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Andrew McCutchen is playing for his MLB future in 2021

Former all-star Andrew McCutchen has an expensive team option for 2022. If he has a repeat of his 2019 and 2020 performance, his MLB future may be in jeopardy.

MLB: SEP 26 Phillies at Rays Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Over the course of the last decade, Andrew McCutchen has had a very solid MLB career. He has been selected to five All Star Games, and won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 2013. Though his career has not been Hall-of-Fame-worthy, Cutch has left his mark as a talented, fun player; a player who entertained the city of Pittsburgh when they were terrible, and for a short-period in which they were competitive.

Every professional athlete has the ‘competitive gene’ in their DNA, McCutchen is of course, no exception. His back will likely be against a wall in 2021 in a different way than he’s ever experienced. McCutchen is entering the last year of his three-year $50 million deal with the Phillies.

In his two years in Philadelphia, McCutchen has posted just a 109 OPS+ over the course of just 116 games. His first season came to an abrupt end when he tore his ACL rounding the bases in an early June game. While he hardly knocked the cover off the ball through the first part of the season, the injury sidelined him for the rest of the season.

Though the delayed start to the 2020 season helped his recovery, in 57 games last year he unfortunately largely picked up where he left off in 2019. A career .285 hitter, Cutch has been stuck around the .250-mark since 2017. Last year his walk rate also tumbled considerably, going from 16.4 percent to just over nine percent between 2019 and 2020. As if that weren’t enough, his isolated power dropped 20 points as well.

Defensive metrics have never been overly kind to McCutchen, but over the last few years, they have been considerably bad considering the relatively small home outfield he’s roaming around in Philadelphia. Over the last two seasons, and in fewer than 60 games, he’s cost the Phillies eight runs (per Defensive Runs Saved) each season. Over the course of a full year, that’s over 20 runs he’s personally allowing due to shoddy fielding.

The Phillies have a $3 million buyout on McCutchen’s year-four option; it’s either that, or pay him $15 million — an unlikely option considering he’ll be entering his age-35 season. No team is likely to pay much for a mid-30s middling outfielder whose offensive numbers are going in the wrong direction.

In order to even get Philadelphia to consider picking up that option, he’ll have to stay healthy and stay productive, something he has not been able to do since signing his current deal.

Steamer and FanGraphs’ Depth Charts project him to play in ~140 games, amassing about 1.2-1.3 wins above replacement. That’s not likely going to be enough to make that $15 million look like any sort of bargain, as a younger third (or even fourth) outfielder can be had for a much more reasonable price.

After a career where he carried a team on his back, Andrew McCutchen is staring down the end of a fun, but not quite historic, career. It’d be great to see Cutch go out with a bang. While another 20 home run season, or fifty extra base hit year is unlikely, I’ll be rooting for it to happen. A season like that would surely motivate a team to get him another one or two year deal moving forward. Cutch is playing for his baseball career in 2021, which is motivation enough. Not that he needs any more motivation than the drive that got him where he is today.

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Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano