A busy month of December has seen the free agent cupboard mostly cleared out. Yet as we begin 2023 there are still a few interesting options on the open market for teams looking for upgrades heading into the new season. Of course, many teams will look to the trade market over the next month or two – particularly if they’re after impact options – but good deals can still be found in free agency.
One such player is a former MVP, who remains a threat at the plate and is well-regarded as a veteran presence in the clubhouse. Andrew McCutchen may not be the same player that went to five-straight All Star games with the Pirates, but he could still help a lot of teams. There was a report in early December that the Rays and Dodgers had interest in McCutchen, but it’s been quiet since. The Dodgers have since signed J.D. Martinez, which may rule them out, but the Rays could still feasibly have a spot for him.
McCutchen, 36, spent the past season with the Brewers on a one-year, $8MM deal. They’d signed him on the back of three years in Philadelphia, which culminated in McCutchen hitting .222/.334/.444 with 27 home runs over 574 plate appearances. It was a solid enough season, but what perhaps got Milwaukee’s attention was the way in which McCutchen torched left-handed pitching in 2021, slashing .293/.405/.622 in 195 plate appearances against southpaws. It was particularly pronounced in 2021, but McCutchen’s splits have favored hitting against left-handers over his career.
Unfortunately for the Brewers, it wasn’t the case in 2022. McCutchen would hit just .221/.303/.435 against left-handers in Milwaukee, contributing to an overall line of .237/.316/.384 overall line of 580 plate appearances. While his walk and strikeout rates have trended in the wrong direction in recent times, they were still reasonable marks, as he struck out 21.4% of the time against a 9.8% walk rate. That was good for a wRC+ of 98, a couple of ticks below the league average but the first time it had dipped below 100 in his career. He did enjoy a 262 plate appearance tear in the middle of the summer, where he crushed 11 home runs and hit at an .868 OPS. Of course, the fact that his overall season mark was well below that suggests there were some very lean runs in there as well.
Perhaps the biggest concern from McCutchen’s season was the drop in power. He slugged 27 home runs a year prior with the Phillies, but hit just 17 last season. American Family Field in Milwaukee is generally less favorable to home run hitters than Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, but it was still a significant drop in long balls. In McCutchen’s defense, his exit velocity and HardHit% were both roughly the same as a year earlier, so he’s still making plenty of solid contact.
On the defensive side of things, McCutchen has spent most of his time in the DH spot in recent years, but can still play the outfield, and enjoyed a bit of success there in 2022. He was worth 5 Defensive Runs Saved in a small sample of 268 1/3 innings, while he also spent a small amount of time in right and center. He did make 82 appearances in the DH spot and his days of being an everyday outfielder are probably over, but he’s by no means a liability in the field and his numbers in 2022 could encourage a new team to give him a larger workload in the field in 2023.
McCutchen will likely sign another one-year deal, quite possibly in the same range as the $8MM salary he took home in 2022. At this stage of free agency, most of the players available have some flaws, but McCutchen could still work as a solid option for a number of teams. He still has ~20 home run power, draws walks at a bit above the league average rate and doesn’t strike out too often. While he’s not likely to be a team’s everyday outfielder, he could shift around the corner outfield spots, making DH appearances and allowing teams to spell their starting outfielders on a regular basis. Further to that, McCutchen’s got a good clubhouse reputation and could perhaps work on a contending team with a slightly younger roster. While he’s unlikely to be a difference maker at this point, teams could do worse than bringing in the veteran to deepen their roster for the upcoming season.