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Andrew McCutchen played for the Yankees, and that’s worth remembering

A celebration of one of baseball’s treasures

Getty Images/Pinstripe Alley Illustrations

Do you ever pull up a Baseball-Reference page and think, “Wait, he played for the Yankees?”

As a Yankees blogger, I like to think I have a strong grasp on the team’s history, as well as the players who made up the rosters over the years. But every now and then, I find something surprising, like when I discovered Lee Smith pitched eight games in pinstripes in September 1993. How’s that for a fun fact?

I fear, though, that some day, maybe 20 years from now, a Yankees blogger (in whatever shape that assumes in the year 2040) will open up Baseball-Reference (because that will certainly still exist, likely in its present format) and say, “Wait, Andrew McCutchen played for the Yankees?”

Simply put, McCutchen deserves better than that.

★ ★ ★

Aaron Judge broke his wrist on July 26, 2018. To be more specific, Jakob Junis broke Aaron Judge’s wrist with an errant fastball five days before the MLB trade deadline.

That injury led Brian Cashman to add an outfielder to his wishlist, and he reportedly checked in on McCutchen, but no deal came together. He also weighed offers for Cameron Maybin, Jose Bautista and even a reunion with Curtis Granderson. Again, Cashman came up short, saying he didn’t find it necessary to pay a premium for a position player who wouldn’t get more than a handful of at-bats.

Shane Robinson took up 49 plate appearances instead. He hit .130/.167/.217, with one home run, combining to form a wRC+ of 0. A wise man once said that it’s not what you want. Then again, this same wise man would have likely called Robinson a ballplayer. Make of that what you will.

When Judge’s rehab continued to drag on, the Yankees circled back on McCutchen, and they acquired the outfielder from the Giants on August 31, 2018. In return, they sent San Francisco two prospects: Abiatal Avelino and Juan De Paula.

By this point, McCutchen wasn’t the Cutch of old. He wasn’t the 2013 National League MVP anymore, but he rebounded from what appeared to be the precipice of irrelevancy to hit .255/.357/.415 with 15 home runs for the Giants. Forget the Cutch of old, even that would have been a relief after watching Robinson get swallowed up at the plate.

The Yankees got that and more from McCutchen, who essentially re-discovered his peak form, hitting .253/.421/.471 with five home runs (150 wRC+) across 114 plate appearances. The power numbers make sense, but how about the inflated on-base percentage? He worked an astonishing 19.3% walk rate.

Cutch made walks the coolest damn thing, too.

Anyone can bat flip a home run. It takes a special kind of cool to be able to bat flip a walk. Some people have it, some don’t. Cutch happened to have a lot of it.

Why focus so much on the walks? Because he helped the Yankees punch their ticket to the full 2018 postseason when he drew a walk against the Athletics in the first inning of the Wild Card Game. That set the table for Judge to mash a two-run homer, and the Yanks never looked back. While he would only go 2-for-15 over the course of the ALDS, it’s hard to find anything bad to say about his short time in New York.

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McCutchen played 25 regular-season games for the Yankees in 2018. If it were three fewer, I could have named this piece Cutch-22.

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The Yankees won 100 games in 2018. They went to the postseason; they clubbed 267 home runs, then an MLB record; they made a flurry of moves at the trade deadline. They checked every box required to be A Fun Team™, even if they didn’t win the World Series.

And we hated them.

We absolutely hated them.

Most of the frustration, of course, had to do with the team’s inability to hunt down the Red Sox. Boston played so, so well; they were out of their minds good. No matter what the Yankees did, their rivals were always one step ahead of them. Matt Ferenchick called the situation “historically unfortunate”.

CC Sabathia, who pitched 153 innings for the Bombers in 2018, articulated a similar sentiment on his R2C2 podcast. In short, he thought the Yankees had a great team, but that they only turned in a good season.

It’s just one of those things. We never really got rolling. We had that one stretch where we won 18 out of, whatever the f*ck it was. But that was it. But the rest of time, I felt like we just played even. We played .500. I don’t know, it was just too good of a team to not take off.

And we gelled! You know what I’m saying. Our group, the group of guys was great! Our clubhouse chemistry, everything, we couldn’t be any tighter. You couldn’t ask for a better group of guys. It was just one of those years, man.

Of course, we had some legitimate gripes with the Yankees in 2018. Aaron Boone experienced growing pains in his first year as a manager, highlighted by a disastrous ALDS, in stark contrast to Alex Cora pushing the right button every damn time. Sonny Gray fell flat on his face and became the most hated man in the Bronx thanks to a nervous smile. Gary Sanchez had a nightmare season, from start to finish, and we saw way too much of Shane Robinson. It would be strange if you didn’t get aggravated by those instances.

But the 2018 Yankees did a lot of cool things, too! We got to see Giancarlo Stanton smash 38 dingers, including two in his very first game for the Bombers. We got first-half Luis Severino throwing a complete game shutout against the Astros—in Houston! We watched Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres debut. We cheered for McCutchen on the Yankees. It really wasn’t all that bad.

I regret that we were so caught up in chasing the Red Sox that we couldn’t catch our breath. We never really got a chance to pause and laugh at how incredibly surreal, yet wonderful, it was to have McCutchen batting ahead of Aaron Judge.

Cutch played for the Yankees, man, and it was the coolest thing.

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If Major League Baseball had even the slightest idea of how to effectively market the game, McCutchen would be a star. I’m not talking a local star, or the star of a team, either. I mean, if they were smart, McCutchen would be the face of baseball.

Talent? Check.

At his peak, he offered an electric combination of speed and power, playing one of the highest-profile positions in the game. Ask any of your friends in Pittsburgh. They witnessed something transcendent from 2012-2015.

Swag? Check.

Cutch embodies cool. You know that already. But he’s fun, too! The nose ring, the dugout dances, the mastery of social media. He’s the life of the party, someone who you watch and say, “I want to hang out with him!” Kids pretend to be him when they play Little League. He can go viral and single-handedly get people to tune in, not because they really liked the team, but because they wanted to see him. Baseball’s a game, and nobody makes that game look more fun than McCutchen.

Leadership? Check.

For as goofy as he can be, McCutchen is devastatingly articulate. He’s smart, passionate, and outspoken—exactly the qualities one would want to represent the game. Listen to any of his interviews. Watch him on MLB’s Black Lives Matter video. He isn’t detached from the outside world; he’s engaged and active.

Major League Baseball truly messed up by not going all in on Andrew McCutchen.

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After the Yankees traded for McCutchen, the outfielder sat down with the media to talk about the deal. “Just to see the news, and to hear it, that I was going to be a Yankee, it was kind of a surreal feeling,” he explained. “I feel like a lot of baseball players want to at least throw the pinstripes on for who knows how long, just to say you did it.”

Cutch did it alright. And he did it in style. But I guess that shouldn’t surprise anyone, now should it?