In Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks, the Yankees already have a high-end starting outfield under control for 2019. But they’ll have more decisions to make in that area this offseason, specifically with veterans Andrew McCutchen and Brett Gardner. The club would “like to” retain McCutchen, a pending free agent, if his asking price is “reasonable,” Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes. Meanwhile, the Yankees are “likely” to decline Gardner’s $12.5MM club option in favor of a $2MM buyout, according to Cafardo.
Having been acquired from the Giants on Aug. 31, McCutchen is just over three weeks into his tenure in the Bronx. The sample size is clearly limited, then, though the well-respected 31-year-old has delivered during his short Yankees career. Across 80 plate appearances with the Bombers, McCutchen has slashed .253/.425/.492 with four home runs and more walks (17) than strikeouts (15). Between San Francisco and New York, the right-handed McCutchen has batted .253/.366/.423 with 19 HRs in 648 trips to the plate, giving him a quality wRC+ of 119. The longtime Pirate has been an above-average offensive contributor every year of his career, which began in 2009, by wRC+.
Defensively, while McCutchen took significant steps backward as a center fielder from 2016-17, he has drawn somewhat better reviews in the corner this year. McCutchen has seen most of his action as a right fielder in 2018 and accounted for two Defensive Runs Saved and a minus-0.1 Ultimate Zone Rating in 1,271 2/3 innings, though Statcast’s Outs Above Average (minus-10) ranks him among the game’s worst fielders in the grass. Still, thanks in large part to his offensive prowess, McCutchen has totaled 2.5 fWAR and 2.7 rWAR, no doubt making him a useful player even if he’s not the MVP-level performer he was in his halcyon days.
Gardner, meanwhile, has been similarly valuable by wins above replacement, as he has accrued 2.3 fWAR and 2.8 rWAR in 583 PAs. However, the 35-year-old’s amid a difficult second half in which he has posted a meager .209/.290/.304 line (63 wRC+), and it has been a tough season in general versus southpaws for the left-handed Gardner – who has only managed a .641 OPS against them. All told, Gardner has batted a below-average .237/.325/.368 (90 wRC+) with 12 homers this season, though the speedster has still succeeded on 15 of 17 stolen base attempts and held his own in the outfield, where he has picked up 13 DRS, a 6.5 UZR and minus-one OAA. Despite his plus defense, Gardner’s offensive woes have relegated him to a bench role of late, as he has been in New York’s starting lineup just once this week.
Because of his track record as a well-rounded player and an esteemed clubhouse presence, the Yankees may be able to move Gardner via trade in the offseason if they’re against retaining him for another year. He does have 10-and-5 rights, however, and would be able to veto any potential move. If New York does cut ties with Gardner, though, it would mean saying goodbye to its longest-tenured player. A third-round pick of the Yankees in 2005, Gardner debuted in pinstripes in 2008 and has since accumulated 32.6 fWAR and 37.6 rWAR in 5,419 PAs, making him one of the most accomplished outfielders in the franchise’s storied history.
With the offseason over a month from beginning in earnest, the Yankees’ Brian Cashman-led brain trust still has a fair amount of time to decide on the futures of McCutchen and Gardner. And with the Yankees set to earn a wild-card berth this year, both McCutchen or Gardner could have more time to influence New York’s winter plans, depending on how they perform and how far the team advances in the playoffs. But with Judge, Stanton, Hicks and 2018 injury cases Clint Frazier and Jacoby Ellsbury among the Yankees’ outfield group for next season, it’ll be a surprise if they keep both McCutchen and Gardner.