Entering the third year of his contract with the Phillies, Andrew McCutchen has had a touch-and-go experience playing ball in Philadelphia. With a combination of humor, leadership, and experience, Cutch is beloved by fans and teammates alike.
The main issues arises in the fact that, due to his torn ACL in 2019, he not only missed the rest of the season but hasn’t been the same since. In 2019, McCutchen ranked in the 91st percentile for sprint speed across Major League Baseball per Baseball Savant. In 2020? 65th percentile. A torn ACL and father time have begun to affect the now 34-year old outfielder.
Despite his reduction in speed, McCutchen remains a potent offensive threat. Though a far-cry from his MVP days, Cutch has managed two nearly identical seasons at the plate in 2019 and 2020. He hit for a combined 797 OPS over 116 games played with 20 home runs. McCutchen did see a sharp decrease in walks in 2020, but that could simply be because manager Joe Girardi wanted McCutchen to change his leadoff-hitting approach.
Looking back even further, McCutchen’s trend is quite obvious. Though he is continually aging and should eventually regress, Cutch has remained consistent. In fact, since 2016, Cutch has posted a .261/.355/.446 slash line. Even as he slows down, he remains consistent at the plate.
So, while it is likely Cutch will continue to show signs of aging and be unable to play every day, the Phillies should still expect an average around .250, an OPS in the upper .700s, and roughly 15-20 home runs from McCutchen in 2021.
So Why Trade Andrew McCutchen?
The answer to that question is simple: money. The Phillies owe Uncle Larry $20 million for the upcoming season. He will then be owed $15 million again in 2022 unless the Phillies utilize his $3 million buyout option.
The Phillies are leaning close to the luxury tax threshold as they enter the 2021 season. In recent years, John Middleton has made it clear he won’t go over the luxury tax unless it was to complete a World Series-caliber team. Despite multiple offseason improvements, the Phillies aren’t even guaranteed to make the playoffs. In fact, the Phillies are currently projected to end the season in third place in the NL East per PECOTA. The division is just THAT good.
If the projections are accurate and the Phillies are in the playoff race come July, they will likely look to buy, adding on any additional pitching or bench pieces needed to succeed. And given that the Phillies will likely not go over the luxury tax threshold, they will need to cut money in order to have money available to bring on good players.
Given McCutchen’s contract and his consistency, he would be the most logical piece for the Phillies to move. If McCutchen has another good season, the Phillies could possibly move him to an AL team in need of a DH for their playoff push. Then, the Phillies would have enough payroll flexibility to bring home another pivotal addition.
What About Left Field?
Trading Andrew McCutchen would also create a gap in left field that would need to be filled. While not to the same level as McCutchen, any of Haseley, Quinn, Kingery, or Moniak could fit the bill.
The Phillies’ offense was one of the best across Major League Baseball in 2020. With J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius now returning, the Phillies will remain one of the best offenses in 2021. Trading McCutchen would hurt but not compromise the offense as Jean Segura or Gregorius could take over as the lead-off hitter for the Phillies.
The Phillies could then evaluate multiple of the younger outfielders on the team at once. The Phillies willalmost certainly buyout McCutchen after 2021 anyway, so there will be a gap to fill in 2022 regardless. Moving Cutch now just gives the Phillies time to determine if they can adequately replace the outfielder in-house or not.
Photo Credit: Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire