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Cameron Maybin was an unexpectedly important player for the 2019 Yankees

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Cameron Maybin’s performance in pinstripes was an unexpected and very pleasant surprise in 2019.

Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Former Yankees (and a host of other MLB teams) outfielder Cameron Maybin announced his retirement via Twitter this past Monday. Although likely best remembered for bouncing around the league over a 15-year career and going the other way in trades for star players, Maybin was a key player for the Yankees in 2019. His stint in the Bronx is certainly worthy of a look back now that he’s decided to move on to, in his words, the “next chapter.”

The Yankees played the first weekend of the 2019 season with Aaron Judge in right field, Giancarlo Stanton in left field, and Brett Gardner in center field (Gardner was in for Aaron Hicks, who was unable to start the season on time due to a back issue.) Stanton would join Hicks on the IL after only three games and Judge would join both of them three weeks later. By April 21st, quite remarkably, the Yankees were without their entire starting outfield.

Meanwhile, Cameron Maybin was in Ohio, playing for the Columbus Clippers, Cleveland’s AAA affiliate. After being released by San Francisco during spring training, Maybin signed on with Cleveland in late March. Coming off a two-season stretch in which he played for four organizations and posted back-to-back 86 OPS+ seasons, the then 32-year-old Maybin was doing everything he could to keep his career going.

After 67 plate appearances with Columbus in which he posted an underwhelming .216/.388/.275 slash line and an 89 wRC+, Maybin had his contract purchased by the Yankees and took his glove and bat to Scranton. After 14 plate appearances for the Rail Riders, and with the Yankees in dire straits with regard to their outfield depth, Maybin got his call to return to the big leagues and joined the Yankees on April 26th. I’m willing to admit I was one of the many Yankee fans who wondered out loud exactly how Maybin – he of the career 91 OPS+ over 12 years with eight teams at that point – was going to help the team.

Not only did he help, but he helped immediately. Sporting a 14-11 record, good for only sixth-best in the AL at the time, the Yankees were in San Francisco for a three-game interleague set. In his first at-bat as a Yankee, Maybin singled and drove in a run in the top of the first inning of what would become a 7-3 Yankee win. The Yankees would go on to sweep the three-game series from Giants, with Maybin recording a hit in each game and either scoring or driving in a run in each game as well.

It turned out that the three-game set wasn’t a fluke, as both Maybin and the Yankees continued to play very well over the next eight weeks. By June 21st, the Yankees had the second-best record in the AL and were in first place in the AL East, 4.5 games up on Tampa Bay. Maybin, for his part playing regularly in the corner outfield spots, posted an impressive .314/.391/.500 line over 42 games.

Then, rather unfortunately, Maybin became the latest Yankee outfielder to go down, and suffering a calf strain necessitating an unwelcome month-long break for the resurgent veteran. Yet when he returned, no beats were missed, as he posted a .405/.476/.730 line in over his first ten games back – nine of which were Yankees wins.

By the end of the regular season, Maybin had played in 82 games for the Yankees and posted a 127 OPS+ in 269 plate appearances, with a .285/.364/.494 slash line. (Among 45 AL outfielders with a minimum of 250 plate appearances in 2019, the OBP was seventh best and the OPS+ ninth best.) He also produced 1.6 WAR in essentially half of a season, which is to say he was a good player who you wouldn’t mind seeing in your team’s lineup every day. Most importantly, the Yankees went 59-23 in the 82 games that Maybin played in.

In a season in which the presumptive starting outfielders played in only a combined 179 games due to injuries, and produced only 7.3 WAR total, the Yankees went on to win 103 games and the AL East by seven. Obviously, getting very good season-long performances from both Brett Gardner and Mike Tauchman was a big factor, but Maybin’s contributions were a big part of the team’s success and a very pleasant surprise – one I’d dare say Yankee fans aren’t going to forget.

With the team more or less healthy that October, Maybin was relegated to pinch-runner and late-inning defensive replacement duties in the postseason. Even then he had an impact, with two stolen bases and a run scored in the Yankees game one win over Minnesota in the ALDS. He followed that up with a solo home run to give the Yankees a 4-1 lead in the team’s eventual series-ending game three win.

After a frustrating end to the 2019 Yankees season for all involved, the team granted free agency to Maybin. He would bounce around with three more teams over the next two seasons before officially calling it a career this week.

If I may put on my amateur baseball sociologist cap for a moment, I think most fans have a tendency to overlook the career of players like Cameron Maybin. Yes, he was a first-round pick that didn’t reach many people’s expectations, and he bounced around from organization to organization for 15 years mostly due to an inability to put things together for any extended period. Let’s not forget, however, that 15 years in the show is no joke – the overwhelming majority of us and very likely the majority of MLB players would sign on for that career in a heartbeat if given the chance. Maybin played in many great games with many great teammates and rightfully earned more than a few bucks for himself in the process.

With regards to his Yankees stint, I’m sure I speak for Yankee fans when I offer him congratulations on a great career and wish him the best ongoing. We’ll certainly remember him as a player who stepped up in a season that looked like it was going to be a disaster and helped turn it into a heck of a fun ride instead.