For the first time in three years the Philadelphia Phillies have a former big-league Most Valuable Player on their roster as Grapefruit League games get underway down in Clearwater, Florida.
It was three years ago that Ryan Howard, who had been the National League MVP a decade earlier, took part in his final spring training with the Phillies.
On December 12, the Phillies signed 33-year-old 10-year big-league veteran Andrew McCutchen to a three-year contract as a free agent. McCutchen was the 2013 NL Most Valuable Player while playing his ball across the state with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The first-round choice of the Bucs at 11th overall in the 2005 MLB Amateur Draft out of high school in his native Fort Meade, Florida, McCutchen’s power-speed combination helped him grow into one of baseball’s top prospects over the next four years.
In June of 2009, “Cutch” made his debut in Major League Baseball. He would bang 47 extra-base hits and steal 22 bases in just 108 games that year to finish fourth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.
During the 2010 season he rapped out 56 extra-base hits, scored 94 runs and stole 33 bases. Then in 2011, McCutchen became a National League All-Star for the first time.
The 2012 Pirates suffered through the franchise’ 20th consecutive losing season. But things were starting to look up as the club won 79 games for the first time in 15 years. McCutchen was leading the way. He led the league with 194 hits and banged a career-high 31 home runs with 96 RBI, 107 runs scored, and 20 stolen bases.
For his outstanding season, McCutchen finished third in the NL MVP voting. He also won a Gold Glove Award for his play in center field and took home the first of what would be four consecutive Silver Slugger honors.
It was his performance during the 2013 season that would earn McCutchen his Most Valuable Player honors. He slashed .317/.404/.508 with 64 extra-base hits, 97 runs scored and 27 stolen bases. He also led the Pirates to a 94-win season and an NL playoff berth.
That was the first of three consecutive postseason appearances for the Pirates. McCutchen had two hits and two walks as the Bucs swamped the Cincinnati Reds by a 6-2 score in the 2013 NL Wildcard Game. Pittsburgh then took a 2-1 lead in the NLDS before the Saint Louis Cardinals rallied past them to take the series in five games.
The Pirates would return to the NL Wildcard Game in each of the next two seasons after finishing in second place in the NL Central Division both times. But they were shutout at PNC Park both times, by the visiting San Francisco Giants 8-0 in 2014 and the Chicago Cubs 4-0 in 2015.
McCutchen put up big seasons both years, finishing among the top five in NL MVP voting each time. He was solid again in 2016 and 2017, but the Pirates slipped from contending status.
In January 2018 the Pirates traded McCutchen, who was due to become a free agent after that coming season, to San Francisco for a pair of prospects. On August 31 of last season, the Giants flipped him to the New York Yankees, again for a pair of prospects.
McCutchen, who maintains his home in Pittsburgh, will always hold his first organization close to his heart. He was quoted on that relationship by Bob Brookover of Philly.com:
“I got drafted by them at 18 and when you come up through an organization that’s all you know. You develop relationships with the fans and you experience highs and lows. I was able to experience all of that. I didn’t experience the championship, but I experienced a playoff atmosphere and there were a lot of things to appreciate. There are a lot of memories and things I hold dear to me. It was a great place and I would always have that as the first half of my career.”
Starting for the Yankees at first in right field and then in left field, McCutchen helped the club reach the playoffs, but then had a quiet postseason with the Bronx Bombers. He produced just two hits while scoring twice and knocking in a run over 19 plate appearances as the Yankees were knocked out in the ALDS by the arch-rival Boston Red Sox.
After the season, McCutchen became a free agent for the first time, leading to his signing with the Phillies. His contract guarantees him $47 million over the next three seasons and contains a $15 million team option for the 2022 campaign when he would be 35-years-old.
McCutchen is slated to start in left field with the Phillies, allowing Rhys Hoskins to move back to his more comfortable and natural position at first base. He joins a returning outfield mix that includes Odubel Herrera, Nick Williams, Roman Quinn and Aaron Altherr. It’s a group that could be joined soon by another former NL MVP, Bryce Harper.
Per the Associated Press, McCutchen recognizes the incumbent talent, and would welcome the addition of another star:
“We’ve got a lot of guys who are competing for positions, and that’s a good thing to have in camp. Everybody is out there working hard. Working to win the job, or even if they don’t, they know they could be the next man up. The competition is good for the outfield as a whole….We will be able to help each other out, and I can share my knowledge and my experience.”
That experience should prove invaluable. More than 1,500 big-league games, another 13 in the postseason, and five MLB All-Star Game appearances. No longer an MVP-caliber player, he retains enough skill and athleticism at age 32 to upgrade the Phillies lineup.
That is what McCutchen hopes to do with the Phillies – add his skills to the other team upgrades, helping to push the club back to contending status and ultimately to the postseason.
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