with Texas and that was a trait that was highlighted by the front office when he signed. Conceptually, he filled a role in the lineup but was a defensive liability in the outfield.
That deal did not work out, but this is to point out that there is some precedent with an idea like this one. The next question is, would McCutchen be interested in taking on a reduced workload?
He is still a productive player but he sustained a gruesome ACL tear in his left need just a couple of seasons ago. As he heads into his age-35 season, it might be best to accept a role that optimizes his skill set at a workload that he can manage.
On a short-term deal that would not break the bank, the five-time All-Star would fill a need for the Giants in a way that would not block a future outfielder such as Heliot Ramos. If they are not able to land a top-of-the-market outfielder, a reunion with McCutchen makes sense for both sides.