It’s impossible to replace an MVP-caliber player. Just ask the 2018 Yankees. Aaron Judge has been out more than a month with a fractured wrist following a hit by pitch against the Royals. His replacement should have been Clint Frazier, who has dealt with concussion issues all year. Jacoby Ellsbury could have picked up the slack, but he was shut down for the season. Enter Shane Robinson.
He’s been the Yankees worst player since joining the team, and perhaps most damning of all can’t be counted on to play a solid defense. Neil Walker got his first ever start in the outfield simply because the Yankees needed a body out there. Tonight, they got more than just a warm body.
By trading for Andrew McCutchen, Brian Cashman patched over a hole in the dyke that he had previously just stuck his finger in. Not only were Robinson and Walker unacceptable outfield options, but Brett Gardner appears to finally be wearing down after a decade as the Yankees’ most consistent player. May was the last month that he was significantly better than average at the plate, and his power after a career year in 2017 has evaporated. Boasting a 63 wRC+ in the second half, he’s rapidly become replacement level at best.
Finally, Giancarlo Stanton has to be absolutely gassed. The big man just played his 82nd consecutive game, and has had to rotate between the DH spot and right field, and shoulder a whole bunch of the Yankee offense in Judge’s absence. There’s probably an element of milestone-fatigue in why it took 50 at-bats to go from career home run 299 to 300, but I’m willing to bet there was an element of regular fatigue too. If nothing else, McCutchen is a dependable outfielder that can take some of the load off Stanton and Gardner.
So the Yankees really benefit in two ways. They’re taking at-bats away from truly bad hitters like Robinson, but the replacement isn’t a 100 wRC+ hitter. They’re not going from sub-replacement level to merely average. Those at bats will go to a hitter with a 115 wRC+ playing in one of the toughest parks in baseball to hit, and one who has actually seen his walk rate and ISO increase in the second half.
It’s impossible to replace an MVP candidate. The best case for Andrew McCutchen is that he comes close to Judgian production. But if you have to try and replace an MVP, what better way than with a former MVP in his own right, and one that seems to be in a mid-career resurgence at that?