The winter holidays have come and gone, we’ve rung in the new year, and the baseball world begins to look eagerly at spring training actually starting on time. Not surprisingly, we’ve gotten into a bit of a routine here at Pinstripe Alley: we look back at recent history with our playoff games series, check out the farm with our prospect profiles, and try to figure out who the Yankees’ starting left fielder will be in 2023.
By this point, you know the drill. Brian Cashman claims that the team is willing to roll with internal options in left (i.e., Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Cabrera), but well, he also once said that Bubba Crosby was the Yankees’ center fielder and then signed Johnny Damon in free agency, so make of that what you will. On top of that, it was reported earlier this winter that the Yankees attempted to move both Hicks and Josh Donaldson, and the team inquired on (but failed to acquire) Andrew Benintendi, Masataka Yoshida, Michael Conforto, and Bryan Reynolds. Despite assertions to the contrary, it’s clear that the Yankees view left field as a potential weakness — one that they’re trying to cover.
With this in mind, it seems obvious that Brian Cashman could turn to a former Yankees left fielder to fill the hole. No, I’m not talking about Brett Gardner, I’m talking about former Pittsburgh Pirate and 2013 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen.
Although he only played 25 games for the Yankees in 2018 after coming over from San Francisco, it’s hard to find a player whose Yankees tenure was as universally beloved as McCutchen’s. Filling in for Aaron Judge in right and then taking over for Brett Gardner in left, the outfielder slashed .253/.421/.471 with 5 home runs and 22 walks in just 114 plate appearances while playing solid defense. Perhaps more importantly, he brought veteran leadership to a young team that consistently seemed to get its own way (the 2018 team was somewhat inexplicably the most frustrating 100-win team I’ve ever witnessed) and a swagger that was definitely lacking.
In terms of building a clubhouse culture, it’s hard to find a reason not to bring Cutch back to the Bronx.
Unfortunately for all involved, the Yankees need an outfielder who is a definitive upgrade from Hicks, and well, I’m just not sure that McCutchen represents that at this point in his career. His 98 wRC+ with the Milwaukee Brewers last season was a career low, and although his average exit velocity (89.1 mph) and hard-hit percentage (40.0) were both in line with his career norms, his home run power dropped considerably; Statcast projects he would have had 15 home runs in Yankee Stadium last year, down from 22 in 2021. While the advanced data isn’t exactly bad, this type of downward trend is not something that you want to see out of a player who turned 36 back in October.
Additionally, McCutchen spent most of his time as the designated hitter last season (82 games, compared to 50 in the outfield). That was not, however, due to an abundance of elite defenders in the outfield. While McCutchen’s 2022 defensive metrics are relatively solid — 5 Defensive Runs Saved, 5.3 UZR/150, 0 Outs Above Average — they have been trending in the wrong direction over the last few seasons; in 2021, for example, he had accrued -7 DRS and -7 OAA, as well as a -11.6 UZR/150. The Brewers were just an organization smart enough to know not to use him much in the field.
If McCutchen had only seen a decline on either offense or defense, he might be worth pursuing in free agency; for example, Harrison Bader’s work in center would allow him to cover up for Cutch’s reduced range as he gets older (and Cabrera would be able to fill in as a defensive replacement). With both appearing to be in decline, McCutchen likely does not move the needle for the Yankees — which is a real shame, because he was a blast to watch.