How Mets can apply last year’s lessons to possible McCutchen deal

Sometimes you have to learn to appreciate what you already have. In this season when everyone is dreaming of grand presents of video games, new clothes and jewelry, Mets fans now have high hopes of adding another All-Star outfielder to their team’s lineup. Reports that the Mets had preliminary talks with the Pirates about Andrew McCutchen have the Flushing faithful dreaming of a holiday blockbuster trade.

But, let me play the Grinch here for a few minutes.

Aside from the fact that pulling off a trade for McCutchen is unlikely and a very convoluted answer to their outfield logjam, the Mets do not need to take a gamble on a 30-year-old who comes with some serious red flags.

And they absolutely should not trade one of their young arms for a player who likely isn’t a perfect fit.

Make no mistake, I understand that McCutchen has impressive credentials. A five-time All-Star, the 2013 National League MVP and 2009 Rookie of the Year, the righty-hitting McCutchen has launched over 20 home runs in each of his last six seasons.

And I understand the frustration with the Mets’ plans to win that were built on stockpiling strong young pitching. That clearly came back and bit them hard last season with season-ending injuries to Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz. But, I think there is a lot to the theory that the Mets’ success in 2015, their run to the World Series, contributed to the Mets’ pitching injuries in 2016. While I think that bodes well for bounceback seasons in 2017, it is at least obvious if the Mets trade any of their pitchers, they would be selling their assets at a low point.

It would be wiser to wait for a better fit than to overspend on McCutchen, who has big question marks heading into 2017.

McCutchen not only had a career worst defensive year but was one of the the worst outfielders in baseball in 2016, according to two crucial defensive stats. Based on defensive runs saved (minus-28), McCutchen was the worst in baseball in 2016, and his ultimate zone rating (minus-17.6) was the second worst among outfielders.

Talent evaluators talked a lot about McCutchen’s loss of speed in the outfield and it seemed to show up on the base paths in 2016. For the first time in his career, McCutchen was caught stealing (seven times) more than he was successful (six) in 2016. While his base stealing had been steadily declining over the years, the career-low six was almost half the number he amassed in 2015.

While it is expected that a 30-year-old is going to start losing a step defensively and on the base paths, his decline offensively was another big red flag. The Pirates were already talking about having to move McCutchen to a corner outfield position sooner rather than later because of his speed decline. The Mets do not need anymore corner outfielders.

Matt Harvey.

Matt Harvey.

(Gene J. Puskar/AP)

McCutchen had the worst season of his career in 2016 offensively, as well.

He hit a career-worst .256 with 24 home runs, 79 RBI and a career-low .766 OPS. The home runs are acceptable, but talent evaluators who watched him this season pointed to worrisome signs in McCutchen’s strikeout numbers and the type of contact he did make.

McCutchen struck out a career-high 143 times in 598 at-bats in 2016. According to Fangraphs, he also had a career-high swinging strike rate of 10.7%, which led to him falling behind in many counts last season.

When he did make contact, McCutchen had a career-high rate of infield fly balls and the worst hard-hit balls rate (35.8%) since his rookie season, according to Baseball Info Solutions. His exit velocity, according to Statcast, dropped from 91.3 miles per hour in 2015 to 90.3 mph in 2016.

Could McCutchen rebound to his All-Star-level play in 2017? Sure, 2016 could have just been a fluke season.

And 2016 could also be explained as a hangover from the World Series run for the Mets’ young pitchers. The Mets would be selling low by trading any of these pitchers right now off their injury-plagued 2016 seasons, and at the very least, last season was a good lesson as to why they should hold onto as much pitching as they can.

This coming summer is the last year the Mets expect to keep together this stockpile of arms. Harvey and closer Jeurys Familia are only under team control until 2018, so next winter — or even at the trade deadline next season — is the prime time for the Mets to start trading away pitching assets.

This offseason, the Mets should appreciate what they have and not spend it on a player that isn’t the absolutely perfect fit.

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andrew mccutchen

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Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News

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