Nationals Baseball: McCutchen - what's your price

Friday, December 02, 2016

McCutchen - what's your price

The talk around the Nats getting Andrew McCutchen from the Pirates is heating up.  Personally, I don't think anything will happen before the Winter Meetings.  Why? Because it doesn't really make sense for either team to get the deal done right this second.

The Pirates probably have several prices set in their mind for McCutchen. There's a price they'd love to get, a price they expect to get, and a minimum price they'd take if they had to. In order to get a price closer to the former rather than the latter, it makes sense for them to shop around McCutchen to the most teams possible and the Winter Meetings is a great place to feel out if they've completed that work. Of course the Nats can force the issue by giving the Pirates something close to that "love to get" price. But...

The Nats probably have ideas to about what they'd give up for Cutch. What they'd like to give up, what they will give up if necessary. Right now all they can do is offer roughly what they'd like to and keep ramping it up if it feels like the Pirates aren't going to take it. The Pirates have all the leverage. Go to the Winter Meetings and get a feeling that the market for Cutch isn't that hot and then you've got some leverage and can keep the price low. Sure you risk someone coming in with a better deal, but if you know the other people involved and feel you are very likely to be able to outbid them, waiting makes sense.

So I don't expect a deal to get done until Sunday or after. Sorry. But maybe I'm wrong!

What would I give up for Cutch? I'd go two good prospects deep.  I would go Robles and Giolito or Robles and Lopez. But I love Cutch. Something I wouldn't do? Robles and Ross. Do I think Lito and maybe Lopez will be better ML pitchers than Ross... I guess so. But I think with much higher certainty that I know what Ross' floor is and that's still a major league pitcher. I don't mind giving away potential. I do mind giving away actual. Ross himself? Sure. But not with your best offensive prospect.

What about Cutch himself? Contract wise it's a fine grab.  He's not super expensive (14 million) and the team has control over a second year (14.75 team option). He's normally worth so much more that even a big drop in stats would be still worth the price. And yet last year he wasn't worth it.

The average dropped but so did the patience. His speed isn't quite there anymore. It may have been a particularly bad defensive year but the general trend is yes, he's not below average in CF. (Which is completely understandable as a guy who at his peak was probably just a bit above average).  The only thing that's holding up is the power.

What do the fancy stats say? Is it bad luck? BABIP... a little low for him, even considering a speed drop. However the way he hits' the ball suggests more flyball and fewer hard hit balls. That's a good combination for lowering BABIP. The more flyballs thing has been a several year thing so it's the drop in hard hit balls (and increase in soft hit balls) that is driving this issue. So then we look at swings - is he swinging at worse pitches? Not really - swings on pitches outside the zone is down and contact on these pitches (usually bad contact) is down too. But that's another thing - He's making a lot less contact meaning the K-rate is up. Highest of his career - up four straight year. So if it's not the type of contact is it bat speed? That's not a bad guess.

The gamble on him is then, that he will improve. I'd say there's a pretty good chance he will. The pretty good chance though is not of back to MVP level, just a mild general improvement, the defense won't seem as bad (it bounces around and was particularly low last year), the BABIP might tick up, the K-rate and BB-rate can probably be worked on a little as it doesn't seem to be a recognition issue.  If that happen then it's a good chance he'll be worth his contract and that means a good chance he'll be a good player.

Can he be a great player again? That's more of a gamble but it is in the realm of the possibility.  Guys have off years for whatever reasons all the time. Some lingering injury, something psychological, some early bad luck rolling into a situation where you are pressing all year long. For example what happened to your own beloved Dusty Baker in 1978?(the 76 was clearly an injury thing) On the flipside can he be terrible? I suppose so. If he continues to decline - let's say more Ks fewer walks and no change elsewhere, then you are just repeating the problems of this year - a non-performing CF at a MUCH more expensive price plus below average defense (though I'd bet you anything that improves from this year).

The potential tipping point though is the fact it would probably be ok if he just stays the same for two more years. Again - let's say D "improves" and offense is same. That's an above average player.  This year was a disaster in CF before Turner and while Espinosa has a lot more going for him than people like to admit, he's not an above average player. This would improve the team a decent amount. Sure you can probably get this improvement more cheaply.  Sitting on Revere for a year might do it. But you would likely be gambling on that being as high as you get. No chance for the MVP season like you get from Cutch, while probably having the same "this could still be a disaster" floor.

So that's why I lean toward trading for him.  And I'd go ahead and do Lopez/Robles and not think twice.

24 comments:

mike k said...

I'm pretty much on the same boat as you regarding McCutchen's value (fancy stats say decline, but then again he's an all-star who can do better; even if he doesn't, that's still an above-average player meaning his floor is Revere's ceiling). He also solves the right-handed-bat-between-Murphy-and-Harper problem, meaning getting him solves two issues in one. And he's probably the only player available that does that. And he's affordable in the Nats' window. So it makes a ton of sense for the Nats to go for him hard.

I wouldn't give up as much as you, though. I wouldn't trade Robles. Last offseason, yes. But last year he continued to hit well in the minors and he's quickly ascending in the prospect rankings. Also, the Nats don't have any OF in their system for after 2018, which makes him a uniquely overvalued commodity for the Nats specifically. I just wouldn't do it. Also wouldn't give up Giolito. I know his velocity was down, and blah blah blah, but I think people were too quick to sour on what one year ago was a consensus top pitching prospect in the entire league. I don't want to give up Ross, but I'd do it if the Nats weren't giving up much else as SP is a position of strength for the team. I'd give up Lopez. I'd give up anyone beneath him.

My guess? The Nats wanted the deal done yesterday and the Pirates, negotiating from a position of strength as you mentioned, played chicken and demanded Robles. Rizzo never loses a game of chicken. This tells me Robles is off the table. My odds: 45/45/10 : no trade/trade without Robles/trade with Robles.

NotBobby said...

Agree with Mike K., Robles is almost untouchable. One of Lito and Lopez. One of Stevenson, Difo, Fedde. One or two lower guys.

Fries said...

@mike

I'm right there with you. Cutch fits within the Nats' window perfectly with a reasonable contract, and coughing up Robles is a losing trade. However, I'd say the chances of the Nats getting him are a bit higher at this point. Pirates wanted Robles, Rizzo has now twice said no (when you consider mid-season talks). The Pirates don't actually NEED an OF ready in the wings given their current lineup...but they do need pitching. The Nats just matchup with them too perfectly for a trade not to go through. I say throw Lopez/Giolito and Fedde/Voth at them, and maybe a mediocre position player if they really want it

My odds are 30/65/5 no trade/trade without Robles/trade with Robles. Only ways I see Cutch not being a Nat come spring training is another team significantly overpaying at the winter meetings or the Pirates balking and keeping him.

mike k said...

@ Fries - you make a good point re: likelihood of trade. I was actually thinking I was a bit low on the "no trade" because Rizzo is a big strong man who isn't afraid to walk away from a deal if it's not to his liking. But I wasn't thinking about it from the Pirates' perspective...it definitely seems as if the trade market they want for McCutchen just isn't there. It doesn't look like any other team is offering what the Nats are offering, so even if the Pirates try and test winter meetings, they'll probably come back. I say this because McCutchen is a good enough player that the Pirates probably got every opening offer they were going to get already, and if they're negotiating with the Nats, it means the Nats are offering the most.

Then again, if the Pirates really are being greedy, they might just decide not to trade him at all. I think that's what's happening here. And the Nats know they already have the best offer out there, so they aren't going to offer more.

I did read an article (since my last comment) *implying* they had a framework in place and the delay is due to the Pirates choosing from a list of lower-tier 3rd guys. So we'll see...

#Werthquake (Formerly clip & store) said...

I like lito but i could move him without too much issue.. For a lot of previously mentioned reasons, I think Robles is untouchable.. He is too valuable to us especially. And he is in that category of talent that you can't mess with. Yes he can be a bust as with anyone, but he shows a ton of promise and no reason to doubt him.

Anonymous said...

Cutch has posted a .400 OBP 4 out of the last 5 years. His walk rate is slightly better than Werth's (but well below Harper's). In a lot of ways, he's similar to the 2010 vintage of Werth as a hitter, but better - more walks and fewer strikeouts, better avg., similar power.

The big question of course is how much of last year is decline that's likely to continue and how much of it is just having an off year. I'm with you, Harper, that the defensive decline in 2016 is far more likely to be noise than signal. With the bat, we ought to expect similar walk/strikeout numbers with an uptick in BABIP. Steamer has him slashing .283/.378/.430 with a 129 WRC+ (note: Cespedes is projected at 114 WRC+). This is a monumental upgrade given that he'll essentially be replacing Espinosa's spot in the lineup. Cutch could by himself makeup for the expected decline from Murphy/Turner/Catcher if he has a good year.

I agree I'd give up Robles + Lopez (and would have a harder time with Robles + Giolito/Ross). I might rather give up 2 pitchers - Ross/Lopez or Giolito/Lopez and hang on to Robles though, because of the Nats' depth in pitching prospects.

McCutchen is the kind of player you give up premier prospects for. Turner-Harper-McCutchen-Murphy-Rendon-Werth is a very tough lineup. Stacking three guys with .400 OBP capability one after the other is a recipe for scoring a lot of runs.

Chas R said...

Totally agree on how much this helps us. On a related issue- what about Danny. If we get Cutch, Trea presumably goes to SS, that puts Danny on the bench. He would be an expensive though versatile (and probably unhappy) bench piece. If we tender him, can we trade him? For what kind of return?

NotBobby said...

Just listened to Buster Olney andbhe had a really good point. Nats and Bucs lineup on players, but not timeline. Nats want to make a deal now bc of NT deadline. Bucs want this to happen later to let the market develop.

Interesting to see who blinks.

NotBobby said...

Also interesting to see if Difo or even Espy gets the deal over the line with the news regarding Kang

ClassOf87 said...

Would imagine Nats also looking at Cutch as possible/likely replacement in '18 for Werth in LF, which raises his potential return on contract even more--and would explain their refusal to include Robles in any scenario if they believe he'll be ML ready by then.

Robot said...

Would love to see the Nats get Cutch. Maybe Rizzo can swing one of those great deals he is inexplicably able to get from time to time. Maybe we give away a few somewhat-promising-but-probably-not-going-far A-ballers and Danny Espinosa for McCutcheon and the Bucs' #2 prospect?

blovy8 said...

Yeah, the impetus for the immediate deal seems to be having to make an offer to Espinosa and Revere today. But they can still just make a small offer to Espy, and someone will give the Nats a nonprospect for him in March when some teams's SS situation looks awful. It's somewhat artificial unless there is another competing deal in the works where they would like to know who that have left.

mike k said...

...PERHAPS the reason the Nats said they wanted to make the deal before 8pm today wasn't because they actually wanted to do so (which would remove the Nats' leverage), but actually to pressure the Pirates into thinking that if a deal wasn't reached *before Winter Meetings*, they would lose out on the Nats as a trade partner (which would remove the Pirates' leverage). I can't see all teams passing on Espinosa in waivers, so there's no real need to non-tender him even if you don't want him.

mike k said...

Derek Norris to Nats for Pedro Avila.

DezoPenguin said...

Mike K and Fries sum up my feelings perfectly. Robles is just too valuable to us in the current state of our system, particularly when you consider that Harper has two years left, Werth one, and Cutch himself two before they need to be replaced anyway.

McCutchen was never a great defender. The speed has been in steady decline. The power's still there. And over the last two months of last year he hit respectably. I believe the bat will bounce back to be above-average (though I think the projection systems that believe he'll hit better than Cespedes are...let's just say "misguided" and leave it at that). But there'll still be decline in that area as well, and "above average bat, below average defense, declining speed" is not something that I want to spend a top-40 prospect on, particularly when said prospect is the best position player prospect in the system. I can see if the scouts believe in the bounceback that he'd be worth Giolito *or* Lopez, with a second-level prospect (Voth, maybe) tossed in, or possibly a Difo or Espinosa as a throw-in instead since Turner moving to SS makes one of them redundant, but even then, I'm not sure I'd want to do that deal right now.

But...it really worries me, the idea of trading for a guy who was apparently healthy all year, yet turned in a season that was 0.7 WAR. I mean, okay, that's leagues better than Ben Revere was, yes. But at least in 2016, McCutchen was literally a worse player than Espinosa. I don't want to acquire players who are worse than Espinosa. I especially don't want to pay top prospects for players who are worse than Espinosa. And...let's say that Cutch's bat bounces back solidly and he turns in a 3-win season. Ian Desmond was a 3-win player, and he'll just cost money and a draft pick. If we think Dexter Fowler is due for regression from last year, then he's a 3-win player, and he'll just cost money and a pick. Charlie Blackmon is likely to be a 2.5-to-3-win player (...though for some reason Steamer thinks he's going to turn in the worst season of his career next year) and he'd presumably be available for a lot less than Cutch. If the White Sox are inclined to have a fire sale, Adam Eaton's *floor* is likely a 3-win player. These are all options I'd be inclined to consider before paying a lot very early in the season for McCutchen.

(As an added point, if Rizzo spends heavily on McCutchen *now*, then those prospects aren't available to use later to help address other issues. Beating the market to a top-level talent, like the Mets did with Cespedes, makes sense. Beating the market to what ought to be a fallback option, not so much.)

DezoPenguin said...

...Wow, we did get Norris while I was typing that wall of text. Well, he was good defensively last year and as a pitch framer; I just hope the bat bounces back because wow, those are Ben Revere batting numbers.

Josh Higham said...

I like the Norris pickup. His contract will be $4mil ish, so even if he's awful and the Nats sell low on him before the deadline or even cut him, the 3 catchers who would likely catch all 62 games for the year are owed $6mil salary total. Norris probably won't be 2014 good, but not 2016 bad either.

mike k said...

@ Dezo - Not to nit-pick, but I'm not sure comparing WARs is the best way to compare the players *for the Nats*, because a lot of Espinosa's value (or lack of loss of value, depending on how you see it) is that he hits the way he does while playing SS. For the Nats, adding McCutchen means moving Turner to SS, so you're not replacing Espinosa offensively + defensively, only offensively (in terms of playing with WAR math, consider the "extra value" being given to Turner making the switch from CF to SS). Espinosa had a 79 wRC+ last year; McCutchen 106 following years of 150-ish or more. That's a big upgrade. I also think his WAR was affected last year by some wonkily bad defensive metrics...to be fair I haven't watched much of him, but I find it hard to believe his D went down as much as the metrics say it did. I see him around 4 next year. Better than Fowler and Desmond.

Agree on everything else.

DezoPenguin said...

@mike -- A valid point, in that a CF that hits like Espi wouldn't be worth Espi's WAR...in fact, we had that guy and that's why Trea Turner played CF and not SS last year. But McCutchen was lousy (by the numbers) on defense in 2010, 2012, and 2014 as well, and below-average in 2015 (...while being well above average in 2013 and 2011). So to get that increased offense, we get worse defensively at two separate positions (Turner was a better CF than Cutch, and Espi is a better SS than Turner) and worse on the basepaths as well. I just don't trust that McCutchen will regress positively enough to justify the cost in prospects and dollars ($16M/year average over two years is a great contract for the guy he used to be, but for the guy he is now?) we give up to get him.

If we get him, believe you me I will be cheering and praying for him to hit his upside. I'm just pessimistic about the chances of him doing that. I see an aging player who's been declining in peripheral areas and who utterly fell off a cliff last year and that's too much uncertainty for me, were I in Rizzo's shoes, to give up something like Robles+Lopez for. (The irony here is, I'd have made that trade in an instant *last* offseason and spent2016 kicking myself.)

BxJaycobb said...

Robles is too far away from the majors for me to value him so much that I say he's off the table. That's absurd. He could be great. He could be mediocre. He could be crappy. Byron Buxton was a bigger prospect and way closer to the majors and he's been horrible. To not get Cutch because of obsessing over Robles I think is unwise given the Nats closing window. You have to risk "losing a trade" to get a big piece. There are no "Cutch for Lopez Fedde and Difo" trades. You have to deal either Lito or Robles or Ross at minimum. And I would deal any of the three. But not two of those three.

BxJaycobb said...

Robles is too far away from the majors for me to value him so much that I say he's off the table. That's absurd. He could be great. He could be mediocre. He could be crappy. Byron Buxton was a bigger prospect and way closer to the majors and he's been horrible. To not get Cutch because of obsessing over Robles I think is unwise given the Nats closing window. You have to risk "losing a trade" to get a big piece. There are no "Cutch for Lopez Fedde and Difo" trades. You have to deal either Lito or Robles or Ross at minimum. And I would deal any of the three. But not two of those three.

Flapjack said...

Nah. Acquiring Cutch for two top prospects -- on top of the draft pick Ramos' injury cost us -- makes the Nats a full blown "window" team.

Regarding Robles being just an A-baller, some folks rank him among the best prospects in the minors, at any level. Hope he gets an invite to spring training.

NotBobby said...

Saw the chatter regarding Wieters. IF Wieters is signed (and i think this is Rizzo blowing smoke for his buddy Boras) they say Norris would be traded. I thought you couldn't trade someone for a while after signing them without their permission? Is that just avquired through trade?

mike k said...

@NotBobby I'm pretty sure that rule only applies to people you sign. The Nats didn't sign Norris, they traded for him. Not sure if it applies to re-signings, my spidey senses say it doesn't(?)

Article from the Washington Post says Nats not looking to include Robles in a trade for McCutchen. Thank goodness. My 45/45/10 : no trade/trade without Robles/trade with Robles now moves to 60/40. I do think there's a strong chance the Pirates look elsewhere - particularly because they're not getting what they want with the Nats so even if the Nats offer the best package, there's a psychology to that. The Pirates might go with another team's "best" offer over the Nats' non-best offer, even if the Nats' offer is better. The article did imply that the Nats would be willing to trade Robles for Sale.