Despite having a plethora of options at the positions, the Yankees’ outfield production has been sorely lacking beyond Aaron Hicks and Giancarlo Stanton. Between Brett Gardner and Shane Robinson, they have combined to fail to even come close to replacing Aaron Judge in the lineup during his absence due to injury. Gardner’s offensive woes long predate the injury to Judge. In his last 66 games, the by-default leadoff hitter has hit for a .212/.295/.336/.631 batting line, with a .281 wOBA and 74 wRC+. Each of these advanced metrics sit well below league average, and with Gardner’s 35th birthday coming earlier this month, it’s reasonable – imperative, even – to wonder whether his best days are behind him. On the other side, there’s Shane Robinson, who has become a household name…for all the wrong reasons. In August, he is 4-for-41, hitting .098/.140/.121/.261, a .122 wOBA, and a -35 wRC+ – and, no, this is not a typo. With Stanton also getting a share of time at DH, Clint Frazier still waiting to come back from injury, and Jacoby Ellsbury somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle with Sasquatch, Santa Claus and the Loch Ness Monster, the team clearly had to make a move to add insurance, either through the pipeline or via the waiver trade market.
At the eleventh hour on Friday, the team opted for the latter. The Yankees and Giants came to an agreement on a trade involving veteran outfielder Andrew McCutchen going to New York for a pair of prospects. The trade was initially reported as McCutchen for Abiatal Avelino and a lesser player, and it was later revealed that the additional player was Juan DePaula. The Yankees also received cash in this deal, as Cutch still had about $2 million on his deal before he hits free agency this offseason.
From the Yankees’ perspective, McCutchen was the outfield addition they desperately needed. He may be having a “down year” by his power standards, but the argument exists that once he moves from the cavernous AT&T Park to Yankee Stadium, his numbers will bounce back. His last two years in Pittsburgh, he hit 52 homers, stole 17 bases, and walked 142 times in 309 games (out of 324 across the two seasons). Above his power, however, he’s maintained his ability to get on base at a high clip. Since the beginning of 2017, he’s 13th in baseball in OBP and 18th in wOBA (among outfielders). Posting on-base numbers better than any current rostered Yankee with a first name other than Aaron, he will slot in nicely as the outfield threat in that area that the team is lacking with Gardner having a disappointing season, perhaps as the #2 hitter after Hicks. Should Cutch finish strong, the Yankees could opt to pay Gardner a $2 million buyout for next year instead of accepting a $12.5 million option on a soon-to-be 36-year-old outfielder who is in the midst of his worst offensive season to date. Cutch is a free agent as well, but his veteran presence, leadership, and still-above-average offensive skill set could make him worth more than Gardner at a level New York would be willing to pay. How they would go about this remains to be seen. The most logical scenario would likely be an outfield of Frazier, Hicks, and Judge, with Stanton DHing, with McCutchen filling in regularly as a 4th outfielder to give guys a day off. Would McCutchen be amenable to such a role? Who knows, but he fits the “Yankee mold” on and off the field, and it is plausible that he could see this and accept a more limited playing time. In addition, and not to be overlooked, he brings a veteran presence as the only projected regular in the Yankees lineup right now (other than Brett Gardner) over the age of 30. He knows what it takes to get to the playoffs, and he knows the difference in culture, work ethic, effort level, and so on between teams that play October games and ones that don’t. He can play an invaluable role to help unheralded youngsters such as Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar, Tyler Wade, Clint Frazier, Chance Adams, Jonathan Loaisiga, among others.
On the other side of this transaction, we have the two players acquired by San Francisco: Abiatal Avelino, and Juan DePaula. Avelino was another one of those second-to-third tier guys in the Yankees farm system who were valuable prospects, but simply couldn’t be protected by the team on their 40-man after this season for the Rule V Draft. Teams had called on him prior to the deadline, most notably being sought by Baltimore in discussions that ultimately sent Zach Britton to New York. Avelino, an infielder who will play all of this season at age 23, tore it up at Double-A Trenton to start off the 2018 season, mashing .337/.392/.553/.945 in 49 games. His transition to the next level has been anything but seamless, hitting .252 and posting a sub-.300 OBP in 74 games at Triple-A. Regardless, he has multi-positional talent and could see time at the Major League level toward the end of 2019, which jives with San Francisco’s desire to not take too much time to retool the roster and remain in contention as much as possible. He has 20-steal potential at his best, and his 77% career success rate at that aspect of his craft reflects his advanced ability to pick his moments and master his timing. For a skipper like Bruce Bochy, one of the dying breed of “old-school managers”, he will likely relish the opportunity to use him all over the infield and have that sort of slightly-below-league-average offense, solid baserunning ability, and good defense, that will make him a good fit as perhaps a #7 hitter in the Giants’ lineup once he gets his feet wet in the major leagues.
Juan DePaula is, to me, more of a depth guy right now. He is raw, young, and carries “risk” to become more established as a reliever due to his increasing walk rates and mechanical idiosyncrasies. He needs to work on locating his fastball before he can begin to rise through the minors, but scouts do rave about his potential due to his character and his makeup. His lack of advancement thus far to upper levels of the minors make further projection difficult, but as he becomes more refined in High-A and Double-A, it will be clearer as to what role he’ll likely serve in his career.
When you break into the crux of the trade, both the Yankees and Giants come away looking to have “won” the deal for their respective objectives. The Yankees acquire a desperately-needed outfield bat who gets on base regularly and has leadership ability to benefit all of the young talent that continues to be pumped into the major league roster, and the Giants add two solid prospects, one of whom could contribute within a year at the MLB level.