The Yankees entered this offseason with centerfield identified as one of the chief areas of concern. Aaron Hicks is working back from wrist surgery to correct a torn tendon sheath that cost him the majority of the 2021 campaign. And even if he reports to camp fully fit, his extensive injury history hardly inspires confidence he can make it through a full season unscathed. While he’s no longer a full-time centerfielder, might the Yankees look to reconnect with old friend Andrew McCutchen?
2021 Stats: 144 games, 574 PA, .222/.334/.444, 27 HR, 78 RBI, 14.1 percent BB%, 23.0 percent K%, 109 OPS+, 107 wRC+, -4 OAA, 1.2 fWAR
McCutchen is one of the most accomplished vets still in the game. He ranks eighth among active players in fWAR and has an MVP on his résumé. He’s also always had top-end plate discipline. Since his 2009 MLB debut, McCutchen ranks in the 90th percentile in walk-to-strikeout ratio, a skill many have been clamoring for on the Yankees roster.
As I’ve already mentioned, the Yankees are no strangers to McCutchen. In 2018, the Giants traded the then-31-year-old to the Bronx at the waiver trade deadline, a move which proved to be one of their shrewdest deadline pickups in recent memory. In his month with the Yankees, McCutchen walked as many times as he struck out, carrying the fifth-highest walk rate (19.3 percent) and 23rd-highest wRC+ (150) in baseball over that span. In fact, he may have been the progenitor of the “control the zone” philosophy to which the Yankees adhere.
He remains a productive hitter even as he enters his mid-thirties — he’s never posted a wRC+ below 102 in his 13 years in the bigs. In fact, he had somewhat of a late-career power surge in 2021, his 27 home runs the highest total since 2017 and .222 ISO the highest since 2014. Granted, this potency came at the sacrifice of on-base threat, the .222 average and .334 OBP his worst and second-worst single season marks respectively. Still, the discipline remained elite, sitting in the 97th percentile in walk rate and 94th percentile in chase rate, while the 89th percentile sprint speed was a pleasant surprise.
Despite this, it’s hard to see how McCutchen fits into the Yankees’ plans. New York would benefit from addressing shortstop, centerfield, the starting rotation, and first base. Meanwhile, McCutchen hasn’t played centerfield since his 2019 campaign was cut short by a torn ACL, and has been a below-average defender in the corners since. Adding him would only further clutter the corner outfield logjam on the roster.
And as he enters his age-35 season, we’ve already begun to see the initial signs of age-related decline. His exit velocity and xwOBA have fallen in each of the last three seasons. He just posted the second-worst whiff rate of his career. After a season that saw nearly team-wide offensive regression outside of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, the Yankees need to add players who raise the offensive ceiling, not players who are regression candidates in their own right.
Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Cutch. He brought personality to a 2018 squad that was clearly second-best in its division. He injected a new sense of enjoyment of the game whether he was pimping walks or tipping his cap as he crossed home plate after a round-tripper, reminding us the value of celebrating our successes and the hard work that went into achieving them. However, at this point in his career and given the Yankees’ needs elsewhere, don’t hold your breath for a reunion with the 2013 NL MVP.