What does Andrew McCutchen need to do in final year with Phillies to make $50 million contract a success?

Corey Seidman
·4 min read

What does McCutchen need to do in final year to make $50 million contract a success? originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

As baseball's offseason takes shape, we will take a look at each player on the Phillies 2020 roster and where they fit in the future. We'll go through the roster by uniform number, lowest to highest for position players, highest to lowest for pitchers, and alternate daily.

Today: Outfielder Andrew McCutchen

Career rundown

McCutchen placed in the Top 5 of National League MVP voting every year from 2012 to 2015 and won the award in 2013. 

During that four-year run, he hit .313/.404/.523, averaged 25 homers, 90 RBI and 19 steals, and was one of the best all-around players in baseball.

His decline from that MVP level to a still very-good level began in his age-29 season. Over the last five seasons, he's hit .261/.355/.446, averaging 18 homers, 59 RBI and seven steals.

In his prime, McCutchen was a middle-of-the-order run producer. At this point in his career, his value is derived from his elite plate selection and on-base skills atop a batting order. He does still have pop, not necessarily 30-homer pop but enough to make him a dual threat in the leadoff spot.

In two seasons with the Phillies, McCutchen has a .797 OPS that is 9% better than the league average.

How he became a Phillie

Former Phils GM Matt Klentak pounced early in the offseason after 2018 to sign McCutchen to a three-year, $50 million contract. It was a surprising number, with some thinking McCutchen was in line for a one-year deal.

McCutchen's contract with the Phillies became official on December 12, 2018. One week later, Michael Brantley signed a two-year deal with the Astros worth $32 million.

In consecutive offseasons, Klentak seemingly misread the free-agent market and signed Carlos Santana for $60 million and McCutchen for $50 million. Would either player have found the same deal elsewhere?

Brantley has outperformed McCutchen in these two seasons, hitting 56 points higher with an OPS 70 points higher than McCutchen's. Of course, McCutchen missed half of a season in 2019 with a torn ACL which impacts the comparison.

2020 season

McCutchen would not have been ready for opening day if the season began on time in late March. He was still recovering from knee surgery. 

With opening day pushed back four months because of the COVID-19 pandemic, McCutchen was ready to go and ended up playing 57 of the Phillies' 60 games.

He hit .253/.324/.433. The batting average and OBP were career-lows, albeit in a shortened season.

McCutchen started only 36 of the 60 games in left field, serving as the designated hitter in 16 others. The use of the DH in the National League in 2020 enabled the Phillies to play McCutchen almost every day while getting him off of his feet. They clearly did not want to give him a full defensive workload in his first year back from a serious knee injury.

What lies ahead

McCutchen has one year left on his Phillies contract. He is due $20 million in 2021 and there is a $3 million buyout on his fourth-year club option for 2022.

So far, McCutchen has not quite lived up to the contract, mostly because of the injury, partly because the pandemic shortened the 2020 season and it wasn’t a stronger two-month run. He has been solid for the Phillies, no doubt about it, and he's their best leadoff option, but for $50 million you're hoping for a bit more, especially in comparison to the contracts of Brantley and Marcell Ozuna, who couldn't even get a two-year deal last winter.

A strong final year with the Phillies would change the conversation about this contract. How strong? If McCutchen can simply replicate the 60-game start he was off to in 2019 pre-injury, when he hit .256/.378/.457, that would do the trick. He was one of baseball's most productive leadoff men in the first half of '19 and can be again in ‘21.

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