This was a throwback day for the Yankees, who reached into the National League to pick up a once-prime time player in a late season, post-waivers trade for the pennant push the way they once did routinely through the late 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s.
George Weiss was the general manager when the Yankees picked up slugging first-baseman Johnny Mize from the Giants in late ’49, Johnny Sain from the Braves (for a young Lew Burdette) in late ’51, Sal Maglie from the Giants in late ’57, Luis Arroyo from the Reds in late ’60 and Pedro Ramos from the AL Indians in ’64.
On Friday, it was Brian Cashman channeling Weiss in engineering the deal that brought Andrew McCutchen from the Giants in exchange for expendable prospects Juan De Paula and Abiatal Avelino on the final day of the post-waivers trade period.
This was not an icing-on-the-cake move. With Aaron Judge’s absence now at five weeks and counting, the Yankees were in desperate need of a right field bat of some pedigree. McCutchen, who is expected to be in the lineup for Saturday’s game against the Tigers, checks that box.
“We’re getting a really good player, and I think that’s exciting for us,” manager Aaron Boone said Friday, before Luis Severino went six innings and struck out 10 in a 7-5 win over Detroit at the Stadium. “It’s a really big deal for us.”
Mize, Sain, Maglie and Arroyo were all near the ends of their respective careers when they helped the Yankees to multiple pennants and World Series victories. McCutchen is somehow only 31, five years removed from his MVP season in Pittsburgh, but in his third year of precipitous decline from those heights.
Still, he represents a substantial presence. We’ve all known McCutchen for years and we know that even if he is not what he once was, he is sure no Shane Robinson, the overmatched journeyman with whom the Yankees had been trying to paper over the outfield when Boone has had need to give one of his guys a blow or didn’t want to use career infielder Neil Walker in right.
Boone insisted the Yankees still expect Judge, whose ETA was originally set at three weeks when he suffered a fractured wrist when hit by a pitch on July 26, to return at some point in September. The manager said acquiring McCutchen did not imply otherwise. Still, it is unlikely that Cashman would have pulled this deal if Judge were healthy.
“Andrew helps us in the here and now and he absolutely will be an everyday player,” Boone said. “But I believe Aaron will absolutely be back.”
But No. 99 has yet to swing a bat while continuing to rehab. Minor league seasons are ending, so there will be no rehab games available.
There is no telling how effective Judge will be when — presuming it’s not, if — he does rejoin the lineup. Judge’s absence has not only created a void in the order, it also has left a hole in the team’s identity. There are a number of accomplished athletes on the roster, but it took less than a year following his midsummer 2016 promotion for Judge to become the face of the Yankees.
This was expected and projected to be a special team. Other than the 17-1 run into the second week of May, it has been less than that. The Yankees have coped with injuries to high-profile players such as Judge, Gary Sanchez (who will be in the lineup Saturday), Didi Gregorius and Aroldis Chapman, and they are still on pace to win 102 games (which would be more than 12 of the 13 pennant-winners under Weiss), but they have meandered in halting fashion through much of the summer. They seem as tired as the overworked Brett Gardner. This has been no walk in the park for the Yankees, even as they are nine games clear of a postseason berth.
Indeed, the Yankees look like a team that could use a bit of a jolt. McCutchen, who has a slash line of .255/.357/.415 with 15 homers and 55 RBI, may well provide that. He remains a marquee name, renowned for his dedication and contributions to the community. He is a perfect fit in the clubhouse.
“His reputation precedes him,” said Boone. “He’s as high as character person as we have in the game.”
No one expects McCutchen to be the player he was in 2015. He doesn’t have to be. And no one expects him to be Judge. He can’t be. But the Yankees need him to be more than window-dressing. They need McCutchen now just the way they once needed Mize and Sain and Arroyo and Ramos.