I’m going soft on the Giants.
What’s wrong with me? Is it a lingering strain of holiday spirit? Catatonia derived from Sunday’s NFL insanity? I don’t know, but I’m feeling like the pushover teacher who can’t bear to give that nice kid a D- in English even though he clearly watched the movie version of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and skipped the book.
When the 2017 season mercifully ended and the Giants’ offseason began, I was convinced there were two justifiable options for this team. They could land a superstar like Giancarlo Stanton and use him as the spark to fire up a massive one-year turnaround. Or they could admit that their farm system is even more depleted than their major-league roster and blow everything up; put Posey, Bumgarner and Crawford on an inflatable raft, and sink the ship.
They tried to get Stanton. They really did. But when the slugger rejected them, you had to figure the rebuild was coming.
Instead, executive VP Brian Sabean and general manager Bobby Evans are steering their truck right down the broken line. They’re not decisively picking a lane. The plan is to add a few solid veterans and improve the roster incrementally. That’s a difficult route, because there are so many increments between 64-98 and, say, 87-75, which is what it took to make the National League playoffs in 2017.
So I should be taking a run at Sabean and Evans, bemoaning the fact that the Giants outfield is still substandard, and their minor league system remains bereft of elite prospects. But I can’t help it. I really like the Andrew McCutchen trade that was announced Monday.
And again, there are reasons not to like it. McCutchen was National League MVP with the Pirates in 2013, and he led the league in on-base percentage and OPS the year after that, but he hasn’t looked like that player over the past two seasons. McCutchen was really bad in the field last year. He has just one year remaining on his contract, meaning he could be nothing more than a borrow.
Also, McCutchen is 31 years old. The Giants’ other big acquisition this winter, third baseman Evan Longoria, is 32. Not old in baseball years, but not exactly on the upswing. Together they are easily interpreted as two coats of paint on a crumbling mansion.
But a couple things make the McCutchen trade attractive. Most obvious is that the Giants got him cheap. The Pirates confirmed the package Monday afternoon: pitcher Kyle Crick, outfielder Bryan Reynolds and $500,000 in international bonus pool space. Ken Rosenthal, who writes for The Athletic among other outlets, reported that the Pirates will send the Giants $2.5 million to apply to McCutchen’s $14.5 million salary for 2018.
What’s not to like in that exchange? Yes, Crick is a big, 25-year-old lefty who was pretty good in 30 games with the Giants last year. Reynolds is a fast, switch-hitting center fielder, and just 22 years old. Their departure further degrades San Francisco’s thin farm operation. But neither was seen as untouchable. The Giants have clearly upgraded their lineup without surrendering a keeper like Tyler Beede, Heliot Ramos, Chris Shaw or Andrew Suarez.
So the value of this deal is hard to assail. But what really intrigues me about the McCutchen trade is that he’ll provide something that was in short supply at AT&T Park last year: excitement.
Let’s be honest. The Giants weren’t just bad last year. They were boring. And that’s a demoralizing combination.
Remember how full of life the Giants were when they broke through for their first San Francisco championship in 2010? Lincecum and the Panda, Brian Wilson and The Machine, renegades like Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell. They had so much fun en route to the World Series that you couldn’t help but smile along with them.
The Giants have gone grayscale since then, though. The 2017 team was eminently likable but ultimately bland, as epitomized by face-of-the-franchise Buster Posey. He’s a good player and, seemingly, a good person. He’s not a barrel of laughs. Guys like Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford and Mark Melancon are smart and droll. Get to know them, and their laid-back humor emerges. But no one ever described any of them as electric personalities.
Andrew McCutchen? He’s an electric personality.
They loved McCutchen in Pittsburgh, and you’re probably going to love him, too. He’s one of those rare athletes — rare people — who manage to be vibrant and relentlessly classy at the same time.
McCutchen does imitations of baseball commentators on demand, and comes to the rescue of grounds crewmen who get wrapped up in tarp during gusty Pittsburgh weather. He proposed to his girlfriend on “The Ellen Show” in 2013. When the Pirates failed to make the playoffs in 2011, he admitted to watching some of the action at home, getting into his batting stance and timing up pitches in front of his TV. He cut off his dreadlocks while the cameras rolled in 2015 and auctioned them off for charity on MLB.com.
Did you happen to see the video of McCutchen giving his game-worn batting gloves to a couple of young Pirates fans after a game in San Diego a couple years ago? It looked like the boys might expire from joy. McCutchen made his delivery at the outfield wall, then ran toward the diamond to do a choreographed dance with a couple teammates.
Even McCutchen’s bad moments are entertaining. Against the Mets last season, he tried to score from second base on a ground ball to shortstop, and was thrown out at home plate by 25 feet. I endorse players trying to score from second on infield bouncers, especially if they smile as much as McCutchen after making the out.
Despite the addition of McCutchen, we have reason to believe the Giants won’t be anything special in the standings in 2018. But if they could just be fun, we’ll have to consider it an improvement.
You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.