It took a little longer than I think everyone would’ve liked, but the Yankees have officially acquired an Aaron Judge replacement, and they got a good one. Prospects Abi Avelino and Juan De Paula went to the Giants for former NL MVP Andrew McCutchen yesterday. McCutchen is an impending free agent — that makes him a 27-game (plus postseason) rental — and the Giants are paying half his $2.4M salary to help make the luxury tax plan work. Time for some trade related thoughts.
1. Question No. 1: What does this mean for Aaron Judge? I do think the trade is an indication the Yankees have some concern either Judge won’t return before the postseason, or at least won’t return at full strength. There are four weeks and one day to go in the regular season and Judge has not yet started swinging a bat. Whenever he is cleared to swing, he first has to take dry swings, then hit off a tee and soft toss, then hit in the cage, then take batting practice, then face live pitching, and then play in games to shake off the rust. It’s a process and it takes time, and while there are four weeks remaining in the regular season, time is starting to run out. The minor league season ends in two days, so Judge won’t be able to play in rehab games. There is point of no return here and every day Judge doesn’t swing a bat brings us one day closer to that point. At the trade deadline, a few days after Judge went down, Brian Cashman said he was looking for an outfielder who could slide into a bench role once Judge gets healthy. That’s not McCutchen. They picked up an above-average everyday player who’s never been a part-timer or platoon bat. This isn’t a stopgap pickup. This is a “we need an everyday guy in case Judge doesn’t come back” pickup. That doesn’t necessarily mean Judge isn’t expected back or won’t come back. It just means the Yankees have enough concern that they added some protection.
2. Question No. 2: How does everyone fit when Judge returns? This is not something worth worrying about right now. Worry about it when Judge does actually return, which doesn’t seem to be imminent. In a perfect world scenario, Judge comes back with two or three weeks to go in the regular season, giving him time to get at-bats and get back to full strength. If that does happen, and I really hope it does, McCutchen allows the Yankees to get Giancarlo Stanton off that tight hamstring for a bit, and it allows them to rest Aaron Hicks and especially Brett Gardner a little more often. If Judge gets healthy and the Yankees go into the postseason with five outfielders (Gardner, Hicks, Judge, McCutchen, Stanton) for four spots (three outfield plus DH), then celebrate. Too many good players is better than not enough. Aaron Boone will have plenty of lineup options. Let’s worry how all the pieces fit when all the pieces are actually healthy and on the active roster. That isn’t the case right now and it doesn’t appear it will be anytime soon.
3. Question No. 3: What took so long? The Yankees have needed an outfielder for weeks now. Weeks. It has been five weeks and two days since Judge got hurt. Billy McKinney was traded earlier that same day. Clint Frazier has been on the disabled list since the All-Star break. The outfield need didn’t come out of nowhere, and yet, the Yankees didn’t get Judge’s replacement until five weeks after Judge got hurt. And during those five weeks the Yankees essentially slipped out of the AL East race completely. Replacing Shane Robinson with McCutchen or Curtis Granderson or whoever on July 31st probably doesn’t change the division race much — they’d be what, maybe three games closer to the Red Sox at the most? — but still, would’ve been nice to have a real outfielder this last month. In McCutchen’s case, the Giants weren’t ready to trade him at the deadline because they were still in the postseason mix and wanted to try to make a run. Didn’t happen. They slipped in the standings and decided to cash him in as a trade chip. There were other outfielders available though. I know that because there are always outfielders available. I don’t know if the asking prices were too high or if nothing worked under the luxury tax plan or something else. Whatever it was, getting an outfielder is really something that should’ve happened weeks ago. Better later than never though.
4. Among the players who were actually available on the trade market, meaning no fantasy Bryce Harper trade, McCutchen is the best possible replacement for Judge. He’s no longer the MVP caliber player he was in his prime — this dude hit .313/.404/.523 (157 wRC+) from 2012-15 — but he’s hitting .255/.357/.415 (115 wRC+) this season and will walk a ton (12.9%) without striking out excessively (21.7%). Moving from spacious AT&T Park to hitter friendly Yankee Stadium figures to increase his power output, though there are only eleven home games remaining in the regular season. Beyond all that though, McCutchen has a flair for the dramatic …
5. Between the McCutchen trade and the imminent returns of Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius, the Yankees are getting a real shot in the arm this weekend. Sanchez will be activated today and Gregorius isn’t far off. The Yankees will still be without Judge for a while, but they have a more than competent replacement now, and their starting catcher and starting shortstop are back as well. We’ve seen some lineups the last few weeks where the 7-8-9 hitters had a real 2013 Yankees feel to them, no? McCutchen, Sanchez, and Gregorius are three middle of the order types, which means guys like Walker and Voit can move down in the lineup, adding depth. A possible lineup:
- CF Aaron Hicks
- DH Giancarlo Stanton
- SS Didi Gregorius
- RF Andrew McCutchen
- 3B Miguel Andujar
- C Gary Sanchez
- 2B Gleyber Torres
- 1B Luke Voit/Neil Walker (sorry, Greg Bird, but you can’t seem to hit anymore)
- LF Brett Gardner
Boone said he may bat McCutchen leadoff, but I think Hicks should be the regular leadoff hitter, and I said so weeks ago. Will Boone actually do that though? I’m not sure. Also, something tells me four straight right-handed hitters in the 4-5-6-7 spots will give Boone the heebie-jeebies, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see McCutchen leading off and Hicks hitting fourth or fifth to break that up. The lineup above is probably the lineup I’d go with though, without thinking about it too much. Flipping Stanton and McCutchen would work, ditto flipping Sanchez and Torres. That’s the way I’d go, I think. Sure looks a heck of a lot better than the lineups they’ve been running out there since Didi got hurt, doesn’t it?
6. Look at that lineup above. Look how much turnover there’s been since Opening Day. The Yankees have a new right fielder, a few first baseman, a new second baseman, and a new third baseman. And also two new starting pitchers and a new late-inning reliever. Four-ninths of the lineup and two-fifths of the rotation have turned over since Opening Day. Part of that was planned (Torres was always going to take over at second base at some point) but most of it wasn’t (Luke Voit!?). Amazing how so much can change in this game over the course of the 162-game season, even with the best teams. The Yankees came into the year with like seven viable big league outfielders and now here they are trading for McCutchen in August. Go figure.
7. Not often you can say this about a guy who hit .298/.387/.533 between Triple-A and MLB, but wow what a crappy year for Clint Frazier. He missed much of Spring Training and the first few weeks of the regular season with the concussion, then went up and down a bunch of times as a spare bench bat, and then the post-concussion migraines flared up just in time to land him on the disabled list right when playing time became available. It would’ve been Frazier in right field these last few weeks instead of Robinson and Walker. He would’ve been in the lineup every single day. The concussion and migraines robbed him of an opportunity at regular playing time, and a chance to show the Yankees and everyone else what he can do. Sucks. And now the Yankees trade for McCutchen just as Clint begins a minor league rehab assignment. Poor kid, man. Awful timing from start to finish. It’s been a difficult year for Frazier. Hopefully he finishes healthy and strong, has a good offseason, and becomes a better player after dealing with all the adversity this year. (I wonder if Frazier will look to play winter ball somewhere to make up for the lost time. He has too much service time for the Arizona Fall League.)
8. As for Avelino and De Paula, the Yankees didn’t give up a whole lot to get McCutchen, which isn’t surprising. He’s a one-month (plus postseason) rental. I had neither Avelino nor De Paula in my most recent top 30 Yankees prospects list — before the trade MLB.com ranked them as the 23rd and 26th best prospects in the system, respectively — and they were both surplus players for the Yankees. Avelino’s a middle infielder who had success in Double-A (162 wRC+) and not much success in Triple-A (83 wRC+) this year while repeating the levels, and he’s due to become a minor league free agent after the season. I don’t think he was a good bet to get a 40-man roster spot at all with Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada still around. As for De Paula, he is still in short season ball and the Yankees are loaded with lower level pitching prospects. He’ll be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season and, with his 21st birthday three weeks away, De Paula was one of the team’s oldest pitching prospects not in full season minor league ball. He was arguably the most expendable of the bunch. Avelino figures to get a chance to help the Giants right away as a utility guy. They wouldn’t have traded for him if they weren’t planning to add him to the 40-man to prevent him from leaving as a minor league free agent this winter. De Paula is still a few years away from helping. The Yankees dealt from positions of depth and gave up two players they’re not going to miss. Avelino was probably a goner after the season and De Paula is way too far down the ladder to worry about.
9. This is the first time the Yankees have made an August waiver trade since getting Steve Pearce for cash in 2012, and that was a minor trade for a spare part player — that was two years before Pearce really broke out with the Orioles — who was waived after 12 games. The last time the Yankees made an August waiver trade for a no-doubt big league player who stayed on their roster the rest of the season was 2009, when they sent cash to the Padres for Chad Gaudin. The sample size is not big, but the best August waiver trade the Yankees ever made went down in 1996, when they got Charlie Hayes from the Pirates for a minor leaguer who never made it. Hayes went 19-for-67 (.284) with three doubles and two homers in 20 regular season games with the Yankees, then caught the final out of the World Series. So, long story short, there’s a pretty darn good chance McCutchen will go down as the best August waiver trade pickup in franchise history. He has to perform, of course, but there’s no reason to think he won’t other than baseball being weird sometimes. It’s not often impactful trades go down in August. That Justin Verlander deal last year? A complete and total outlier for August, historically. The Yankees may’ve just made an impactful August trade, however. McCutchen is a great player who fills a big need and is a super likeable dude.